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Wine Mark-Ups in Restaurants


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I had a bottle of wine over the weekend which, at triple retail cost, seemed pricy even for restaurant service. In discussing the wine with Cafe du Parc Sommelier Catarina Abbruzzetti in this thread. I was unrealistic in my expectations -- that benchmark pricing for mid-priced wine runs roughly double reatail or triple wholesale. Anything above that creeps towards larcenous, anything below that edges towards "great deal" territory.

Without discussing the particular merits of my particular bottle of Macon -- I don't know what the Willard paid and it's altogether possible that I was lulled into high expectations by particularly friendly pricing at Calvert Woodley, and I generally like their list quite a bit -- I wonder what both the pros and the diners out there think is the "normal" markup and, just for fun, what they think of as "fair."

Further, we have a couple of folks on the board -- I'm thinking Mark, Dean and the Landrum/Slater Axis of Oeno, but there are surely -- actively working to push prices relatively lower. Do we think that this is the wave of the future? Or are the economics of restaurant-running generally opposed to lower prices?

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Here's the deal in a nutshell: as soon as you introduce accountants and outside corporate control into the equation, fair flies out the window. They are the source of the strict 33.333333333333% (or worse) markups across the board. Enlightened operators know that value always trumps percentages.

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Don't ya mean 333.33333333333%. or can we now request the Mark Slater special rate at Ray's

Here's the deal in a nutshell: as soon as you introduce accountants and outside corporate control into the equation, fair flies out the window. They are the source of the strict 33.333333333333% (or worse) markups across the board. Enlightened operators know that value always trumps percentages.
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Here's the deal in a nutshell: as soon as you introduce accountants and outside corporate control into the equation, fair flies out the window. They are the source of the strict 33.333333333333% (or worse) markups across the board. Enlightened operators know that value always trumps percentages.

That does remind me that others who practice the wine trade in large hotels have felt unfairly blamed for markups imposed upon them by troll-like accountants in distant cities.

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As a marketing guy with a specialty in pricing and innovation in pricing and strategy (who I might add is looking for an unpaid internship), the general rule is that you charge what the market will bear. That is far easier said than done- what hte market will bear is a combination of market demographic, market trends in pricing, and how an individual restaurant is run. So for example, you can use wine as a profit or a cost center. I'd imagine for a place like Dino wine is a profit center, though not quite as much as the food is (I have no internal knowledge of Dino's books) but their apparent margin on wine wouldn't seem to support too much beyond the variable costing of the business, though I could be way off.

If you ask me from a non business based view, I prefer not to pay more than a 30-40% markup, though I'm far happier to pay larger markups on better, rarer bottles of wine served with appropriate wine service.

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In a retail environment frequently a number like 40% gross cost percent is used across the board. That means the bottle costs 40% of what you list it for. This equals 60% gross margin, but is in fact a 2.5x markup.

Restaurants (and Mark is right here about corporate ones) frequently have an across the board markup that makes thing like beer/wine/liquor cost easier to track and explain.

In the real world (or my personal surreal world) there are a number of factors that we use, outside the norms that influence pricing. External factors like: we're down the block from a retailer, yet we're also the only restaurant in the area with a serious wine list.

Then there are the host of questions that you can ask about a given product: how big is production?, will I be able to reorder this product? Is it a niche bottle that I might have to hand-sell and the buyer will be happy to pay the premium? Does the bottle delivery such exceptional value that I can expect to move pallets of it, so price it to move and actually make inventory dollars work for us.

The smart operator will give up a few points of margin to turn inventory and have good cashflow for their business. Few are the houses that can afford the wine list of true trophies anymore - if you're one, God love you and your angel.

J. Comfort

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This is why I love DC since so many places offer BYOW with a corkage fee. Yes I am a wine geek. Sue me.

That said, I always like looking at wine lists and searching for a good deal. This can be at a higher pricepoint most often if you're talking percentages. But trying to find a sweetly priced wine is a challenge. Most times, I stay to $50 and under off of a list just because it makes it that much more of a challenge to find something good that is also a value of a given wine list.

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An across the board markup is a sure sign of the lack of intelligence of the bean counter. Here is my philosophy

Markups should be lower on things readily available, the very unusual or off the beaten track, the expensive. Markups should be higher on items that you have to work hard to get (ie buy a large amount of standing inventory to get a price or just to get the distributor to bring it in for you). If you buy a close out, you should price it at what it is worth, not what you paid. Sometimes they are one and the same and sometimes they are higher markups. Older wines should be marked up yearly to reflect the cost of holding them and their increased rarity. Wines that are too you too drink either should not be on a list or should be marked up higher to discourage their drinking and allowed to age further.

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As a marketing guy with a specialty in pricing and innovation in pricing and strategy (who I might add is looking for an unpaid internship), the general rule is that you charge what the market will bear. That is far easier said than done- what hte market will bear is a combination of market demographic, market trends in pricing, and how an individual restaurant is run. So for example, you can use wine as a profit or a cost center.
The smart operator will give up a few points of margin to turn inventory and have good cashflow for their business. Few are the houses that can afford the wine list of true trophies anymore - if you're one, God love you and your angel.

J. Comfort

As a side question- how many operators know what cash flow is and how to manage it in a sustainable way?

Recognizing that credentialed marketing and finance types have a great faith in formulae and spreadsheets (obviously necessary in a larger concern), wouldn't you suspect that any small businessperson that can stay in business for more than a year or two has an instinctual feel for cash flow, margins and so on?

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An across the board markup is a sure sign of the lack of intelligence of the bean counter. Here is my philosophy

Markups should be lower on things readily available, the very unusual or off the beaten track, the expensive. Markups should be higher on items that you have to work hard to get (ie buy a large amount of standing inventory to get a price or just to get the distributor to bring it in for you). If you buy a close out, you should price it at what it is worth, not what you paid. Sometimes they are one and the same and sometimes they are higher markups. Older wines should be marked up yearly to reflect the cost of holding them and their increased rarity. Wines that are too you too drink either should not be on a list or should be marked up higher to discourage their drinking and allowed to age further.

My biggest problem with wine lists, in most (but not all!) cases, is that they are made up only of the most recent vintage and many of the wines are years away from their prime and proper drinking windows. Rare is the list that you find it stocked well (and/or deep) with older vintages. Another bonus for BYOW since I can hold a wine as long as I want before opening it with a fine meal to pair it with from one of our great restaurants in DC.

