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Ten Ways to Sell More Wine Tonight

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08/05/2019 Raise the profit margins of your restaurant. Start implementing these 10 effective ways from tonight to sell more.

For any restaurant owner, there is plenty of incentive to sell more wine on a nightly basis. The average markup on a bottle of wine in a restaurant can be as much as 500-600%, so the more bottles of wine sold, the higher the margins for your restaurant and the higher the average dining tab for each customer. With that in mind, here’s a closer look at ten ways to sell more wine tonight.

1: Curate wines for specific food-wine pairings

At the end of the day, the wines on your wine list are there to complement the food served in your restaurant. So it only makes sense that the more the wines on your wine list complement the dishes on your food menu, the easier it will be to sell more wine. Every wine on your wine list should be easily paired with at least one food dish, and preferably several. Just using this simple process might help you whittle down the number of wines on your wine list, or realize why certain wines appear to be languishing in inventory for long periods of time.

For all of the bestselling entrée options on your food menu, you should have a specific wine in mind that the serving staff can recommend to restaurant patrons. And for all the other options on your menu, your serving staff should be aware of broad categories or types of wine that would pair well with a specific dish. If your main menu has a lot of spicy food options, for example, servers should be ready with 1-2 different wines that would pair well with them.

2: Host staff tastings to improve overall wine knowledge

The more knowledgeable about wine than your serving staff is, the more likely it is that they will be able to make valuable recommendations to guests. As a result, as a restaurateur, you should be regularly hosting staff tastings so that all of your staff members – and not just the servers – can experience the different wines on your wine list.

To avoid these staff tastings from becoming too overwhelming, one good rule of thumb is to focus on a specific type of wine for each tasting. For example, at one tasting you might want to highlight different Sauvignon Blanc wines on your wine list, and at another, you might want to highlight different Chardonnay wines on your wine list. When you organize the Chardonnay tasting, you would then make sure that staff members are able to sample unoaked and oaked Chardonnay wines and to get a better sense of how Chardonnay wines can differ when they are produced in different wine regions.

3: Tell stories about your wine

The easiest way to connect with customers and encourage them to order more wine is by telling stories about the various wines on your wine list. The goal is to “romanticize” the wine drinking experience and help each guest to enjoy a truly memorable meal. You can do this directly, such as by writing short descriptions about every wine on your wine list, highlighting a unique fact about terroir, winemaking technique or the identity of the winemaker.

However, an equally effective way to tell stories about your wines is by educating your staff and giving them the training to tell those stories. They do not need to memorize long, detailed tasting notes for every bottle – all they need to do is be able to share a unique, memorable detail about the wine. Maybe the winemakers are a husband-and-wife team from the local area? Or maybe the wine is from a specific vineyard in Napa that has special significance for the owner of the restaurant (“this is the wine the owner was drinking when he proposed to his wife”).

4: Feature wines that are going unsold

As a restaurateur, you can use some basic marketing tips and tricks that all retail stores use. What do stores typically do when they have over-ordered too much of a particular product, or if a product is not selling nearly as well as originally anticipated? That’s right – they run special promotions designed to move that product. The easiest strategy is simply marking down the item to a breathtaking price that consumers simply cannot resist.

You can borrow this same tactic for your restaurant. For example, you could decide to feature wines that have been sitting in inventory for too long. One easy way to do that is by offering it by-the-glass (BTG), to encourage people to try it first before ordering a full bottle. Another easy way to do this is by marking down the bottle to a breathtaking price (that still provides the margins you need in order to turn a profit). A customer who ordinarily only orders Pinot Noir from Sonoma, for example, might be tempted to order a bottle from Oregon, Washington State or another wine region in California.

5: Train staff members on the art of the up-sell

Within the restaurant trade, there are many tried-and-true approaches for upselling wine. The most direct approach involves servers suggesting premium, higher-margin wines any time a customer asks for a recommendation. Thus, instead of recommending a $25 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, a server would recommend a $30, $40 or $50 bottle instead, from a superior appellation or vintage.

But if you are concerned that this direct approach might be viewed by some customers as too aggressive or “pushy,” you might want to try more subtle approaches. If a couple orders two glasses of wine, for example, a server might note that a bottle might be preferable. And any time a bottle is empty, the server should immediately be ready to check if the table plans on ordering another bottle of wine.

6: Keep wine menus updated and current

Keeping your wine menu current and updated shows that you are seriously invested in your wine program, and that you take your wines seriously. Moreover, it avoids the types of awkward situations that result when a server makes a recommendation for a bottle of wine, but the wine is no longer in inventory.

7: Speed up the process of getting a bottle of wine to the table

As a general rule of thumb, servers should always inquire about the wine order as soon as the patrons are seated. This optimizes the chance that the table will order a second bottle during the meal. If instead, a long period of time passes, the table might decide to go with wine BTG rather than a full bottle. And, once a wine order is placed, the time that it takes to arrive at the table should be as short as possible. This might require a restaurant to re-think its bottle retrieval system – if servers are not able to get the bottle they need, it will eventually impact the size of the final wine tab.

8: Change the way wine is listed on your wine list

You might already have preconceived notions about the best way to structure and organize a wine list. For example, you might assume that organizing wines by varietal makes the most sense. Thus, your wine list might include a full page of Chardonnays, a full page of Rieslings, a full page of Cabernets. However, what if customers are really looking for wines from a specific wine region instead? That is, customers might be thinking along the lines of, “I’d like to try a wine from Mendoza tonight,” and it might be harder than you think for that customer to find that wine from Argentina if your wine list is organized by varietal! If that appears to be an all-too-familiar situation, you might think about re-organizing your list around wine regions and even specific appellations.

9: Use the same terms to describe wines as your customers do

This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how often restaurant wine lists are completely unapproachable for the typical wine drinker. The casual wine drinker, for example, might not be looking for detailed explanations of acidity or tannins. Instead, they’d much prefer an easy, everyday explanation for that wine. As a result, some restaurants can increase their sell-through rates for wine simply by using terms like “bold & fruity,” or “bright & crisp,” or “rich & earthy.”

10: Avoid listing wines strictly by price

A wine list should encourage customers to explore and discover all the great offerings that are available as the result of the time and care that you put into developing the wine program. If you simply list wines by price, you are sending a signal to the customer that they should be basing their suggestion based on price alone. Their eyes will naturally turn to the very bottom or very top of the page, while completely bypassing all the options in the middle.

If you are looking to sell more wine tonight, any of these ten strategies can help to sell not just more bottles of wine, but also more bottles of higher-margin wines. The more that you can up-sell customers to a superior bottle of wine and the more that you can encourage tables of diners to order multiple bottles, the better off your restaurant is going to be. You’ll be creating a more festive, enjoyable dining experience for customers while also creating a stable foundation for future business success.

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