Selecting the best-suited wines to pair with your restaurant menu that will satisfy your clienteles’ expectation is a critical step in achieving the overall experience you envision for your brand. Whether you want your establishment to be known as a wine destination offering some of the best wines in the world, or you want to offer the best value for wine in your local area, your wine goals need to be aligned with your business goals and dining experience.
Jenny Companion, VP of Eastern Operations for The Fifteen Group, has supported many restaurants with this process, and shares the key points to consider when selecting the right wine for your restaurant.
Menu Pairing: Food and wine or wine and food?
The traditional process is to develop your recipes to create your menu, and then select wines that pair with the dishes. In addition, you will take into account the guest experience you are creating, to ensure that the wines match this experience. For example, if you are only using local food suppliers and want to brand yourself as an establishment that supports local businesses with a farm to table process, then you will most likely select local wines to carry as well.
However, if your goal is to be a wine bar, then your process will likely lead with creating a wine menu first, and then working with your chef to design dishes that pair with select wines. Your menu presentation may reflect this process too by organizing the wines first and the food second.
In either case, the main goal should be to ensure your wine choices are reflecting the overall guest experience you are designing.
Wine Selection – Consignment vs Big Brands
Figuring out where to begin your wine search can be quite daunting, as there are hundreds of wine suppliers throughout the world, each offering you something unique. To simplify the process we recommend meeting with local wine agencies that offer an extensive portfolio of wines you can choose from. There are many benefits to partnering with one or multiple wine agencies:
Unique Wines– A wine agency carries consignment wines that may not be readily available at a local liquor or wine store, thus allowing you to offer a unique wine assortment. This has its advantages when guests get attached to a wine only you offer! In terms of costing, a consignment wine that is not readily available may be priced at a value you choose, allowing you to increase your margins.
As some agencies specialize in certain wines, we also suggest that our clients work with multiple wine agencies to increase the breadth of their assortment and to create an even more custom wine menu.
Simplified Process– You are simplifying the supplier/client relationship by dealing with one account manager to support your products and business. One account manager will dedicate more one on one time, plus they are likely to offer you incentives and savings, training for your staff, and host tastings for your guests to promote the wines you offer. In addition, the larger agencies tend to have a dedicated wine sommelier that can pair their offerings to your menu for an added bonus.
Stem Wine Group is a great example of a wine agency that offers a competitive assortment and great client support. They offer wines from 49 wineries with a special focus on all regions of Italy, more key wines from California, Argentina, New Zealand, France, Spain, and several quality wines from Australia.
Size of Wine Assortment
For a smaller establishment, a mix of 15-20 wines is typically enough to offer something for each guests’ preferences, including white and red wine, and a rose option. Larger establishments wine menus should include 20-40 wines as a benchmark, but for a fine dining or higher-end restaurant the wine menu will be much more extensive with hundreds of wines, from many different regions, with a wide price range.
Seasonally your wine sales will fluctuate based upon seasonal preferences. For example, more red wine tends to be consumed in fall and winter, and more white and rose wines during spring and summer months. I always suggest restaurants bring in new options seasonally as guests pallets change or your menu changes, to expand your wine offering and have guests experience new wines.
Wine Price Range
First and foremost, the cost of the wine and price you set for the wine needs to match with the guest experience and expectation. The wine price range should also be in alignment with your food prices. For example, if your main meal costs begin at $18.00, then it wouldn’t make sense for your wines by the glass costs to begin at $18.00. Also keep in mind that the margin for a glass of wine may be slighter higher than when selling wine by the bottle, as typically most diners will purchase wine by the glass, especially during lunch service.
An appealing wine menu offers guests a few options at low, mid and higher price ranges so they can make the decision based upon the occasion and budget, and what will pair appropriately with their menu choices.
Hiring a Professional Sommelier
A trained sommelier understands the finest details about wine from around the world and will take a more educated approach to selecting which wines are best for your restaurant.
They have insight into which years have produced the best wines from certain regions, trending labels versus old world wines, the space required in your restaurant to store wine and how it should be organized. Sommeliers are also trained on how much wine should be poured and at what cost, which is beneficial for wine costing and inventory management.
They are the ideal partner to have when visiting wineries and wine suppliers for tastings, as they can easily navigate the industry and connect you to the right suppliers, which in the end will save you time.
Let’s stay connected!
Written by Kate Engineer @kate_engineer, Hospitality Marketing and PR Expert
Featuring expertise from Jenny Companion @jennycompanion– VP of Eastern Operations