That said, I also love restaurants that have temporary or better yet ongoing standing promotions where there is a discount on the wine list on a given night of the week (usually the slowest). That always makes me happy even if I can't always take advantage of it.

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Recognizing that credentialed marketing and finance types have a great faith in formulae and spreadsheets (obviously necessary in a larger concern), wouldn't you suspect that any small businessperson that can stay in business for more than a year or two has an instinctual feel for cash flow, margins and so on?
No, there are many underlying things that can keep a small going for a couple of years even when they have no control over their cash.
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Here's the deal in a nutshell: as soon as you introduce accountants and outside corporate control into the equation, fair flies out the window. They are the source of the strict 33.333333333333% (or worse) markups across the board. Enlightened operators know that value always trumps percentages.

Thank you, Mark Slater. Cheers go to the Enlightened One. Very well stated. I agree with everything he said.

Caterina

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I had a bottle of wine over the weekend which, at triple retail cost, seemed pricy even for restaurant service. In discussing the wine with Cafe du Parc Sommelier Catarina Abbruzzetti in this thread. I was unrealistic in my expectations -- that benchmark pricing for mid-priced wine runs roughly double reatail or triple wholesale. Anything above that creeps towards larcenous, anything below that edges towards "great deal" territory.

Without discussing the particular merits of my particular bottle of Macon -- I don't know what the Willard paid and it's altogether possible that I was lulled into high expectations by particularly friendly pricing at Calvert Woodley, and I generally like their list quite a bit -- I wonder what both the pros and the diners out there think is the "normal" markup and, just for fun, what they think of as "fair."

Further, we have a couple of folks on the board -- I'm thinking Mark, Dean and the Landrum/Slater Axis of Oeno, but there are surely -- actively working to push prices relatively lower. Do we think that this is the wave of the future? Or are the economics of restaurant-running generally opposed to lower prices?

Yes, it is the wave of the future. We are pushing for change and challenging the bottom line. Thank you for your comments.

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Although this has devolved a bit into a wine markup discussion, let me first emphasize that

1) The wine thing is more an incidental observation than anything else.

2) The food was very good, well worth a return visit, especially at $34.95 (and Provence starts in June!) and

3) I wrote a polite, if direct, e-mail to the manager about the service issues and received a quick and extremely gracious response, which counts for a great deal.

I don't anyone reading this to be discouraged from enjoying a fine meal at one of Washington's better bistros. I, personally, am eager for patio weather.

Singling out Cafe du Parc, in all of DC because it was tangential to your point -- to raise issues about high wine prices across the board and the perceived value of what you're getting for your money, is very interesting. A winemaker's skill is reflected in the wholesale cost, not in the price the bottle that is marked up in a restaurant. Not knowing what the wholesale cost of the wine is in the restaurant. Normally, if you're paying a standard markup on wine, the restaurant should provide knowledgeable service, good glassware and a wide selection of wines, served at the proper temperatures.

Curious: since we are on the subject, knowing that there is also markup on a Mixed Drinks, throughout the hospitality industry, which in some circumstances this also can be considered as a topic for a hot debate. On a positive note, at least, you can feel like you are rewarding a specialized field or artistry of the bartender, mixologist or sommelier.

Thank you for your comments very much appreciated.

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Singling out Cafe du Parc, in all of DC because it was tangential to your point -- to raise issues about high wine prices across the board and the perceived value of what you're getting for your money, is very interesting. A winemaker's skill is reflected in the wholesale cost, not in the price the bottle that is marked up in a restaurant. Not knowing what the wholesale cost of the wine is in the restaurant. Normally, if you're paying a standard markup on wine, the restaurant should provide knowledgeable service, good glassware and a wide selection of wines, served at the proper temperatures.
I have heard from knowledgeable sources that the wine in question can be obtained wholesale for $11 a bottle. How can you justify adding $35 to the cost of that bottle for wine knowledge, overhead, service, chilling, and the use of the glassware? That seems usurious, considering that other restaurants manage to operate on a much more reasonable wine markup.
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How can you justify adding $35 to the cost of that bottle for wine knowledge, overhead, service, chilling, and the use of the glassware?

They also have to account for the cost of real estate. I don't think it's unusual to see restaurants charge 3x retail for wine. I've seen wines by the glass charged even more.

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I have heard from knowledgeable sources that the wine in question can be obtained wholesale for $11 a bottle. How can you justify adding $35 to the cost of that bottle for wine knowledge, overhead, service, chilling, and the use of the glassware? That seems usurious, considering that other restaurants manage to operate on a much more reasonable wine markup.

Better than the $44 bottle of Ecco Domani and the $56 bottle of Hess that I saw last night... Granted it was room service at a hotel, but still shocked the sensibilities a bit.

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Curious: since we are on the subject, knowing that there is also markup on a Mixed Drinks, throughout the hospitality industry, which in some circumstances this also can be considered as a topic for a hot debate.

A salient point I think. My down-market local pours a healthy shot of Jameson, let's say 2oz, for six bucks. Cheap compared to higher end joints, somewhat pricier than the true local dives, but I believe that still works out to roughly 2.66X mark-up over retail, (I'm not connected enough to know the mark-up over wholesale), but it doesn't FEEL gougey because it's, you know, 6 bucks. For pouring whiskey into a shot glass, no cocktail artistry involved. And this is probably a low margin item for them, much higher margin on the au courant cool-kid cocktail craze...

I myself largely drink draft microbrewed beer. Manager tells me the Avery Maharajah currently on tap cost him $300 per, his first ever $300/keg purchase. But there are 15.5 gallons in that keg, and they are selling this for $8 per 12 oz pour. That's $1320 for the keg, take out ten percent for spillage and it's still a 4x mark-up.

A lower ABV tipple, say Odell 5 Barrel at $5 a pint, 120 pints to the half-barrel would be $600, again knock off 10% spillage (I'm told 5% is acceptable) and you've taken in $540 for a keg that wholesaled at maybe $120--4.5X mark-up.

I'm not putting it down, either-I get value for that in terms of atmosphere, companionship, somebody to wash the glasses, a game I want to see on the telly, all the (circa 2009) components of Hemingway's clean well-lighted place. With wine service involving a master sommelier at a place like, say, Frasca in Boulder, where my party dined Saturday night, add in knowledge and skill that I'll never have to that equation, a cellar somebody put together and at my disposal, and cared for, and pulled out JUST the right bottles for me.... and I can't complain, at 3X over retail.

