Tag Archives: restaurant wine

New study says we’ll be eating – and drinking – more at home, even after the pandemic ends

restaurant wine

USA Today reports that 2.3 million restaurant jobs have been lost during the pandemic.

As many as one in four say they anticipate forgoing restaurants – and restaurant wine – in the future

A Florida consultancy predicts that restaurant spending could fall by as much as one-half by the time the pandemic ends. Even more surprising, says its study: Consumers seem content to cook and eat at home. If true, this has tremendous implications for the wine business.

That’s because about 40 percent wine sold in the U.S., measured by dollar sales, is sold in restaurants. So if that market goes away, there’s going to be even more wine glutting the market – and there’s already a glut.

And if that happens, we could be looking at lower prices but also more winery failures – and especially on the high end, since that’s where much restaurant wine comes from. This might also lead to more winery consolidation, which means less consumer choice. The biggest wineries have the deepest pockets, and will be better able to survive a massive glut.

The results come from Florida-based Acosta, in a study called “COVID-19: Reinventing How America Eats.” It described what seem to be massive shifts in consumer eating habits: 44 percent report eating breakfast at home daily, compared with 33 percent pre-COVID. Similarly, 31 percent are eating lunch at home every day versus 18 percent pre-COVID, and one-third are eating dinner at home daily versus 21 percent pre-COVID. All of those people eating at home, says Acosta, translates into 31 to 50 percent less spending at midscale, casual and fine dining restaurants.

Don’t panic yet

But let’s look at the caveats:

• Acosta didn’t respond to a couple of requests for an interview. The study is based on “online surveys of Acosta’s proprietary shopper community” in early July, as well as industry data and “proprietary information sources.” Proprietary means the company doesn’t discuss how the survey works, which means it’s OK to be skeptical about the results. We know how Nielsen measures sales; we don’t know how Acosta divines its results.

• On the other hand, Acogta’s pessimism about the future of the restaurant business dovetails with most of the gloom and doom prognosticated elsewhere. USA Today reported in early October that 2.3 million restaurant jobs have been lost during the pandemic, while 12 percent of sit-down restaurant chain units that were open before COVID-19 had closed.

• The 40 percent restaurant wine sales number is misleading, since it’s measured in dollar terms. Given that restaurant wines tend to be more expensive, and that restaurant markups inflate that total, the amount of wine sold in restaurants in actual bottles is probably much less than 40 percent of the U.S. total. Hence, the loss of the restaurant market wouldn’t be quite as devastating, and it would also be mitigated by people buing less expensive wine at the supermarket.

• Some of the results in the survey require a second look. For example, “35 percent of consumers said they’ve discovered a new passion for cooking amid the pandemic.” Which is all well and good, but does it actually mean anything? And one-fifth to one-quarter of the respondents say they anticipate eating out less in the future, which is understandable in July but may not mean much next spring.

So, yes, more not good news for the restaurant and wine businesses. But maybe, given all the bad news we’ve had, not quite as bad as it seems.

Winebits 665: Restaurant wine, intellectual property, legal weed

This week’s wine news: High-end restaurants are selling their wine collections to raise cash to say in business. Plus, an Argentine winery may have stolen an artist’s work and more woes for legal weed

So long, wine collection: Nation’s Restaurant News calls them “great wine cellar sell-offs of 2020.” High-end restaurants, which often spend years putting together award-winning wine lists, are selling their wines to stay in business during the pandemic. One New Jersey chain sold as much as 40 percent of its wine; a New York City restaurant turned its wine into $50,000 when it was closed in March and April. Said the restaurant’s wine director: “For us, if it’s between saving the cellar or the restaurant, save the restaurant. Product can be replaced, but you can’t replace the loyal staff members who have been with you for 10 years. A well-stocked wine cellar is of minimal value without the staff who sells it.” Restaurant wine pricing has come in for a lot of criticism on the blog over the years, but no one likes to see this going on.

Give me back my art: An Argentine winery has allegedly stolen a drawing from a well-known U.S. artist, using the art work to decorate its box wine. ArtNet.com (bet you never thought you’d see that link on a wine site) reports that Shantell Martin says Bodegas San Huberto lifted the label for the company’s Aminga Malbec from drawings she made for a work she created for a 2017 show at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. There’s a picture of the box and the drawing at the link, and they do look quite similar. The story also says Martin’s work appears to be ripped off regularly, and once by retailer Lane Bryant.

More losses for legal weed: One of Canada’s biggest legal weed companies says it lost C$3.3 billion (about US$2.47 billion) in its 2020 fiscal year. Aurora Cannabis saw net revenue fall by some 30 percent and the company laid off thousands. In other words, more bad news for legal weed. And I’m not the only one who feels that way – the comments to the story, posted on the CBC website, wonder how it’s possible to lose billions of dollars selling marijuana. That’s a fair question, eh?

