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Creating a Successful Wine List for Your Bar or Restaurant

Creating a Successful Wine List for Your Bar or Restaurant

Restaurants offer wine for a multitude of reasons, number one being increased profits. From fast casual restaurants to fine dining establishments, many operators find it beneficial and lucrative to offer their very own wine list. A wine list can also set your restaurant or bar apart from the competition, but only if you do it right. After all, it is essential that your wine menu actually sells wine. Consider these suggestions for creating a winning wine list for your bar or restaurant.

In this article you will learn:
    • How to choose the right wines for your restaurant or bar concept
    • How to cater to a wide customer-base
    • The basics of wine menu design
    • How to train your team for success

 

Reflect on Your Concept
As a general rule, you should make sure that creating a wine menu fits with the core concept of your operation. If you run a traditional burger joint, it is unlikely that you will need a wine list. If your concept involves gourmet burgers in an upscale setting, then a wine list might be more appropriate. If you are looking to offer a wine selection for the first time, just consider how it will affect the rest of your operation. Ask yourself if wine is fundamentally in line with your theme. Consider which regions or types of wine you may want to incorporate. If your restaurant has a chef or sommelier, involve him or her in your decision-making process.

Make the Right Choices
The wine selection is the most critical part of creating the wine menu. You need to find a supplier, select the labels you wish to purchase, manage your inventory, and make sure you can sell the wine you select. Follow these guidelines when choosing your wines: 

  • Find a reliable supplier.
    Do some research and consider what options are available to you. If you have friends in the beverage business, go to them first. Ask who they use for their wine purveyors. See what type of selection they offer, and how it fits with their concepts. This should give you a good starting point.
  • Taste-test your potential choices.
    Before putting a wine on the menu, make sure it tastes good. Invite local distributors to your restaurant to meet with you to discuss their top selling wines as well as lesser known labels that may fit well with your concept. Be sure to involve your chef, maître’D, sommelier (if he or she is not taking charge of this task already) and even your servers to help you make decisions. Of course there is some subjectivity to the taste-test, but unless you can find the positive parts of every wine you taste, you will have trouble selling it. Usually your wine purveyors will want to make a mutually beneficial sale, so they will make good suggestions.
  • Several unopened wine bottlesLook for the best value.
    No matter the price, make sure that you can offer an enjoyable and satisfying wine selection while staying within your inventory budget. The prices you pay will be reflected in the prices you charge your customers, so try to make the value apparent. If you choose expensive wines, make sure they truly offer something special. Not all expensive wines are good wines for your concept, and some of the best wines may turn out to be very affordable.
  • Develop appropriate food pairings.
    Make sure your choice of wines pair well with your menu items. No wine will match all foods, but try to choose a variety of wines that will enhance the flavors and types of foods you offer on your menu. Many guests choose wine based their choice of entrées. For example, many restaurants suggest a light white wine to pair with their fish entrées, whereas a spicy red might go best with a braised duck dish. You can even list these suggestive pairings on your food menu. » Learn more about wine pairing
  • Be prepared to manage your inventory.
    When you first begin to offer wine in your restaurant, you can anticipate a large order to create your initial inventory. Your inventory on-hand will depend upon your size and operation type. However, you will need to be financially prepared to take the hit to your profit and loss statement(P&L) when you first order, and you will need to have the appropriate space and storage set-up to properly store the bottles. This involves the appropriate shelving unitsback bar refrigeration and walk-in cooler space, to name the basics. You may need to re-evaluate your stock of bar supplies as well, including wine glasses and corkscrews

Offer Something for Everyone
When making your wine selections, it is important to include something to suit every taste. This does not mean that you must have hundreds upon hundreds of wines available. It means choosing wisely among many varietals, regions and price-points to suit a wide range of guests. Do not try to intimidate your guests with an overly long, complex or excessively expensive list of wines. Customers want to find something interesting, something they recognize, and something that will make them feel like they made a good choice. Help them along in this process, and your profits will soar. 