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I have heard from knowledgeable sources that the wine in question can be obtained wholesale for $11 a bottle. How can you justify adding $35 to the cost of that bottle for wine knowledge, overhead, service, chilling, and the use of the glassware? That seems usurious, considering that other restaurants manage to operate on a much more reasonable wine markup.
I think prices are "justified" the same way everywhere - because the market supports those prices. Rather than worry about "usurious" pricing, or comment on what constitutes a "reasonable wine markup", I gravitate toward restaurants who provide diverse, well thought out lists at varied price points. Although I sometimes take advantage of corkage policies, mostly I find myself happily buying off the list. In an effort to broaden the discussion away from a lone bottle of macon - there is a restaurant in DC that I enjoy, along with many others on this board. I was surprised to see that they have (had?) a certain cultish california pinot noir on their list - for $275 or something thereabouts. Mailing list customers (myself included) may by this wine for $52. Rather than complain, I'll simply forgo that bottle,enjoy the ones I have at home, and make another selection that appeals to my sense of value from a great wine list.
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Wine pricing IS an issue, and rather than simply shrug it off as simply a matter of "they can charge whatever the market will bear," perhaps it would be useful to discuss it further. Most restaurateurs have come to depend on huge markups for wine and liquor to increase their profits. If they marked up their food as much, their customers would not return. What's the problem with that, you ask? Here's my list:

1) I enjoy drinking wine with dinner. It burns me up to see a familiar $10 or $11 retail bottle of wine being sold for $10 a glass (5 or 6 glasses per bottle depending on the size of the pour) or for $40 a bottle. If I am allowed to, I will often bring a good bottle of wine from home and pay the corkage fee instead of buying wine from their list. So I am paying $10-$20 for the use of their glasses and for someone to pull the cork, but I can drink a wine I would not be able to afford, if it were on their list and subjected to a huge markup. And a much better wine than if I am limited to what is "in my price range" on their list.

2) One of the reasons that I don't dine out more often is cost. One of the major contributors to the cost of dining out is wine, especially in places that don't allow corkage. Sometimes, when I do go out and haven't brought my own wine, rather than drink overpriced crappy wine, I'll drink a beer or tapwater. But I might not enjoy my meal as much, and if I don't enjoy my meal they've lost me as a return customer. Lots of people are now cutting back on restaurant meals because of a need to save money. This may be a time when "what the market will bear" will force places with wine programs stuck in an old mind-set to re-think their pricing.

The person most qualified to discuss it from a restaurateur's point of view is Dean Gold, who has built a brilliant wine program based on the philosophy that if he puts a smaller markup on his wine, more people will drink more wine, and will return to his restaurant more frequently. And he has become a destination restaurant for people who know and care about wine.

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Wine pricing IS an issue, and rather than simply shrug it off as simply a matter of "they can charge whatever the market will bear," perhaps it would be useful to discuss it further. Most restaurateurs have come to depend on huge markups for wine and liquor to increase their profits. If they marked up their food as much, their customers would not return. What's the problem with that, you ask? Here's my list:

1) I enjoy drinking wine with dinner. It burns me up to see a familiar $10 or $11 retail bottle of wine being sold for $10 a glass (5 or 6 glasses per bottle depending on the size of the pour) or for $40 a bottle. If I am allowed to, I will often bring a good bottle of wine from home and pay the corkage fee instead of buying wine from their list. So I am paying $10-$20 for the use of their glasses and for someone to pull the cork, but I can drink a wine I would not be able to afford, if it were on their list and subjected to a huge markup. And a much better wine than if I am limited to what is "in my price range" on their list.

2) One of the reasons that I don't dine out more often is cost. One of the major contributors to the cost of dining out is wine, especially in places that don't allow corkage. Sometimes, when I do go out and haven't brought my own wine, rather than drink overpriced crappy wine, I'll drink a beer or tapwater. But I might not enjoy my meal as much, and if I don't enjoy my meal they've lost me as a return customer. Lots of people are now cutting back on restaurant meals because of a need to save money. This may be a time when "what the market will bear" will force places with wine programs stuck in an old mind-set to re-think their pricing.

The person most qualified to discuss it from a restaurateur's point of view is Dean Gold, who has built a brilliant wine program based on the philosophy that if he puts a smaller markup on his wine, more people will drink more wine, and will return to his restaurant more frequently. And he has become a destination restaurant for people who know and care about wine.

Thanks. This is a much more productive discussion than one centered on the pricing of one bottle of wine. I agree with most of your points. Personally, I really only patronize restaurants in DC that have lists that I find to be well priced and diverse (save the occassional work dinner at Capital Grille), and generally only take advantage of corkage when bringing a bottle widely unavailable (ex. many SQN wines), or special to me. Otherwise, I buy off the list, sometimes at mark-ups similar to the ones you talk about, but never for "crappy" wine. With the variety of restaurants available in the district, and with restauranteurs like Dean Gold (and what Michael and Mark have going on in Arlington - can't wait to come back to DC and check it out), there really isn't a need to succumb to prices one finds uncomfortable. Over time, typical wine markups will change. But, I would much rather pay a larger markup on an interesting bottle of wine as opposed to some Santa Margarita or Coppola plonk.
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Wine pricing IS an issue, and rather than simply shrug it off as simply a matter of "they can charge whatever the market will bear," perhaps it would be useful to discuss it further. Most restaurateurs have come to depend on huge markups for wine and liquor to increase their profits. If they marked up their food as much, their customers would not return. What's the problem with that, you ask? Here's my list:

1) I enjoy drinking wine with dinner. It burns me up to see a familiar $10 or $11 retail bottle of wine being sold for $10 a glass (5 or 6 glasses per bottle depending on the size of the pour) or for $40 a bottle. If I am allowed to, I will often bring a good bottle of wine from home and pay the corkage fee instead of buying wine from their list. So I am paying $10-$20 for the use of their glasses and for someone to pull the cork, but I can drink a wine I would not be able to afford, if it were on their list and subjected to a huge markup. And a much better wine than if I am limited to what is "in my price range" on their list.