Winebits 652: Restaurant carryout booze, local rose, cheap local wine

carryout boozeThis week’s wine news: More restaurants opt to sell carryout booze, plus Illinois wineries embrace rose and local wine needs to be more affordable

Restaurant carryout booze: More restaurants see carryout booze, including wine and cocktails, as a way to help the weather the duration. Which is pretty damned amazing, since this was illegal in most of the country before the pandemic. In Texas, for example, the governor has signed an order allowing restaurants to sell to-go cups, just like New Orleans. This is mind-boggling; most of Dallas was dry in some way until a decade ago, and the state is still famous for its dry counties. Perhaps even more amazing? A suburban Chicago restaurateur is selling wine at retail for carryout and not phony restaurant prices. She hopes to make up the difference in volume – an amazing concept, yes?

Local rose: Just when the WC gets all flustered about the future of Drink Local, I read this in the Southern Illinoisan newspaper in downstate Carbondale (where, a long time ago, I was a general assignment reporter). The Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Alliance launched an aggressive and seemingly expensive marketing campaign this spring to make rose Illinois’ official state wine, and “unite” the industry with a common product. Give the WC’s enthusiasm for Drink Local and pink wine, what could be a better idea?

Not just in England: Oz Clarke, one of the patriarchs of modern wine writing, says English wine won’t become more successful or more popular until more people can afford to buy it. This is a lesson that emerging wine regions, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, never seem able to understand. It’s one of the biggest problems with Drink Local, where producers don’t understand that people are more likely to buy $15 wine than $30 wine, no matter how noble the $30 wine is. Clarke told a wine seminar that it was crucial to get “really good bottles of still wine in front of people for the same price as, say, New Zealand.” Wise words, indeed.

Texas restaurants and alcohol to go

alcohol to goNew state alcohol to go law has helped restaurants stay in business, and the change may be permanent

Shawn Virene, who owns the Houston restaurant a’Bouzy, doesn’t mince words.

“Hopefully, this will keep going for a while,” says Virene. “It’s really helped us with our cash flow during all of this. It has allowed us to pair wine with food and sell it at a reasonable price.”

The “it” Virene is talking about? The decision to allow Texas restaurants to sell alcohol to go during the coronavirus pandemic. a’Bouzy sells out its daily takeout specials – dinner for two, plus a bottle of wine for the cost of the wine in most restaurants. The wine specials, plus selling margarita setups, he says, has allowed him to hang on during the pandemic-caused restaurant closure in Texas.

And he may get his wish about the rule changes lasting longer than the duration. Texas Gov. Greg Abbot, a Republican, tweeted this week that “Alcohol-to-go sales can continue after May 1,” when Texas lifted its statewide stay at home order. Wrote the governor: “From what I hear from Texans, we may just let this keep on going forever.”

As Virene noted when we talked this week, the changes are as welcome as they are unprecedented. Texas does not allow restaurants to sell wine or spirits to go; the very idea is regarded as blasphemous, and even BYOB is heavily restricted. Meanwhile, the state’s open container law is written so that those of us who legally take an unfinished bottle of restaurant wine home could still be arrested.

So we truly are in a brave new world, as I noted in last month’s three-tier post.

The reason for the change? Because it boosts business, and easier access to alcohol, so far, does not seem to have made anything worse. Virene makes 100 to-go dinners daily, and he sells out by early afternoon. At his prices, that’s understandable. The most expensive dinner, crab-stuffed flounder for two, costs $69, and that includes a bottle of Champagne. Most are $44 or less, including coq a vin plus California merlot for $44; lasagna and Chianti for $32; and Taco Tuesday with Rioja for $39. The margarita setup, enough for a half-gallon with Jimador Tequila Silver, costs $32.

Virene says he can afford to do that because he doesn’t mark his wine up 3 to 4 times the wholesale price, which is standard restaurant practice. Rather, his markup is less than 2 to 1, because “I would rather sell you two or three bottles and know you had a good time, instead of selling you one bottle and know you went home thinking you had been ripped off.”

That’s the Wine Curmudgeon’s approach to restaurant wine. In this, Virene says other Houston restaurants seem to be adapting his to-go policy, thanks to the changes in the law. Maybe they will adapt his pricing policy, too.

Winebits 632: Sommelier cheating scandal, wine tariff, wine lists

sommelier cheating scandalThis week’s wine news: A comprehensive look at the sommelier cheating scandal, plus the wine tariff sinks French wine imports and wine list foolishness

Sommelier cheating scandal: The trade website SevcenFiftyDaily takes a long, thorough, and comprehensive look at the 2018 sommelier cheating scandal – some 4,000 words. It’s mostly well done, fair, and reaffirms the suspicions that those of us had about the lack of transparency surrounding what happened: The “events of the past year raise broader questions about an organization—and the title it confers—that’s one of the wine world’s most powerful. And not just for the trade: With the 2012 release of the film Somm, which details the efforts of four Master Sommelier candidates to pass the exam, and its subsequent appearance on streaming services like Netflix, many consumers have come to view the MS title as the standard of wine culture.”

