There are only a few earthly experiences more sensual than the combination of great wine and great food. Whether it’s a local Rib Joint, Thai Eatery, or Pizza Parlor; smart wine choices will make the experience better. So, why is wine such an afterthought for so many small restaurant owners? With just a little effort independent restaurant owners can make their restaurants more enjoyable for guests, interesting for staff, and profitable for themselves.
Here is an example of what I mean. I was helping the owner of a 130-seat neighborhood bistro in Los Angeles recently. The food was very good but sales were below plan and declining. A review of the operation showed that bar sales were just a fraction of what they should have been, so that’s were we started.
The bar had roughly 25 seat and ample standing room. The chef had developed a wonderful appetizer menu exclusively for the bar. The most popular dishes were Thai Curry Mussels with Lemongrass, Crab Cakes with Creamy Polenta, and Tempura Calamari with a House-made Aioli. Unfortunately, the wines offered by the glass were unspectacular and poorly matched with the food. Since the bar menu consisted of relatively light items with bold flavors, I began by introducing a delicious Viognier by the glass as a featured wine.
This wine’s floral and fruity character made it an exceptional match for the most popular dishes on the bar menu. Its medium body made it easy to recommend and its wholesale price made it the highest margin option in the bar. Most importantly, it was incredibly delicious with the food. So I introduced it to the management, the bartenders, and the waiters; who all loved it.
The result was a snowball effect. The bartenders and waiters were so enthused by the new wine that they sold it to guests as if they were sharing investment tips with a best friend. Since the wine delivered on taste, it quickly become the unofficial house wine with regulars, who spread the buzz with other guests in the bar. Following a few more adjustments to the restaurant’s wine list, a wine culture had taken root. Guests, staff, and management were all whirling, sniffing, and sipping as wine and overall bar sales skyrocketed.
Thus, with just a modest amount of effort an independently owned restaurant can be set apart from its competition. Why is this important? Because, given two restaurants with equally good food and service, the one offering a more interesting and exciting wine selection will attract more guests every time.