2) One of the reasons that I don't dine out more often is cost. One of the major contributors to the cost of dining out is wine, especially in places that don't allow corkage. Sometimes, when I do go out and haven't brought my own wine, rather than drink overpriced crappy wine, I'll drink a beer or tapwater. But I might not enjoy my meal as much, and if I don't enjoy my meal they've lost me as a return customer. Lots of people are now cutting back on restaurant meals because of a need to save money. This may be a time when "what the market will bear" will force places with wine programs stuck in an old mind-set to re-think their pricing.

The person most qualified to discuss it from a restaurateur's point of view is Dean Gold, who has built a brilliant wine program based on the philosophy that if he puts a smaller markup on his wine, more people will drink more wine, and will return to his restaurant more frequently. And he has become a destination restaurant for people who know and care about wine.

Ah a voice of reason.

I generally either forgo buying something from the list and BYOW with paying a corkage fee as well. But, honestly, a meal is not a meal to me (dinner anyway) without some wine. I will instead very carefully select a good bottle at the very low end of the list, or buy a glass or two depending on what the place might have available.

I also tend to eat out more in places with well priced wine programs or places that I can BYOW. This means I can eat out more, which is one of the things I love to do with my wife, which means it is a good thing. :rolleyes:

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Ah a voice of reason.

I generally either forgo buying something from the list and BYOW with paying a corkage fee as well. But, honestly, a meal is not a meal to me (dinner anyway) without some wine. I will instead very carefully select a good bottle at the very low end of the list, or buy a glass or two depending on what the place might have available.

I also tend to eat out more in places with well priced wine programs or places that I can BYOW. This means I can eat out more, which is one of the things I love to do with my wife, which means it is a good thing. :rolleyes:

Please cross the river.

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I had a bottle of wine over the weekend which, at triple retail cost, seemed pricy even for restaurant service. In discussing the wine with Cafe du Parc Sommelier Catarina Abbruzzetti in this thread. I was unrealistic in my expectations -- that benchmark pricing for mid-priced wine runs roughly double reatail or triple wholesale. Anything above that creeps towards larcenous, anything below that edges towards "great deal" territory.

Without discussing the particular merits of my particular bottle of Macon -- I don't know what the Willard paid and it's altogether possible that I was lulled into high expectations by particularly friendly pricing at Calvert Woodley, and I generally like their list quite a bit -- I wonder what both the pros and the diners out there think is the "normal" markup and, just for fun, what they think of as "fair."

Further, we have a couple of folks on the board -- I'm thinking Mark, Dean and the Landrum/Slater Axis of Oeno, but there are surely -- actively working to push prices relatively lower. Do we think that this is the wave of the future? Or are the economics of restaurant-running generally opposed to lower prices?

Juice "Content":

Speaking of which, from my retail wine shop experience. Retail pricing also varies from one outfit to the next. I.e. Whole Foods (W.F.) have a wine specialist working in their wine department. The wine specialist controls quality and value and is an expert wine buyer. Each W.F., wine department is run independently. The same wines are not mimicked in every W.F., wine department. Hence, I did not find the same wines in Alexandria vs George Town. I.e. W.F. in Alexandria have great pricing and fair markups on their selection of wines, is the overall consensus. It's excellent! I also found many great wines carried in W.F. that I have seen throughout many restaurant's lists, at great prices, which is no surprise to me. These same wines, as the wine market shifted, gradually made there way from restaurants to retail, or vise a versa, i.e.,. W.F. or other retail outfits that specialize in wines. Generally speaking, the bottom line is finding quality and value and having the expertise or specialized wine consultant, knowledgeable in their market and listening to their customers. Wine pricing and mark ups have always been controversial, and vary from wine to wine, at the end of the day, I am also concerned as a buyer and consumer with the actual cost of the wines that I purchase. I always ask for a fair price. I am also paying attention, listening and very concerned for our customers. You will definitely find a selection of wine gems on both sides of the river. There is a big difference in the sales tax also.

Anyway enjoy the wine your drink.

Has anyone noticed the wine prices in restaurants abroad?

It's more of a challenge, interesting and fun, for me to find wines under $20-$30, "esoteric." Thank you

Cheers!

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There is an additional thing to think about in this discussion. I will use the Macon as an example. The Macon-Loché from Domaine Tripoz is imported by Elite Wines in Lorton, Virginia. Elite is also the local distributor. They have purchased the wine at the source, added their mark-up and sell it for $11 to wine shops and restaurants. I know from experience that the wine will cost around $5-6 at the source. Joseph Drouhin Macon-Villages 2007 is available from The Country Vintner, a local distributor also, for $11.17. Here's where the difference is: Drouhin is imported by Dreyfus-Ashby, an importer. The village Macon comes from many sources in Macon, so there is most likely a broker involved. Every person in this chain adds a mark-up to the bottle: broker, importer, supplier, distributor. This means that the $11.17 bottle most likely costs $1-2 at the source and has been marked up by everyone involved. Which one would you rather drink?

(BTW, the Macon-Loché would sell at Ray's for $28).

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There is an additional thing to think about in this discussion. I will use the Macon as an example. The Macon-Loché from Domaine Tripoz is imported by Elite Wines in Lorton, Virginia. Elite is also the local distributor. They have purchased the wine at the source, added their mark-up and sell it for $11 to wine shops and restaurants. I know from experience that the wine will cost around $5-6 at the source. Joseph Drouhin Macon-Villages 2007 is available from The Country Vintner, a local distributor also, for $11.17. Here's where the difference is: Drouhin is imported by Dreyfus-Ashby, an importer. The village Macon comes from many sources in Macon, so there is most likely a broker involved. Every person in this chain adds a mark-up to the bottle: broker, importer, supplier, distributor. This means that the $11.17 bottle most likely costs $1-2 at the source and has been marked up by everyone involved. Which one would you rather drink?

(BTW, the Macon-Loché would sell at Ray's for $28).

Every person in this chain adds a mark-up to the bottle: broker, importer, supplier, distributor. This means that the $11.17 bottle most likely costs $1-2 at the source and has been marked up by everyone involved.

So that is the bottom line. I could not have agreed more. Mark is the advocate of wine buying.

Brilliant! I will come visit you at Rays in VA and we can drink the Macon-Loché without any politics and red tape. We have a date with destiny.