  • Offer a variety.
    Offering a variety, again, does not necessarily mean offering tons of wines. Instead, offering a variety can mean offering many types of varietals, and potentially a few that may be new to most customers. For instance, you may be right to think that most of your guests have heard of or tried a Merlot, but perhaps they have never tried a Barbera or a Malbec. A combination of recognizable wines and completely new wines will give the guest the comfort of familiarity as well as the option to try something they may never have heard of. You may also choose to offer wines from a variety of different regions.
  • Vary the serving size.
    To cater to every guest, it is important to serve wine in as many forms as you can. Most of the time you hear about selling wine by the bottle, but for traditional bar service, lunch service or even dinner, many bars offer wine served by the glass. This can actually provide a good profit—one glass of wine might be served for $8, when the bottle, about four glasses worth, is served for $30. Serving by the glass also allows the guests the chance to try something new without committing to the full bottle. You may also consider offering flights of wine, which are groupings of three or four wines served in slightly smaller portions. Finally, offering half-bottle deals can be a good value for guests looking to limit their consumption, especially for dessert wines where half-bottles are the standard.
  • Host tastings and events.
    Hosting wine tasting and food pairing events can be a great way to bring in customers who may not have come in otherwise. These events are usually made available to anyone and posted on marketing materials or the restaurant or bar website. Typically, several samples of different wines are served to guests, often accompanied by snacks or small plates of cheese, dessert or other well-matched item. This gives the guest the ability to try something new without spending as much as they may have for an entire entrée and several glasses. » Learn more about hosting a wine tasting 

Make Your Menu Simple, Clear and Organized
When devising your wine menu, it is crucial that your guests be able to understand it. This means that your menu must be simple and clear. Use your menu as the first means of communicating with your guest. Communication is one key component of your presentation. You must extract the essential details of each wine and tell your customers three important things: a) The name of the wine, b) what the wine tastes like, and c) what the wine costs. In order to present these key pieces of information for each wine, is it imperative that the wine list is organized effectively and presented in a readable fashion. 

  • Keep it simple.
    Can you add your own design, wording and even bits of humor? Absolutely. But be conscious of over-doing it. Your wine list needs to be simple to read and easy to understand so that the customer feels comfortable looking at it and making a decision within a reasonable amount of time. Long descriptions using flowery language might look good on a wine label, but on a wine menu, it is better to be direct. Something like, “Crisp, citrus flavor with an oaky finish. Pairs well with chicken” is all you may need to get the point across and make the sale.
  • Maintain intuitive organization.
    Your wine menu should be quick and easy to navigate. There is no right or wrong way to organize your wine selection, but think about what would make the most sense to your customer based on your operation. If you are an Italian restaurant, it may make the most sense to organize your wines based on grape type (reds and whites). If your selection comes entirely from Italy, there are fewer important reasons to organize the wines by region. Many restaurants organize their lists based on the types of wine they offer, such as:
The wine list at local bar in Denver

Sparkling Whites

Light-Bodied Whites

Full-Bodied Whites

Light-Bodied Reds

Full-Bodied Reds

Dessert Wines

 

  • Be creative.
    Many restaurants and bars keep to a basic structure even if they choose to add different names to the categories. For instance, you may want to call your sparkling whites section, “A Bit of Bubbly,” or your full-bodied reds, “Splendid and Savory Reds.” Play upon your theme and concept. If you run a seafood restaurant with a maritime theme, try something like, “Ports and Starboards,” for your Port and dessert wine section. There is nothing that says you cannot have fun with this, and your customers will usually appreciate witty wordplay.

Train, Educate and Sell
Once you have brought new wines into your restaurant or bar, you need to make sure that you and your staff are knowledgeable about each type of wine on your list, and are prepared to discuss the wine with guests. As with any menu, your servers are the key liaisons between what is written on the paper and what is actually sold. Especially when it comes to wine, people want to feel empowered to make a good choice. However, people often feel like they want more guidance than they do when choosing their entrées. Keeping your servers and bartenders up-to-snuff on your wine list will make your people seem more professional and will help your guests feel better taken care of.

A chaulk menu board advertises the day.

      • Train your people.
        Whenever restaurant operators put a new item on the menu, they provide training sessions for servers to get to know the meal. The servers taste the food, learn about how it is prepared and what ingredients go into it. They are trained to feel comfortable talking about the dish and suggesting it to guests. The same goes for wine. Servers and bartenders need to feel confident talking about and suggesting anything on your wine menu. This includes discussing the wine from vintage to taste to how it pairs with food. Train your people to be knowledgeable and offer guidance, and never to force a decision based on a price or personal opinions.
      • Implement contests.
        Many operators use contests to encourage their employees to sell more product. When you offer rewards and prizes for employees who successfully upsell wine, you are providing a motivation factor as well as an opportunity for the employee to practice their selling technique. » Learn more about upselling wine
      • Price your wine appropriately.
        As with any menu, the obvious intent is to sell things. Getting your customers to spend as much as possible without making the dining experience feel excessively extravagant is all part of the process. » Learn more about how to price alcoholic beverages

Wine provides an excellent accompaniment to many dishes, and most upscale restaurants and bars would not think of opening their doors without it. A good wine menu is critical to selling wine in any establishment. When creating a wine menu, consider your concept, your clientele and the menu design, as well as how well your staff will be able to sell the wine. When all these factors are in place, your guests will be clinking their wine glasses in no time.