One Blog |June 1, 2015 | POS Tracking Software

Why There Are No Ratings, Reviews & Pairing Suggestions On Wine Menus

Mark Fullerton

This blog entry continues the thoughts about adding information to your wine menus that were discussed in the prior blog entry.

So to continue the theme, I finally received some explanations as to why there is virtually no information (or ratings, reviews and suggestions) provided for wines on a restaurant’s wine menu – Even though these wines are often priced at hundreds of dollars per bottle.

I’ll let you be the judge, and invite your feedback, about the applicability of the explanations and the appropriateness of the explanations, including my own, in determining a course of action for your restaurant or, perhaps more importantly, your distributorship.

It Makes No Sense Not To Include The Information

With well over 100,000 wines marketed today in the US alone, my premise in the previous blog was that it makes no sense not to describe the wines on a menu in a fashion similar to the way the food items on a menu are described.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say, most people really don’t need much of a description for a NY strip steak, lobster or even a Berkshire pork chop on a restaurant’s menu. On the other hand, the description of a wine’s taste, rating and a suggestion of what it might pair well with, seems to beg to be included on the menu under the wine’s vintner, primary grape, vintage and retail price – especially on today’s hundred-plus bottles wine lists.

Here’s Some Reasons For Not Including The Information

An explanation of why there has been little to no information about the wine on the menu – even though it is quite possible that one bottle of wine is priced as much as or more than all of the entrees at a table – goes something like this:

Selling a bottle of wine in a restaurant increases the wait-staff’s interaction with customers, which will likely drive up check sizes. The key word in that explanation is “selling.” Most servers are well-versed in the food items on the menu; yet, it is not uncommon for servers to know little more than the differences between a red and a white and dry vs. sweet wines.

Recently I had a server suggest pairing red wine with meat and white wine with fish. I actually pity the server who, in the spirit of being helpful, makes a wine suggestion that turns out to be unpopular with a patron.

Nevertheless, according to restaurantowner.com:

“While a server is opening and serving a bottle, he can interact with guests, make food menu suggestions, and create opportunities for further sales. By freeing the bartender, you give him more time to spend with guests at the bar, which creates fatter drink tabs.”

Well, that much is undoubtedly true, but this certainly places a lot of pressure on a server to pick just the right wine for the meal – A server who may never have tasted most of the wines on the wine list, and can’t pronounce many of them.

That further explanation, from "restaurantowner," does go some distance in explaining why you might not want the wine menu to provide tasting, rating and pairing information about the wines on the menu. But, what is required to pull this off is a wait staff with at least some depth of wine knowledge, so they can make “informed” suggestions when asked “What wine would you recommend with our meal?” This may be the most dreaded question ever for many servers, I’d imagine.

A Sommelier May Be A Solution – Maybe?

Some, but not many, distributors have taken this “interaction with customers” explanation further still, suggesting that instead of putting some basic description of the wine on the menu, that the restaurant will sell more wine and increase interaction with their customers by employing a sommelier.

Not knowing, at least at first, what the going salary range for a sommelier is, I started looking into the subject.

First, I found an article in Forbes magazine – “Unusual Jobs That Pay Surprisingly Well”

According to this 2012 article, a sommelier earns $80,000 to $160,000 per year. Upon further review, I found salaries can actually be somewhat more affordable for a sommelier who has not earned the title, “Master Sommelier.”  An up-and-coming or “less experienced” sommelier can earn about $60,000 per year.

Here’s another tidbit:

There are only about 120 Master Sommelier’s in the US. My translation: Good sommeliers are a rare and hot commodity, and even inexperienced ones can be expensive.

I would assume that having a sommelier probably would increase a restaurant’s wine sales, perhaps dramatically. At those salaries, they would have to. Conversely, as I re-read the Beverage Dynamics April, 2015 issue regarding the impact of offering wine information as part of the wine menu, I focus on the claim of a 20% increase in wine sales simply by adding wine reviews, ratings and food-pairings to the menu. I also am reminded that, for many restaurants, the wine menus are produced for them by their wine distributors at no charge.

It seems to me that only a very few restaurants (less than 1%) are in the position to afford a sommelier; and, for those that can afford it; the ROI has to be there. For the vast majority (the other 99%) of white table cloth restaurants, perhaps – adding wine ratings, reviews or food-pairing information certainly would seem to be a cost effective way to increase wine sales, perhaps dramatically so.

So What’s The Answer?

You make the call, but from my perspective, unless you’re in the “1%”, investing in more informational wine menus may be the easier answer for you. Why not try it!

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