BTW- when I was the original wine director at 2941 Restaurant, VA, I fortunately had come up with a plan, buying directly from the source. Wine labeling laws were a challenge. Painfully, I can't do this so easily but I am working on making more changes. Salut

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Most restaurateurs have come to depend on huge markups for wine and liquor to increase their profits. If they marked up their food as much, their customers would not return.

Old topic, but I've been meaning to reply to this for a while.

I hate to break it to you, but restaurants charge even MORE of a mark-up on food than they do on wine.

In your typical restaurant, the chef is given a mandate of 30% food cost--meaning that a plate of food whose ingredients cost $10 will be priced on the menu for $33-$34 (a little leeway is figured in to allow for dropped plates and unwarranted send-backs). Particular food items that have a high perceived-value but in reality a low cost--scallops, filet mignon, lobster, at times--will have an even higher mark up, sometimes ridiculously so, as will the lower-cost menu items--chicken, salmon, pork etc.

The small plates format is typically priced even more egregiously at a projected 25% food cost. Meaning that that cute $8 plate of mini-whatevers contains $2 of ingredients.

Very often, with the 30% food cost mandate, a chef is expected to hit 28% to make bonus. A chef who finds himself with a food cost of 33-35% food cost will soon find himself bonus-less and out of a job.

The typical wine cost is pretty much 33% across the board, except at the obvious exceptions, meaning that a bottle of wine that wholesales for $10 will sell for $30.

For the record, at Ray's we work off a 55-60% food cost goal, meaning that, say, fresh jumbo lump crab that wholesales at $18/lb on average is sold as a 7-ounce Crab Royale, with sides having a plate-cost of $12, for $20.95 (the 10-ounce is 26.95). And our average wine cost is 40-45% (don't jump on me, mathematicians) , or a 2.2-2.5 mark-up--meaning that a bottle of wine that wholesales for $10 will be on the list for $25, rather than $30, and one that wholesales for $25 will be on the list for $55, rather than $75.

Sorry to cross the line of self-promotion, Don, but the meaning of "value" in restaurants is so misconstrued and so misunderstood that I felt it would be ok to break it down in real world numbers.

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ML -- Thanks for the analysis. What I think is different, though, is the perception of what the restaurant does to deliver food vs wine to the patron. People understand there is a certain amount of labor and wizardry to create dishes that are tasty and that people want to eat. People don't understand that it costs anything to just open a bottle of wine. Don't get me wrong, I know there are costs for a wine program outside of sourcing the wine itself (delivery fees, taxes, stemware, breakage, spoilage, storage, training of staff, etc, etc, etc) -- but most people do not understand this and a wine program at one restaurant (that might have a stellar wine program) is not necessarily the norm of the rest of the industry (clearly).

I still prefer BYOW myself, but I also like a restaurant with a good wine program, particularly one that offers a list with lots of choices, a few easter eggs on the list, and great stemware (outside of a 'reasonable' wine list markup, of course). Those are the places that I like to support, particularly when I am not BYOWing it.

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Not to take a position on the "appropriate" mark-up of either food or wine, but a couple of thoughts:

1) Above a certain level, a restaurant food is something that a customer either lacks the skills, ingredients or time to produce. It is unavailable at home at any price. On the other hand, most people can get themselves to a high-end wine shop, get a recommendation from an experienced wine professional and serve the wine him or herself for a fraction of the cost. Mathematics aside, I think this is why wine mark-up gets more attitude than food markup.

2) Food costs (to the customer) are largely non-negotiable. If I go to dinner and want three courses, the cost to me isn't going to vary alarmingly. The cost of the wine, however, can often varies by a factor of ten or more. Similarly, if I'm feeling skinflint-ish I can usually cut my food costs by skipping dessert, ordering the chicken, splitting an entree or whatever. A lot of places, however, either limit the availability of lower-priced bottles, or serve awful swill at awful markups. In either case, the cost of the wine draws my attention a lot more than the cost of the food.

3) The value added by the kitchen brigade seems higher than the value added by the wine team. Before Mark, Dean, Caterina and others beat me up on this let me say that that yes, a good wine program adds a great deal of value and yes, there is a great deal of unseen work that goes into a good wine list. Nonetheless, I wonder what the labor costs are for food versus wine.

4) Branding. Decent restaurants all have their distinct brands (so do shitty chain restaurants, but that's another story). The Source is different from Volt which is different from Proof, and so one expects to pay more for the real and perceived benefits of a distinctive product and less distinctive -- but important -- brand cachet. On the other hand, wine is something of a commodity -- the same bottle available on different lists for different prices, allowing comparison, and giving the (sometimes erroneous) impression that the lists are more or less interchangeable.

So, in the end, I think wine mark-ups are always going to get more scrutiny than food prices.

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Not to take a position on the "appropriate" mark-up of either food or wine, but a couple of thoughts:

3) The value added by the kitchen brigade seems higher than the value added by the wine team. Before Mark, Dean, Caterina and others beat me up on this let me say that that yes, a good wine program adds a great deal of value and yes, there is a great deal of unseen work that goes into a good wine list. Nonetheless, I wonder what the labor costs are for food versus wine.

I want to add some general observations. Undoubtedly a lot of time and effort (hence costs) go into maintaining a good wine program besides just flipping a bottle. Tasting, ordering, stocking, storing, staff training, maintaining the list on a current basis, and of course, stemware, all result in significant costs, albeit some of which are hard to quantify. But Pool Boy's point is correct. Even if a chef maintains food costs below 30%, there are significant costs in terms of labor and equipment maintenance that quickly and radically reduce the true margin on food sales. In my analysis, I allocate 100% of BOH labor costs (excluding dishwashers) to food sales as well as a percentage of FOH (and dishwasher) labor costs to food sales that corresponds to the percentage of food sales over total sales.

Haider consistently delivers food costs below 30%, while our raw wine cost is approximately 44% (our bottle pricing averages 2.25 X our cost). Nevertheless, and consistent with Zora's original contention, after labor costs are allocated as described above and all other costs are reasonably allocated between food on the one hand, and wine/spirits/beer on the other, the latter provides a more attractive profit center. Moreover, I have not run the numbers but I strongly suspect that if our raw food costs approached the 55% Michael mentioned it is hard to imagine that our kitchen could be a profit center.

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Just wanted to chime in (as a regular old reader, and not as a moderator) and say this is a great dialogue. I find it genuinely interesting.

