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For any restaurant or on-premise establishment, one of the most important profit drivers of the wine program is the private dining room. That’s especially true around the holiday season when there is very strong demand for special wine events in these private dining rooms for both corporate dinners and family get-together events. Given the limited availability of this private dining room during peak periods of the year, it’s important to build profitable wine packages for private events. Let's have a look at some of the strategies used.
Maximizing the profitability of any wine package for private events starts with creating a selection of tiered options that the host can select. You want to have enough options where the host feels comfortable with the overall wine package for the event, but not so many that the choices are simply overwhelming. During the holiday season, there’s already enough stress when it comes to making choices about food and wine, and requiring a host to agonize over five, six or seven options is too much.
Usually, three options will be enough for any host and will really simplify the decision-making process. For example, for a family get-together, you might want to structure the options simply according to price. For a corporate event, though, it often helps to create tiers that play into the overall theme of the night. Thus, if you know that the bulk of the event participants are knowledgeable about wine and the event is set up as a wine tasting party, then you can create the following three tiers: Standard, Adventuresome, and Collector. For the Standard tier, you can include the usual suspects, such as a California Chardonnay or an Oregon Pinot Noir. For the Collector tier, you could change the options to feature high-end premium wines from prestigious appellations in Bordeaux or Burgundy. For the Adventuresome tier, you could pick out new, interesting or challenging wines from up-and-coming wine destinations.
When you create the different wine tier options, it can often be convenient to list sample wines within each category. This helps to simplify the decision-making process for the host and also avoids any confusion or unmet expectations. What might be a “mid-range” wine for one person might be a high-end wine for another? And what might be a “unique” wine region for one person might be standard fare for another. So putting down a list of sample wines can be very helpful.
Since the goal of any wine event is to maximize profitability, it’s important to select the right wines to offer potential customers. The best-case scenario, of course, is if the host gives you carte blanche to create the entire list of wines to be served at the event. This enables you to choose exclusively from wines already in your cellar, or even better, wines that are already part of your by-the-glass program. Typically, even if storage is tight at your establishment, the wines that will be available in the greatest quantity will be wines that you typically offer on your by-the-glass menu. Once the host selects the appropriate tier, it’s time to go down into your cellar to see what matches the theme of the event.
However, it can sometimes be the case that the host will make special requests about what types of wines will be included in the final package. If this is the case, it is absolutely vital that you work with the host to pre-select wines, in order to make sure that you have everything in advance that you will need. For some wines, for example, you will need to have special glassware, and that can be challenging if you do not normally include certain wines as part of your overall beverage program.
That’s why many beverage directors will often include a backup supply of “event only” wines that are reserved for special occasions in the private dining room. This can go a long way in accommodating last-minute requests. It can also help to prevent the types of unpleasant experiences when you over-order the number of bottles required for an event and are left with a lot of unused inventory that you might have trouble selling in your main dining room.
One type of special request that is especially tricky to handle is when a host insists on supplying his or her own wine. In some U.S. states, this might not even be possible, due to legal requirements. However, in states where it is an option, you also have the right to charge a “corkage” fee. If you decide to allow the host to bring their own bottles, this can be a way to ensure the overall profitability of the event. After all, you certainly want to avoid the type of situation where you rent out the private dining room for a night and don’t manage to sell a single bottle of wine! In some cases, you can work around this issue by agreeing to a compromise solution where the host brings some of his or her own wine but also agrees to enough bottle purchases in order to hit a minimum food and drink order limit.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to keep any wines included in your wine packages as familiar and approachable as possible. That’s the best possible way to ensure that the different tiers that you present to a potential customer are as attractive as possible. Once the tiers are set and agreed upon, you then have a lot of flexibility to choose the types of wines that make sense for you financially. Optimally, these are the wines that you already have in stock, or wines that you know will be relatively easy to sell in the main restaurant throughout the year. Just remember – building a wine package for private events should always be based around the goal of maximizing profitability. Private wine events often provide the extra margin of support that can support your business throughout the year.