To bar and restaurant guests, wine by the glass programs (or WBTG) are win-win propositions. They get to try delicious wines without paying for a whole bottle.
It’s a seriously attractive option. But it can be tricky for hospitality businesses to optimize the pricing and come out on top. A bar or restaurant wants three things: restaurant sales, a good pour cost, and a decent profit margin. Wine by the glass programs can get them there, if they’re strategic about it and pay attention to their cost of goods sold.
Here are some thoughts about how to do wine by the glass pricing right.
Wine by the Glass Meaning
Many bars and restaurants offer wine by the glass. That means you needn’t buy the whole bottle of wine. You can buy a single glass of it.
A wine by the glass menu is often a fraction of the size of a proper wine list, for good reason. Offering every in-house wine by the glass requires opening up every bottle of wine. Wine degrades much quicker once opened, so the potential for waste is massive. It's also a great tool for restaurant marketing.
That’s also the reason why wines by the glass are pricier, per glass, than a bottle of wine. You’re paying for the risk the restaurant assumes of that opened wine going to waste.
Wine by the Glass Formula
The wine by the glass formula is simple: a single glass of wine is typically priced at 85 to 100% of the wholesale cost of the entire bottle. Most wine bottle pricing marks up wholesale bottles around 200 to 300%. If you acquire bottles of wine from a vendor for $12 wholesale, you’ll sell them for around $36 retail. An accepted way to price that wine by the glass is $10 to $12 per.
There are some exceptions to the rule, though.
If, for example, the bottle you’re pouring from is extraordinarily inexpensive. Let’s say a supplier got you some decent wine for $5 per bottle wholesale. You don’t have to follow the above formula. Price the wine by the glass at whatever minimum you’re comfortable with. Most guests won’t bat an eye at wines by the glass around $7 or $8.
Likewise, the bottle may be so expensive that a wine by the glass priced at its wholesale amount is too high. It takes a special kind of clientele to pay $30 for a glass of wine. But that’s roughly what a wine by the glass would cost if poured from a bottle that sells retail for $100. When you encounter this situation, it’s usually a good indicator that a particular wine isn’t a great candidate to be on your wine by the glass list. Regardless, if you must have it available by the glass, you’ll have to lower the price of the glass. And accept a smaller profit margin.
Wine By The Glass: Do’s and Don’ts
Do: Consider Your Business When Pricing Wine by the Glass
There are obviously more factors to consider when pricing than wholesale cost. The nuances of your specific business, for example. For bars, restaurants, and hotels, there are three big ones.
- Concept. If you’re a destination restaurant, a fine dining establishment, or any other hospitality business that depends on an association with sophistication or elegance, you can charge more. You’re not just charging for the wine in the glass, remember. You’re charging for the decor, the training, the furniture, the location. Everything that makes your concept unique. That stuff’s valuable.
- Commitment to wine. If your business is committed to running a thoughtful, curated wine program, you can charge for it. Your bartenders and servers are trained in wine service. Your bar managers or sommeliers put a lot of effort into sourcing and acquiring wines. You invest in quality glassware. A commitment to wine often demands a premium.
- Clientele. This goes hand-in-hand with point 1 above. Some folks are willing to pay more for things. That’s mostly because they’re comfortable with the fact that they’re not just paying for the commodity, they’re paying for the experience. If you have an experience-driven clientele, you can charge a little more.
Figuring out price points that maximize sales while maximizing pour cost is a field of study all its own. It’s called menu engineering. It’s the art and science of turning your most profitable drinks into your most popular, and vice versa. It involves taking wine inventory frequently, and a wine inventory spreadsheet helps with that. Doing so will uncover what wines sell at what price or what bar promotions or happy hour ideas work best for your wine list. Learn how to do it. Depend on it. It unlocks your menu’s profit potential.