What could be especially interesting is that at the high-end, a great, well-run restaurant, with a great chef, exceptional food and an exceptional wine program such as Proof can afford to be so transparent. I know none of my competitors, on the steakhouse front, can afford to be; I wonder how many of Proof's can. Perhaps that is criteria that could come more into play when evaluating restaurants publicly--as shocking an idea as that may be. Who is actually fair and honest with their guests and can measure up to standards of transparency?

To digress a bit, this reminds me of a fairly obvious truth that was brought home by a comment by Todd Kliman in his twittering from the opening night at V-2, err...J&G, yet another not-really-a-steakhouse-but-calls-itself-a-steakhouse-anyway. The fairly obvious truth is in answer to the question everyone asks every time a new steakhouse is announced, why do they keep opening more steakhouses by big name out-of-town chefs in DC, especially when it turns out that they really aren't steakhouses/don't serve great steaks. The answer, obvious to me at least, is that when you call yourself a steakhouse you immediately lose all accountability for your pricing and you can get away with all sorts of shit that no other restaurant could ever get away with and that's the only way there's enough for both the hotel and the chef-fronted conglomerate to glom onto.

Not even Citronelle or Maestro can get away with an $80 entree--imagine what would be said of INOX if they even tried. But at a steakhouse? One that doesn't even serve a good steak? No problem, nothing wrong there, no gouging whatsoever!!! On the other side of the coin, Buck's gets a lot of criticism, rightly or wrongly, I don't know, for the price of it's $38 steak. But the same steak of a lesser quality at a steakhouse for $48 or $52? No problem!!! Plus the $10, $12, even $14 sides you need to order to avoid bare plates. Who else even gets away with that shit? But call yourself a steakhouse and it's all good, even if your steaks are not.

I wonder if when I open Ray's The Catch and my fish and seafood sucks anyone is going to say, "Fish isn't the reason to go to Ray's The Catch, but there is a great steak or two on the menu, so by all means go!" No, the obvious question would be, "Why does he do fish if his fish sucks?"

Ask that question to big name chefs about steaks, and the answer is obvious: "It let's us charge more for EVERYTHING and not have to work very hard to do it!"

(Hee-hee, I kill myself--Vergeltungsgaststatte-2. Ha ha)

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My first impulse is to respond as a consumer of wine, which I have been for far longer than I have been a restaurateur. If I am given a bottle that expands my horizons, goes well with the food, has an interesting story and tastes great for the money, my time has been enriched. And that is the bottom line for me. That is what I am looking for, a good experience. And nothing in this equation speaks to wine markup. But the reality is that I rarely have had this experience at many restaurants. The Denton Brothers' restaurants in NYC (Lupa, 'inotecca, 'ino) are places where this used to happen all the time ( i cannot realy comment on current practice as I have not been much is the last few years :rolleyes: .

I recall a dinner at a restaurant in NYC with a wine sales person (we were in NYC for other reasons) where we were given a bottle that was funky, light, not complicated and killer with the food. My wine geel friend refused to drink it because it was not a fruit bomb. The restaurant took it back and we drank some typical plonk and I was mmisrable thinking what the wine would have been like with my plate of tripe! The bottle was only 33 dollars, the wine we ended up drinking almost 100. But the $30 wine was something that I would have relished, the $100 wine something typical and lacking in soul. I later found out that the $30 wine cost $6 a bottle (in DC) and the $100 cost $60. So we got a much bettter deal on the $100, right? No way. It was still the same insipid piece-of-shinola me-too bottle.

I think a good wine program is one that expands your horizons as a drinker. If the restaurant can do that and make more or less of a mark up, the question is what value the wines you get deliver. Should I take the same markup on the last two cases of an overlooked vintage closeout from a distributor, a wine that is a killer wine but that the market just reacted badly too as I do on some wine made by a 400,000 case a year winery? What about an importer who takes a chance on 10 cases of something weird and cannot sell it at the original very fair price? He then offers it to be below his cost and I sell it at a resonable markup based on the original cost, but make a killing on the wine because I am getting it for half off. Am I ripping anyone off?

The bottom line is that most restaurants do not do a good job on their wine lists. Their lists are filled with miles and miles of the same old same old. Steakhouses with one overly extracted, high alcohol California cab after another, with page after page of big name Bordeaux (which, after all, is a commodity). Single distributor lists with a scope limited by the convenience of having everyting done by someone else. Lists with wines made int he 100,000's of cases, or 1,000,000's of cases. There is no way I support these wine programs even if the markups are more or less reasonable. Hell I wouldn't drink it even if the markup was retail plus $15 a bottle! It just goes against why I drink wine. I'll take a martini or iced tea or a beer!

But if someone creative gives me a list filled with adventurous wines in a wide variety of styles, I will be happy to leap in and thake their recommendation regarless of mark up. And I will do it again as long as I am getting a great value vis a vis the retail I am asked to pay and the experience at the table the wine creates.

Look around at the table. are you in a fine dining establishent with farm to table cooking and everyone is drinking Mondavi, Jess Jackson owned wineries, Chateau St Jean? If so, what the hell are they doing with their wine program? Corporate crap is OK in a wine glass but not on a salad plate? This is wrong no matter the markup. I remember the day at a winery with wine maker David Ramey where there was a tour of the winery that he had to constantly go and talk to. After the thrid time he left us and came back, I asked who this scruffy group of guys and gals was. "Oh, they are the white wine barrel crew at Mondavi Napa." There were 22 of them. 22 people to top the barrels at Mondavi Napa. Wait, to top and fill the barrels of chardonnay and Fune Blanc at Mondavi Napa. 22! What hands on wine making!!!!! I asked David what his white wine barrel crew consisted of. "4 of us." That inckluded his vineyard manager and the winery chemist/tasting room manager and David's assistant. David touched every barrel himself regularly. David's Cahrdonnays three soll for more than Mondavi's. Sould I question his mark up vis a vis Mondavi?

