Experienced sommeliers and beverage directors will tell you that running a successful BTG program involves a lot more than picking out five reds and four whites. There are many details to consider, from serving size to pricing to which wines to serve, and as is common with a lot of things in the restaurant industry – little adjustments can have a large impact on the bottom line.
Tip # 1: The wine list is for your customer, not you. Let your inner wine geek go:
We’ve all been there – looking at the BTG list and thinking that it needs some spark, some obscure, rare vintage to show off our knowledge and wine-ninja purchasing skills.
Yes, wine professionals have an important role in guiding the consumers toward new wines, and through that guidance larger trends in the industry may form. But don’t mistake your role as transitory wine counselor with being an industry trendsetter. It’s unlikely that you alone are going to bring about a revolution of consumer palates by featuring thin reds unearthed from obscure agricultural backwaters or, as we’ve seen often lately, flights of perturbingly orange-hued wines.
Seriously, as tempting as it is, and we know it’s tempting, indulging your personal “inner wine geek” ties up working capital with wines that aren’t going to sell at a justifiable volume.
After that, one of two things is going to happen:
A: the bottles are going to sit in your cellar and do your bottom line no good (slow movers are like money stuffed under a mattress), or worse,
B: you’ll sell a glass or two, but the open bottles will oxidize because you couldn’t turn the bottle quickly enough.
This effect can be reduced if your staff is properly trained to introduce customers to your more off-beat selections, but keep in mind that there are other hidden costs to this approach. You will have to spend extra time familiarizing your staff and they will have to spend significantly more time per table hand-selling, all for an item that may have a low conversion rate. This does not make strict financial sense.
There are of course exceptions to the rule. Bottle preservation systems can significantly delay an open bottle’s demise by days, weeks, or even longer, making it possible to carry several of your geekiest, slow-moving wines at a time without the risk of spoilage.
Build a wine list that’s appealing to your customers by utilizing tip #1 with the following:
For the sake of your professional pride, let one slot on the list be for your peculiar tastes of the time but let the other slots be your “ringers” – wines that are popular with your customers and can be bought at a lower cost while turning over in inventory as rapidly as possible.
Remember, your wine program isn’t necessarily about pleasing yourself, it’s about pleasing your customer.
It’s a simple yet effective strategy. Balance and harmony.
The zen of the sommelier.
“If a BTG wine list is composed of more obscure wines, it runs the risk of being too aloof and not resonating well with customers. A good BTG wine list is something of a balancing act. It should reflect the theme of your wine list overall, yet showcase popular “staple” wines with recognized premium selections. If that’s done well, then there’s room for a few “geeky”, but approachable, wines.” –Hristo Zisovski, Beverage Director, Altamarea Group
Tip # 2 : Price it Right and Win – Just like the game show
Reasonable consumers make decisions purely based on an item’s price and perceived value. Sometimes there’s an explicit measurable value that differentiates a product (a $500 laptop that has 1T of memory is clearly lesser than a $750 laptop that has 2T of memory), or a clear differentiator between price categories ($30k car will get you to a destination but a $45k one will get you there with greater comfort and panache).
What is Value?
In the world of subjective experience–like wine–this notion of value becomes less clear. Is there actually five times more value to be derived from a $200 bottle of Bordeaux versus a $40 Argentinian Malbec? Adding to the problem, customers are most likely unfamiliar with the wines on your BTG list—sure, if you’re ordering a Spanish Albarino, you might have some idea of what you’re getting into, but it’s rare for even wine-savvy folk to know exactly what sort of experience they’re purchasing. In these cases, consumers fall back on various cues to determine “reasonableness” of value as a guide to their purchasing: basically they already have a notion of a certain price they want to pay.
You’ll see this pattern develop over time. Take a look at your BTG sales reports over the longest stretch of time possible—if you chart out all the points, you’ll see that generally, the majority of your sales take place in a tight band of similarly priced items.
Value isn’t just about cost either. It’s about cost versus the perceived value of experience, which is heavily guided by social cues your customers have ingested long before they ever sat down in your restaurant. As such, they may be willing to pay $30 for a glass of Krug Grand Cuvee because rappers and Mark Cuban have reinforced that one should send a bundle on celebratory bubbles, but may be recalcitrant towards ponying up far less for an obscure Trousseau from the Arbois. So even though your customer may have made a decision about what they wanted to pay even before looking specifically at your wine list, they can be nudged to pay more (or pay less) depending on the perceived desirability of a specific wine.
Thus, social cues can lead to determining the “sweet spot” or set point that the customer is willing to pay. If they flinch at a suggested wine, chances are they want an alternative in a different price point.
As a sommelier, the challenge is finding that perfect wine in your customers price point.
This is where the zen of the sommelier comes in.
If your BTG wines are suffering from these factors, you’ll need to take action:
- The wine isn’t well known—you’ll need to invest more to market it, part of which may involve “promotional” pricing
- The BTG prices are perceived as too high—you may need to downshift your entire program, to bring the bulk of items to be within the band of what your customer wants to pay
- The wine doesn’t go with anything on the menu
Reducing the BTG price, offering suggested food pairings and enlisting your servers to promote these wines can all help. Little adjustments can make a large impact on sales.
Accommodate your customers needs by adjusting the above options and voila, the price is right.
“One of the biggest mistakes new sommeliers and beverage directors make is tying up too much of their budget in wines that won’t sell quickly, keeping their costs too high to replenish or even introduce new wines that have a better chance of turning over. The best way to avoid this is knowing exactly who is your target and then select wine by the glass that you know will sell, and sell quickly. Making a “cool” list for yourself doesn’t match with running a successful business.” Mauro Cirilli – Beverage Director, Press Club & Schroeder’s Restaurant
Created by sommeliers, for sommeliers, BinWise is the complete beverage management system designed to simplify the way you run your program.