Some restaurants are moving away from traditional wine pricing, and selling wine at prices we can afford to pay
There’s actually some good news surrounding restaurant wine prices 2018 – which is especially welcome after 2017’s higher prices and, not surprisingly, flat consumption.
I’ve talked to a number of restaurant officials in different parts of the country over the past two or three months who are being more aggressive with pricing. That includes extended half-price wine nights, half-price wine happy hour promotions, and even – as difficult as it is to believe – lower markups than the traditional 3 ½ to 4 times wholesale.
Yes, this is a small sample size, and there remain too many restaurants that consider charging $30 for an $8 retail bottle of wine their inalienable right, just like freedom of speech and assembly. But good news is good news.
Perhaps even more important: The restaurants that are cutting wine prices are seeing impressive results. An Italian restaurant owner in New Jersey told me his second biggest wine night of the week is half-price Monday, second only to Saturday night. Ordinarily, Monday is one of his worst days for wine sales.
In New Orleans, meanwhile, the general manager at a popular French Quarter restaurant said half-price wine happy hour has done the impossible – keep his restaurant busy between lunch and dinner, usually a dead spot. In this, he said, given the choice between a packed dining room and traditional wine pricing, he’ll take the packed dining room every time.
A few other notes from my reporting and research on restaurant wine prices 2018. Unfortunately, in these cases, the more things change, the more they stay the same:
• A Dallas seafood restaurant that caters to the city’s social and political elite has about one-third more red wines on its list than whites. And the markups remain mostly 4-1.
• The restaurant business’ leading trade magazine recently ran a very basic story about how to put together a restaurant wine list, the kind of thing I might write for the blog. One would like to think that anyone reading that magazine would already know how to do that. That the story still ran speaks to the need for basic wine list information – which, actually, shouldn’t be surprising. Also not surprising: the story didn’t mention pricing at all.
• Where are the young people? No matter where I eat (and not just in Dallas, where wine is still seen as exotic by many diners), I don’t see enough Millennials and Gen Xers drinking wine. I’ve been coast to coast this spring, and most of the wine was being consumed by older white couples – even in restaurants where where there were lots of younger people. One more reason why I fear for the future of the wine business.
More about restaurant wine prices:
• The John Cleese Fawlty Towers guide to restaurant wine service
• Restaurant wine prices explained: Follow the money
• Winecast 28: Bret Thorn, Nation’s Restaurant News