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How To Create A Wine Menu

 Make a kick ass wine list today

There are only two ways to earn money from your customer: food and alcohol.  That’s where the mark up is. That’s the reason your customer has even walked through your doors; well, that and your awesome service.

 

Providing a great wine list is vital to your wine program.

 

Great doesn’t mean huge either.

 

A great wine list is helpful, organized and user friendly. It doesn’t make the assumption that your guest is wine savvy, it is easy to use for novices and pro’s alike.

 

So, how do you create an excellent wine menu? It’s not hard to do and it is worth the re-vamp.

 The three pillars of a great wine list.

 

#1.  Wines by the glass & bottle prices…the math.

 

What you charge for a bottle of wine should be:   Glass price X 4 - $1

 

 There are roughly 24 ounces of wine in a bottle.  The standard restaurant wine pour is 6 ounces.

 

It has recently been brought to my attention that 6 ounces is not the standard wine pour, but 5 ounces is. So I made some phone calls to some great restaurants: La Bernardin, 11 Madison Park, Cochon, Pok Pok, Girl & the goat, The Pit, Arun’s and Jaleo. What I learned is the standard pour was 50/50, between 5 and 6 ounces. So, if you want to do a 5 ounce pour, just multiply your glass price by 5. (I am still a fan of 6 ounces.)

 

Going off my original suggestion of the 6 ounce, there are 4 glasses of wine in one bottle of wine.

 

It should be more economical for your guest to buy a bottle.

 

Imagine your phone company advertising the family plan: 1 individual plan is $80 a month, get the family pack of two phones and service for $200 a month!  That would be a shit deal!

 

You want to make as much money as possible as quick as possible.

 

Don’t deter your guest from buying a bottle.  Here are some reasons why it makes more sense to sell the bottle rather than glasses:

 

  • you make more money right away
  • it saves your bartender time from pouring the wine
  • you save your guest money
  • having bottles of wine on tables may compel other guests to order a bottle too
  • if your guest does decide to order another glass of the same wine, you are wasting dishes, water and man power
  • it provides more opportunity for your server to serve the guest with the ability to keep the wine glass tended to

Real time example of above formula:

 

Let’s say one bottle of Estancia Pinot grigio costs your restaurant $8.00 to purchase.  Whatever you purchased the bottle for should be what you charge for a glass of that wine.  There are times when the bottle price is more than what you want to charge your guests for one glass of wine.  There is wiggle room, just get the btg price as close to the bottle price as possible.  We want to pay for that bottle as soon as possible.

 

Now, multiply the glass price by 4, minus $1. (8 x 4 – 1 = $31.00)

 

The price you end up with is what you will charge your customers for one bottle of Estancia Pinot Grigio: $31.00  That mathematically  works out.

 

6 ounces is $8, 24 ounces is $31.

 

Fair and square.

 

 

Waiter!  Give me a bottle please!
 

 

Now, do you want to see something freaky?

 

Check out this real restaurants wine list.

 

(They are discouraging their customer from buying a bottle.  Notice how the price of the bottle is more expensive than ordering 4 glasses of the same wine.) So sad!

  •  Gruner Veltliner, Berger, 2010   $ 6 /  $35   +11
  • Moscato D’Asti, Bosc dla Rei, 2010 $8/$35     + $3
  • Riesling, August Kessler, 2008 $7/$30     + $2
  • Sauvignon Blanc, Selene Hyde, 2007    9 /58  +22
  • Barbera D’Asti, Prunotto ‘Fiulot’ 2008 $7/$30     + $2
  • Merlot, Paso Creek, 2007 $7/$30     + $2
  • Pinot Noir, Eyrie, 2007   $9 / $63   + $27
  • Cabernet Sauvignon, Angeline, 2009 $7/$30     + $2
  • Zinfandel, Cline ‘Ancient Vines,’ 2009 $8/$35     + $3
  • Syrah, Les Piliers, 2009 $8/$35     + $3

 

Not only is the above list unfair, it isn’t even consistent.