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Dean, I am with you on many points. I want a great experience with the wine I buy at a restaurant. I remember dining at Babbo the one and only time I went there, we had fun with one of the sommeliers (I think they actually had two at the time!). We managed to secure an early dinner reservation and we ended up dining for 4.5 hours. The odyssey that we were taken on between the food AND the wine was amazing. We opted for the pasta tasting menu and inserted an extra course on top of that, plus we opted for the upgraded wine pairing to accompany it and the guy also found a great pairing for the beef cheek ravioli that we'd forcibly inserted in to the line up. From top to bottom, he picked great wines that went with the food. Some of the bottles, upon later research, were relatively inexpensive, while a few were quite expensive. In the end, the mix was perfect and I did not feel ripped off whatsoever. Who knows what the markup was, and in some cases for a given wine with a given course, I might otherwise be really pissed off from a markup perspective, but I wasn't because of the whole transportative package. The whole shebang. The odyssey. I know that our waitstaff there and the sommelier could see that we were enjoying ourselves tremendously, and I really think they fed off of that energy as there were healthy pours, an occasional extra here and there and just great interactions with them. A great night.

In most cases, sadly, wine lists are poorly designed and wine pairings and wines by the glass programs are even more poorly thought out. What is also interesting, I think, is the perception of people who insist that a $150 bottle of wine is 'better' than a $30 bottle universally is curious. While perhaps this is true much of the time, it is not always true. And, often, the cheaper bottle will pair better with the given food than the expensive bottle -- but people often don't see that -- the diner or the restaurant.

I often look at the cheap end of the list first. I am loathe these days to spend more than $50 on a bottle of wine at a restaurant -- I'd prefer to find something less expensive and hopefully good and most importantly that'll match up well with what I am eating. The bonus would be, if I really like it, I have something I can hopefully find locally for a good price to load up on for the home cellar.

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I remember eating at one of DC's highly rated restaurants. I found a bottle of wine that I knew only 10 cases of which had been imported to the US. In fact, I had ony been able to have the wine at a wine oriented restaurant in Venezia. I ordered it. When I ordered it I even expressed my amazment at seeing it on a list int he US. We got sneered at because it was one of the lower priced selections on the list. We got no attention from the waiter and the sommelier never showed up at our table ( I asked for the Som to be sent over because I was blown away at the wine even being on the list!) but hung out at the large table mext to us drinking bottle after bottle of St Jean 5 Cepages and Mondavi Reservae chardonnay.

Another occasion, I ordered a similarly low priced bottle at Esca. Actually I looked at two wines I have never had from grapes I had never tried. I asked the waiter which she would recommend. She said she had them at staff training but she would hate to say anything other than they were both good so she sentover the sommelier. He came and was excitedly telling me everything I wanted to know about both wines. He had mentioned to the other sommelier working the floor that night that someone had asked about these two wines and that Sommelier came by in a few seconds and he was telling me everything he kjnow about the wines. They practically fought over who got to sell me a $35 bottle of wine! By the way, the wine farking rocked!

Last add... in Venezia on a trip while still working at Whole Foods. Knew that the president of WFM was in Venezia t the same time. Said to Kay I was surprised that we ahd not run into him. Went to Fiaschetteria Toscana for dinner and we were seated upstairs because that was where our favorite waiter was stationed: ROberto the sopmmelier. He got us to buy a $50 bottle of some obscure Sicilian white. Damn it was sooooo good! As we were leaving, he was nowhere to be seen. I asked and was told he was at a table with some big wine drinkers. Sure enough on going down stairs, it was the Prez and his group. Roberto set their bottle down and ran over to me and kay and kissed us on the cheeks "Boss! So good to heave you here! I can't wait to have you come back!" The Pres was impressed at this reaction. We went over to say hi and he asked what we had had to get such a reaction. "Ohh, just some Sicilian white I never heard of." "Is it good?" the president asked Roberto. Roberto looked at the Monte Vertine, the Gaja and the other wines (probably close to $2000 at a time the dollar was super strong) they had had at an all fish meal and said "For you, no it would not have been good. For him, it was a pleasure to sell it to because it was a great bottle with what they were having" The Prez shit a brick.

The DC institution delivered no value even though the wine was marked up 2.5 times whole sale. I hate the place and would never go back because I was humiliated there. Esca and Roberto hit home runs. I bet I again don't care wht they made on the wines. The wines were great with my dinner, great values vis a vis what is out tere at that price andmemorable now! That is what counts. I have sent tons of people to Esca and Fiaschetteria toscana. They have made more than their money on me even if I have never bought a big bottle at either.

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why do they keep opening more steakhouses by big name out-of-town chefs in DC, especially when it turns out that they really aren't steakhouses/don't serve great steaks. The answer, obvious to me at least, is that when you call yourself a steakhouse you immediately lose all accountability for your pricing and you can get away with all sorts of shit that no other restaurant could ever get away with and that's the only way there's enough for both the hotel and the chef-fronted conglomerate to glom onto.

Not even Citronelle or Maestro can get away with an $80 entree--imagine what would be said of INOX if they even tried.

Sounds like a good theory. So Ripert should rename his joint "Westend Steak."

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I completely agree about the wine program at Esca. The sommelier and her counterpart both stopped by my seat at the bar and talked wine with me at length last time I was there. I remember having a great Bianchetta (by I think it was Bisson) several years ago which I believe cost about $35/bottle. It was perfect outdoors on a warm summer evening and excellent with the food.

I don't mind restaurants making a reasonable mark-up on a thoughtful wine list. What I hate is paying huge mark-ups for uninspired wine choices.

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We're not wine drinkers or collectors on the scale of a lot of folks here, but over the years we've consistently ended up seeking out the recommendations from the sommeliers at Esca and Babbo for purchase after trying the wines at the restaurant - they are all incredibly enthusiastic about the wines, and they also seem to have a real knack for matching what you say you feel like drinking with what they have at any given time.

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I thought there was a more recent thread on wine markups, but I couldn't find it.  Anyhow, here's a write up from the Washingtonian restaurant chat from yesterday:

WINE MARK-UPS, CONT. ..........:

Todd,

I'm a couple weeks late to this party... I have worked in restaurants for many years, concentrating on beverage programs for much of that time, and as a Certified Sommelier for the last few years.

Per the conversation about wine by the glass prices: it is pretty standard in respectable restaurants that the price we pay for a bottle of by the glass wine is the price we charge per glass. So if I pay $13 per bottle for something I want to run by the glass, I will charge $13 per glass. That way, once the bottle is opened, it's essentially paid for in the event that we don't sell any more glasses from that bottle before it begins to oxidize.

