No matter what kind of venue you work in, a well-written wine list can make a big impact on your bottom line. And with the current global drinks trend embracing the spritz and moving to lighter, lower alcohol drinks, it has never been more important to get your wine list under control.
Over the last 20 years I have worked as a bartender, bar manager and sommelier before opening and running my own bar.
I have built and maintained vast cellars and I have curated tiny lists of less than 20. Some of my lists have been awarded accolades and some have been spectacular failures. But along the journey I have learnt some lessons that can help you take your wine list to the next level.
Here are my nine top tips for making a great wine list – that sells.
1. Have a Unifying Vision
More than a collection of wines, a good wine list needs a theme to hold it all together. Before you start ask yourself, are you focused on a region? Do you care about a particular methodology? What makes this list unique?
Being clear on the guiding philosophy of your list will not only make it easier for you to choose the wines, it will also make the whole list tie together in a way that makes sense to your customers.
2. Ensure that the wine Enhances the Food on Offer in your Venue
This sounds like a no-brainer, but based on some of my dining experience it clearly isn’t.
A good rule of thumb is to think about where the wine comes from. If it is grown in a coastal region then there is a good chance that the wine will work well with seafood (even if it’s red). If it’s grown in the mountains then do a little research and see what is traditionally produced in that area. This is less effective with New World wines, but is almost foolproof when it comes to regions with a long history of winemaking.
3. Write the list for your Customers, not for other Sommeliers!
Once your passion is ignited for wine the desire to seek out the obscure and experimental is compelling. But remember that all of your customers may not share your esoteric bent.
A good list needs the mainstream as much as it needs the outliers. Young soms can often forget who is actually buying the wine and focus on trying to impress their peers. Believe it or not, if you work at it you can actually do both.d rule of thumb is to think about where the wine comes from. If it is grown in a coastal region then there is a good chance that the wine will work well with seafood (even if it’s red). If it’s grown in the mountains then do a little research and see what is traditionally produced in that area. This is less effective with New World wines, but is almost foolproof when it comes to regions with a long history of winemaking.
4. Format the Wine List in a way that is Easy to Read and Easy to Navigate
There is a lot of information that you could include on a wine list, knowing what to include and what to leave out is the real skill.
Ensure you have included:
- The name of the producer
- The name of the wine itself
- The region in which it was produced
- The vintage
- The price
Short, punchy descriptors can also be helpful, particularly if you can’t rely on the rest of your team to communicate these things to the customer. But whatever you choose to include, make sure that you format the list so that the customer can identify important information quickly and can navigate their way through your list easily. A confused customer never buys!
5. Find Interesting Solutions to Lead your Customer down Exciting new Paths
If wine lists were compiled on market research and sales data then they would contain nothing but Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Don’t ignore point #3 above and leave them off your list entirely, but in some circumstances you may be able to offer something interesting by the glass that will tick that box for your customer and introduce them to a new style or variety.
6. Don’t Abuse your Customers’ Ignorance
The natural wine movement is one of the most exciting things to happen in wine for quite a while and it’s important to give these wines representation on your list. But if the only Pinot Grigio you offer is a biodynamic experiment that has spent 4 weeks on skins in a clay amphora then you may have some very disappointed Pinot Grigio drinkers returning bottles on a very regular basis.
This will not only drain all the profit from your list, it will make them angry and make you frustrated. Ensure your team has thorough knowledge of these wines and can offer alternatives where necessary.
7. Price Appropriately
If you want your wines to sell then you don’t want your list to be considered too expensive or too cheap. But how do you work out where to price your list?
A good rule of thumb is to keep most wines between 1 and 2 times the cost of the most expensive food items available.But always offer some higher priced wines, even if your venue is pitched at a more reasonable end of the market. Don’t deny any customer the opportunity for a big purchase or your server the opportunity for a big sale!
8. Don’t forget Half Bottles!
They are often overlooked, but can provide customers who don’t want a whole bottle the opportunity to drink something better than you can feasibly offer by the glass. This enhances the customer experience and also kicks your spend per head into much higher territory.
9. Profit from Popularity
80% of your revenue will come from 20% of the list so put the biggest mark up on the more popular choices. If you are selling big volumes of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc then a small increase in margin on those wines will net you a big profit.
You can then offer your more interesting options at a lower margin. This will reward your customers for being adventurous and will ensure that these wines move so you don’t have a cellar of unfamiliar wines gathering dust.
Follow these nine points and you’re on your way to writing a great list. And if you’re keen to learn more, head on over to my site mybarsecrets.com where I share other tips, insights and secrets from a successful and profitable 20 year career.