 

Here’s what the above wines by the glass menu should look like; consistent and fair:

 

  • Gruner Veltliner, Berger, 2010   $ 7 /  $27   -1
  • Moscato D’Asti, Bosc dla Rei, 2010 $9/$35     – $1
  • Riesling, August Kessler, 2008 $8/$31     – $1
  • Sauvignon Blanc, Selene Hyde, 2007    $10 /$39  -$1
  • Barbera D’Asti, Prunotto ‘Fiulot’ 2008 $8/$31     – $1
  • Merlot, Paso Creek, 2007 $8/$31     – $1
  • Pinot Noir, Eyrie, 2007   $12 / $47   – $1
  • Cabernet Sauvignon, Angeline, 2009 $8/$31     – $1
  • Zinfandel, Cline ‘Ancient Vines,’ 2009 $9/$35     – $1
  • Syrah, Les Piliers, 2009 $9/$35     – $1

I added a $1 increase to all btg prices then I multiplied the glass price by 4 minus $1 . That gave me the bottle price. Sell bottles whenever possible!

Now go fix your wine list, it’s easy!

    1. Tell your service staff that you have changed your prices. Tell them why. Tell them how you reached the prices. (There is no reason this should be a secret.)
    2. It is imperative that your servers understand:
      1. the discount the customer receives by purchasing a bottle of wine rather than 4 glasses.
      2. the reason why this makes a servers life easier (open the bottle once and re-fill glasses rather than taking multiple orders, with multiple ring ins, pick ups and deliveries).
    3. Knowledge is power, this will give your servers sales power.
    4. Some servers don’t like the feeling of “up-selling”, this removes up-selling, (or the feeling of it).  It turns from up-selling to being helpful.
    5. Keeping your service team in the know creates a stronger team and a feeling of restaurant ownership.

#2.  Make your wines by the glass list progressive

  1. pro·gres·sive/prəˈgresiv/

     Adjective: Happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step.
     Synonyms:  advanced – onward – forward

Your wine list is much easier to read by novices and connoisseurs alike if your wine list has an aim, a clear path to understanding the wines.

You don’t want to list wines by price and you don’t want to list the wines willy-nilly (that’s professional slang).

A great way to list wines progressively is by making your wine list read from the lightest wine to heaviest wine.

Here’s a wine list that is not progressive.

Walk a mile in a guests shoes: What would you do if you didn’t know much, if anything, about wine, but you knew you wanted something light and red?  What would you order?  What if your dinner companion wanted a big, buttery white wine?  What would you order from the wine list below?  Now imagine you are shy, proud, or trying to impress your dinner companion.  What would you do?  You’d feel like a big dork wouldn’t you?

                                                      White                                                       

Chanson/veire-clesse/burgundy/france ’08   7
Charles Krug /sauvignon blanc/napa valley/ca ’09   8
William Hill/chardonnay/napa valley/ca ’08   11
Terlato/pinot grigio/russian river/ca ’08   8
Hopler/pinot blanc/burgenland/austria ’09   9
Leitz/dragonstone/riesling/rhine/germany ’09   9
Kalin Cellars/chardonnay/sonoma county/ca ’95   18
                                                                           Red                                                             
Como sur/pinot noir/chile ’09  6
Punto Final/malbec/mendoza/argentina ’09  6
Tangley Oaks/merlot/napa valley/ca ’08   6
First Press/cabernet sauvignon/napa valley/ca ’07   8
Chateau haut-la pereyre/bordeaux/france ’07   10
Carol Shelton/wild things/zinfandel/mendocino/ca ’05   11
Marques de murrieta/reserva rioja/spain ’05   12
Adelsheim/pinot noir/willamette valley/or ’09   13
m.d./earthquake/cabernet sauvignon/lodi ’08   13

 

Now, look at this same wine list done Progressively.

White Wines, from light and bright to heavy and serious.

  • Hopler/pinot blanc/burgenland/austria ’09   9
  • Charles Krug /sauvignon blanc/napa valley/ca ’09   8
  • Chanson/veire-clesse/burgundy/france ’08   7
  • Leitz/dragonstone/riesling/rhine/germany ’09   9
  • Terlato/pinot grigio/russian river/ca ’08   8
  • William Hill/chardonnay/napa valley/ca ’08   11
  • Kalin cellars/chardonnay/sonoma county/ca ’95   18

Red Wines, From Light To Bold

  • Como sur/pinot noir/chile ’09  6
  • Marques de murrieta/reserva rioja/spain ’05   12
  • Adelsheim/pinot noir/willamette valley/or ’09   13
  • Punto Final/malbec/mendoza/argentina ’09  6
  • First Press/cabernet sauvignon/napa valley/ca ’07   8
  • Tangley Oaks/merlot/napa valley/ca ’08   6
  • Carol Shelton/wild things/zinfandel/mendocino/ca ’05   11
  • Chateau haut-la pereyre/bordeaux/france ’07   10
  • m.d./earthquake/cabernet sauvignon/lodi ’08   13

Do You Think A Progressive Wine List Is Easier To Read?