When wines that are featured by the glass are sold by the bottle, things get trickier. A normal target wine cost is around 30%, so to arrive at list price, we basically triple our cost. So, again, that $13/bottle wine we're serving by the glass, could go for $39 per bottle. But, a lot of places will charge for four glasses, i.e. charge $52 per bottle. That is pretty standard, even though there are roughly five glasses in a bottle. Essentially, it entices people to buy the whole bottle cause "it's a deal" that way (paying for four glasses instead of five).

Why not charge just three times the bottle cost to get the by the bottle price? Most of the time, there are higher markups attached to less expensive wines on a list, and lower markups on more expensive things. On something I buy for $25, I might go to a 3.5 times markup (especially if I know it's something you won't find a lot of other places), rather than the usual 3 times markup. So, I might list that wine for $85 rather than $75...only $10 different. On a bottle I pay $70 for, I might list that at $175, or 2.5 times markup, rather than $210...$35 different in this case.

Why do we do that? Two reasons...1. This way we're maximizing profit on higher velocity items (items we sell more frequently). and 2. We're able to make our more expensive, lower velocity items a little more attractive.

This idea of subsidizing lower prices on more expensive items by charging more for less expensive items often plays into our by the glass program as well. It's not uncommon for a higher end restaurant to charge, say, $22 a glass for a really high end pour that they are buying for $28-30 per bottle. Sometimes it's fun give people the chance to try something higher end, without asking them to commit to a whole bottle. Often, those selections are the best "value" on the by the glass menu. We can offer a deal like that, because our lower end selections are carrying a slightly higher profit margin.

Believe it or not, most reputable sommeliers aren't out for you last penny. Sometimes we want to get people to try something new cause we think you'll love it!

Todd Kliman:
This is wonderful.

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I really appreciate it.

This is full of terrific insights that I think "” I hope "” will benefit everyone on here who reads this.

And just for the record, I don't believe that sommeliers are money hungry at all. I do believe that restaurants look to wine programs (beverage programs, generally) to help out their bottom lines. Many sommeliers I've spoken to over the years are passionate people who know a lot about their chosen subject, and they seem to want nothing more than to introduce a diner to something new or unusual and see that person's eyes light up.

http://www.washingtonian.com/chats/kliman/tuesday-november-18-at-11-am-1.php

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I thought there was a more recent thread on wine markups, but I couldn't find it.  Anyhow, here's a write up from the Washingtonian restaurant chat from yesterday:

WINE MARK-UPS, CONT. ..........:

 I have worked in restaurants for many years, concentrating on beverage programs for much of that time, and as a Certified Sommelier for the last few years.

Per the conversation about wine by the glass prices: it is pretty standard in respectable restaurants that the price we pay for a bottle of by the glass wine is the price we charge per glass. So if I pay $13 per bottle for something I want to run by the glass, I will charge $13 per glass. That way, once the bottle is opened, it's essentially paid for in the event that we don't sell any more glasses from that bottle before it begins to oxidize.

When wines that are featured by the glass are sold by the bottle, things get trickier. A normal target wine cost is around 30%, so to arrive at list price, we basically triple our cost. So, again, that $13/bottle wine we're serving by the glass, could go for $39 per bottle. But, a lot of places will charge for four glasses, i.e. charge $52 per bottle. That is pretty standard, even though there are roughly five glasses in a bottle. Essentially, it entices people to buy the whole bottle cause "it's a deal" that way (paying for four glasses instead of five).

I have to say that this is not a very enlightened approach. Wine by the glass has to be carefully chosen so that no wines sit around long enough to oxidize. That's just a no-brainer. Wine by the glass lists have to be tight and non-competitive with each other. What is the reason to have 4 Chardonnays by the glass when 2 will do? The same with 5 different Cabernet Sauvignons. Every wine needs to turn quickly. This is accomplished by wine pairings and good staff training. I disagree with the pricing laid out in the quote above, too.If a  bottle served by the glass costs $10, price the bottle at $30 and divide by 4 for the glass price, so you sell the glass for $7.50, not $10. This is why I always laugh at wine bars that only have 50 seats and try to feature 50 wines by the glass. This is where wines oxidize and get thrown out all the time.

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I have to say that this is not a very enlightened approach. Wine by the glass has to be carefully chosen so that no wines sit around long enough to oxidize. That's just a no-brainer. Wine by the glass lists have to be tight and non-competitive with each other. What is the reason to have 4 Chardonnays by the glass when 2 will do? The same with 5 different Cabernet Sauvignons. Every wine needs to turn quickly. This is accomplished by wine pairings and good staff training. I disagree with the pricing laid out in the quote above, too.If a  bottle served by the glass costs $10, price the bottle at $30 and divide by 4 for the glass price, so you sell the glass for $7.50, not $10. This is why I always laugh at wine bars that only have 50 seats and try to feature 50 wines by the glass. This is where wines oxidize and get thrown out all the time.

Although the sommelier made some very good points, this was not one of them, and Mark is correct.

I also want to point out something that should be obvious to everyone reading this, but isn't:

There isn't one single thing about this whole scenario that should intimidate or bewilder you. Why? Because it has nothing to do with wine.

We could be talking about widgets, used cars, carpets, mattresses, or candy bars. There is no inherent knowledge of "wine" that you can have which will help you through this situation, other than knowing how much it cost the restaurant to buy. If you knew that one thing, then you would know every bit as much as the restaurant does.

(The sommelier him or herself, of course, will know whether it's a good wine, but the vast majority of situations buying wine, by the glass or otherwise, does not involve a sommelier.)

When I'm sitting at a bar staring down unknown wines, I do quick, furtive Google searches underneath the bar *all the time* to see how much a glass of wine selling for $14 retails for a bottle - and it's often right around the by-the-glass price. If you bookmark wine-searcher.com, you can just plug in the name of the wine. I almost never buy wines by the glass.

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There isn't one single thing about this whole scenario that should intimidate or bewilder you. Why? Because it has nothing to do with wine.

We could be talking about widgets, used cars, carpets, mattresses, or candy bars. There is no inherent knowledge of "wine" that you can have which will help you through this situation, other than knowing how much it cost the restaurant to buy.

I'm probably missing some point here, but no one expects a widget to cost 3 times more at Store X (the restaurant or Walmart) that it is at Store Y (a wine shop or a Mom and Pop store). There might be a difference in price between Walmart, Amazon and the local mom and pop store for the widget but it's not several orders of magnitude like you see with wines, and especially wines by the glass.

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