Plummeting exports: The 25 percent U.S. tariff on some European wine has pounded French wine exports to this country, says a French government official. They dropped 44 percent by value in November 2019 from the previous month, after the import penalty went into effect on October 2019. The story also says that the “tariffs have been especially painful to producers at the lower ends of the market, where a 25 percent price hike can turn an affordable bottle into a once-in-a-while luxury.” We should know something this week or next about the next stage in the trade war after the World Trade Organization rules on a complaint by the European Union about illegal U.S. subsidies to Boeing. It was illegal EU subsidies to Boeing competitor Airbus that started this mess.

Incomprehensible wine lists: A recent Vinepair podcast takes on a subject guaranteed to make the Wine Curmudgeon crazy: The “many wine lists floating around out there that seem to revel in being inscrutable to all but the most sophisticated and educated wine drinkers.” The podcast talks about the problem, explains why it doesn’t have to be one, and offers more pointers on buying wine in a restaurant.

Winebits 574: Restaurant wine, wine apps, mock wine cocktails

restaurant wineThis week’s wine news: One more example of restaurant wine’s inability to deal with reality, plus the failure of wine apps and wine drinkers should try booze free cocktails

Restaurant wine, yet again: That the Wine Curmudgeon can find so many of these restaurant wine pricing faux pas speaks to the problem: Those who price wine in restaurants aren’t living in the same world with the rest of us. A recent on-line story featured an up and coming sommelier bragging about his wine list: “These are my favorite things to pour for our guests: the wines that sell for $45 to $70 but completely knock it out of the park.” Given restaurant pricing, that means he looks for values among wines that cost $25 to $40 retail. Which misses the point of how much most of us actually pay for wine. A $40 bottle accounts for a couple of points of U.S. sales (if that much, depending on whose numbers you use). Hence, the sommelier is running his wine list for a tiny, tiny share of U.S. wine drinkers.

Waste of a download? Most of us use wine apps fewer than a dozen times and then discard them, writes Robert Joseph in Wine Business International. There are exceptions like Vivino, but most of us who “ downloaded the app did so because they were briefly attracted by the novelty of the technology. But that interest soon wore off; they seldom if ever feel the need to record their views of the red or white in their glass, or scan a bottle before buying it.” This matters because wine apps were supposed to making wine pricing more competitive, since consumers could compare prices on their phones. Apparently, though, that isn’t happening.

Bring on the mocktail: Do wine drinkers want to try booze-fee cocktails? Yes, says one of the leaders in devising mocktails that mimic their alcohol counterparts. “While it seems this may be only about soft cocktail recipes, the bigger picture is that it’s about connection, community, inclusion and taking good care of people,” she says. One suggestion for wine drinkers: spice mulled “wine,” made with apple cider and cranberry juice.

Winebits 572: Texas ABC, restaurant wine, fake Prosecco

Texas ABCThis week’s wine news: Texas liquor retailer sues the Texas ABC, plus a restaurant tries to solve the industry’s wine problem and Italian authorities seize fake Prosecco

Texas ABC lawsuit: The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which has been plagued by scandal, mismanagement, and more scandal over the past several years, is in even bigger trouble. Spec’s, the largest independent retailer in the state, has sued the agency for malicious enforcement. The federal lawsuit is the result of the TABC’s attempt to fine Spec’s $700 million after a lenghty investigation a couple of years ago.. The catch? Two judges dismissed the agency’s suit against Spec’s, saying the charges were completely unsubstantiated. Why does this matter to wine drinkers in the rest of the country? Because it might mean the end of the TABC when the state legislature meets early next year. It almost dissolved the agency two years ago, and pressure is mounting to kill it in the upcoming session. If that happens, it will send a message to liquor cops across the country about how they enforce three-tier.

One last chance: An English restaurant chain, emerging from bankruptcy, says its new plan revolves around selling better quality wine. Says the new wine buyer for the Argentine-themed Guacho: “It’s always the big wineries [who are represented] – those who can afford PR, travel and marketing. But there are so many super-interesting smaller wineries in Argentina. It’s my duty to champion those guys. If no one gives them a chance they’re never gonna get an importer.” It’s a fair plan, the idea of moving away from Big Wine, and stands an even better chance of working if the chain keeps fair pricing in mind.

Lots and lots of fake Prosecco: Italian police have seized more than 80,000 cases of Prosecco from two producers. Police said each added extra sugar to the wine during fermentation to increase the alcohol content and exceeded their production quotas. The authorities became suspicious after finding some two tons of sugar at the wineries. No doubt the wineries should have been more subtle.