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What do you think?  Do you like the progressive wine list?  Here is how to re-vamp your wines by the glass list…

  1. Write down all of your wines by the glass on a piece of paper.
  2. Pour a one ounce tasting pour of all of your whites.
  3. Grab a co-worker or two with good palates.
  4. Swirl, smell, taste, talk.
  5. Swirl, smell, taste, talk some more.
  6. Start numbering the wines that you have written down starting with #1, the lightest.
  7. Work your way to the heaviest.
  8. If there was any disagreements (e.g. I think this Merlot is  # 6 and you think it is #5) re-taste, re-swirl, re-talk about it until everyone agrees.
  9. Now, go print off your new wine list, rock-star!

 

 #3.   Explain Your Wines By The Bottle

This pillar may take you the most time, but it is possibly the most valuable pillar for increasing wine bottle sales.

If you give your guests the proper tools to understand the bottles that you offer and if you give them time to use that tool at their leisure, you will have a happy and empowered guest.

What do happy guests do?

They tell their friends and come back to buy more!

Here is a small segment of a wine list you could find at any restaurant, U.S.A

Pinot Noir-Block Nine, Caiden’s Vineyard, california, 2011           $36.00
Pinot Noir-Emeritus, Hallberg Ranch, Russian River, 2009           $72.00
Zinfandel-Dashe, Dry Creek Valley, 2009                                              $42.00
Zinfandel- Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard, Russian River 2006 $90.00
Merlot- Keenan, Napa Valley, 2006                                                        $55.00
Merlot- Pahlmeyer, Napa valley, 2007                                                  $200.00

 

 Now, that same wine list with textual explanations

Pinot Noir-Block Nine, Caiden’s Vineyard, california, 2011           $36.00

Bright fruit, violets & hint of cocoa, silky with good body

Pinot Noir-Emeritus, Hallberg Ranch, Russian River, 2009           $72.00

Jammy red fruit, sweet oak and violet, long finish with little spice

Zinfandel-Dashe, Dry Creek Valley, 2009                                              $42.00

Black cherry and raspberry, chocolate & clove, good acidity, wonderful velvety texture

Zinfandel- Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard, Russian River 2006 $90.00

Blackberry, black raspberry, silky chocolate notes; dense texture & great power

Merlot- Keenan, Napa Valley, 2006                                                        $55.00

Intense aromas of black cherry and cassis; nuances of cocoa & coffee bean

Merlot- Pahlmeyer, Napa valley, 2007                                                  $200.00

A near perfect harvest, great body, intense fruit with amazing body & structure

Why textual explanations are so valuable to your wine list…

  1. Saves the wine director time by not having to go to every table to explain the wines.
  2. Saves your servers time by not having to explain the wines. And  do your servers know the wines well enough to explain them?  I was the only certified sommelier in our restaurant of 700+ bottles but I was not the wine buyer.  That means I couldn’t explain all the wines.  Do you overestimate your servers knowledge?
  3. Saves your servers face by preventing them from having to say “I don’t know” or worse, bullshitting their way through customers questions.
  4. This will make you more money and save you resources by:
    1. saving your bartender time by having to pour wines by the glass, they have other things they can be doing
    2. it makes you more money right now
    3. more wine bottles on tables gives other diners the inspiration to order a bottle; can you say “pack mentality”?
    4. it rotates your wine inventory
  5. It bulks up your wine list without having to add more wines.  Your one page wine list can easily become 4+ of easy to navigate wines.
  6. Creates hospitality by giving the guest information without having to ask for it.  (And if you think this will prevent customers from having a dialogue with the Sommelier you would be wrong. People that want to talk to the Sommelier are going to talk to the Sommelier regardless of anything.)
  7. For people that are shy or embarrassed to admit they have questions on wine, they can now sit at their table and and never feel confused or embarrassed.

And there you have it,…

…three ways to improve your wine list.  Implement one or all, sit back and be amazed at the positive effects it will have on your business.

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2 Comments
  1. Really good advise, but nothing more than what the wine rep should tell and explain to the buyer. My wine reps take a look at my menus and help structure and explain each wine

  2. Great points here – I wish more owners and sommeliers would take notice. So many lost opportunities when wine lists intimidate and mystify rather than lead to more pleasure and sales…

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