18 Feb 2010
Ripped off and Ticked Off at Restaurant Wine Practices
There are only a few things that really ruffle my feathers, taking advantage of children, arrogance (not to be mistaken for confidence), poor customer service and blatant price gouging. – I also dislike tweeting your Facebook status, but I’ll leave that for another discussion.
Earlier this month there was a tweet-storm over a CNN article that listed the top five “rip-offs” in America. Behind texting, movie theater popcorn, “free” credit reports, and name brand pain killers was…wait for it…RESTAURANT WINE! As a wine lover, this doesn’t just make me grumpy, it pisses me off (sorry mom). High prices at restaurants, in my opinion, have a counter effect on wine consumption.
Put yourself in the seat of an average or beginning wine drinker. You’re enjoying your beautifully made prime rib with your date. Glancing through the wine list causes you concern and great stress. What will taste good with my dinner? What will impress my date? After much deliberation you decide on the $7 glass of Bogle Zinfandel (because you remember reading that your favorite blogger, www.drinknectar.com said it was a decent value wine). You’d love to share a bottle, but the restaurant has the bottle price at $28. OK, here’s the problem – you can buy Bogle Zinfandel for $9 or less at the store…for the whole dang bottle. At the typical 30% discount, the restaurant paid just $6.30 for that bottle. That is more than a 400% mark-up! Would you stand for that kind of mark-up for your TV, your car, your toothpaste?
So, what’s the problem? How does this damage the wine industry? High prices for lower quality wines at restaurants perpetuate the thought that wine is unattainable for the average guy. Looking at restaurant prices, one would think that the entry price for a wine is $25 with most wines cost between $40-$60 per bottle. The problem is compounded when the consumer buys a $7 glass of <insert cheap name here> only to go “bleh, I’m not really a fan of wine.” Well, that’s because it either tasted like vinegar or a giant Welch’s fruit bomb.
Hey, I realize that restaurants work on razor thin margins and high overhead. I understand restaurant owners invest everything they have to pursue their dream with minimal chance of success. When did 400% profit in anything become acceptable! Did you ever think that maybe reducing the price of wine to a moderate profit would increase turn-over, drive bottle sales, increase dessert sales and even improve return traffic? What would happen if you priced that same Bogle Zinfandel for $5 per glass and just $15 per bottle? As a consumer, I’d do the math and think that the bottle sounds like a good value. Not only that, I won’t be ticked if I happen to see that bottle for $9 at the wine shop.
Restaurants are not only guilty of wine gouging – they’re guilty of wine laziness, and red-neck presentation. Wine laziness refers to the restaurant that has amazing food, beautiful preparation, quality ingredients, and a fresh atmosphere – only to have your stock distributor wine list of five reds, five whites and two sparkling wines. The wine list is a representation of mass produced, inferior juice with zero imagination and no consideration for the food pairing. The “red-neck” presentation is the restaurant that puts forth the effort in a decent wine list, has phenomenal food, and then brings 6 ounces of your $50 bottle of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (that you splurged over $120 for) in an 8 ounce small bowl glass that amounts to nothing more than a tasting glass. You might as well serve it in a mason jar. Wine of this caliber should be served in a high quality Riedel big bowl wine glass that lets you enjoy the swirl, sniff sip experience.
Lately, I’ve been to three restaurants that seem to “get it.” Two of the restaurants have a moderate mark up from what I see at the store (between $5-$7) and they have a great selection that includes local wine, regional wine, and unique selections that show care and attention (kudos to Left Bank Wine Bar and Nikos Restaurant in Spokane). The third restaurant didn’t carry a huge selection but their bottle prices were almost exactly what I would expect to pay retail. We enjoyed an $11 bottle of Kiona Cab/Merlot that can usually be purchased at the store for $10 (kudos to Ferrantes Restaurant in Spokane).
What do you think? How do you handle restaurant price gouging? Do you confront the red-neck presentation? Do you bring your own bottle to combat the lazy wine list?
Restaurant owners – what is your response? What say you in defense of 400% price gouging?
Bloggers, wine lovers, and consumers everywhere – unite! Call out the worst offenders, praise the good guys. Do you know any restaurants that fall into the unholy trinity of wine (price gluttony, selection sloth, and glass greed)? Let’s use the power of a unified voice to bring this crime against wine to justice.