Don’t: Charge an Arm and a Leg
That said, don’t go overboard. It’s well-known that wine is marked up massively from supplier cost. Guests know they can get a $50 bottle of wine from your restaurant for $20 at a liquor store. So try not to rub their face in it. Guests, as a whole, have given hospitality an inch when it comes to wine pricing. Don’t take a foot.
Do: Have a Small List with a Healthy Variety
Having an enormous wine by the glass list isn’t profitable. Wine expires right quick when it’s opened. Having dozens of open bottles waiting to swirl down the drain is horrible for your pour cost. 10 wines by the glass is about the maximum unless you’re moving wine by the glass like mad. These are general guidelines. Adjust them to your individual business. But, from the numbers we’ve crunched, a wine by the glass list of 7-10 is the sweet spot.
And you gotta make those wines count. Try to hit every possible flavor profile you can. Varietals, regions, reds, whites, dry, bold, fruit, floral, etc. The key to a successful wine by the glass list is variety.
Don’t: Offer Only Familiar Wines
We see a lot of wine by the glass lists populated with greatest hits: Robert Mondavi, Coppola, etc. Good wines, sure, but don’t go strictly for brand recognition as a sales strategy. One of the great things about wine by the glass is that guests can take a chance and discover something. Discoverability is a big part of upselling wine and liquor. Maybe they’ll be interested in a whole bottle of this new elixir that has so captured their spirit. Include some lesser-known winemakers, regions, or varietals. Write some enticing copy. Build in the opportunity for your guests to be delighted. You’ll be surprised how often they are. By The Glass Menu List: Example
Having trouble putting together a wine by the glass list? It’s okay. Everyone gets winer’s block at some point. Here are a few wines we’ve found perform particularly well by the glass. We approached this as if we were putting together a wine by the glass list of 8 wines.
- Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
- Super Tuscan Blend
- Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
- Chilean Zinfandel
- New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
- Spätlese Riesling
- Sonoma Valley Chardonnay
There are four wines from the Americas, one from Australia/New Zealand, and three from Europe. There are five red and three white. There are classics like a Napa cab, but also more adventurous choices like the Grenache-blend Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And it runs the gamut from light- to full-bodied and from sweet to dry.
Best Wine By The Glass Portion Spouts
All this talk of wine by the glass has got us craving some wine by the glass. What an insane coincidence. But, lo, we won’t just trudge forward and pour any old amount of wine into a glass. No! We’ll pour exactly one glass of wine into our glass. How? With wine by the glass portion spouts.
Best Wine by the Glass Portion Spout, 5-Ounce: Precision Pour 5-Ounce Clear Top Wine by the Glass Portion Spout
This is the only wine by the glass portion spout on Amazon that pours in 5-ounce quantities. All the other ones will pour in 1- or 2-ounce quantities, which isn’t bad. A lot of people portion wine like that. But these are specifically made to pour wine by the glass. And they make hitting a standard wine pour a breeze. They come in a pack of 12. Nothing better than a pack of 12.
Best Wine by the Glass Portion Spout, 1-Ounce: Zerone 1 Ounce Portion Spout Stopper for Wine
The Zerone pour spouts come in packs of 6 or 12 and pours one ounce at a time. They’re kinda like liquor bottle pour spouts—which likewise help barkeeps worldwide hit their standard liquor pours—but can also be used for wine. Maybe the 5-ounce portion spout above is a little big for you. Or you want something you can use with most liquor bottle sizes. If either, get the Zerones. We have them, we use them, we love them.
Should Your Restaurant Have A WBTG Program?
Having wine by the glass program is a great selling point for your restaurant and a great way to accommodate guests’ needs. And it’s a tried-and-true to make big steps toward your bar’s profitability. But you should always consider your restaurant’s limit first before deciding on whether or not you should carry a WBTG program.
Pay close attention to your maximum and minimum price for your wine glass. Because they are tied directly to your profits. If you’re struggling to find good wine bottles that fit your price limits, work with your local distributors’ sales reps for a better deal. Or find another vendor.
Sometimes, the best option is to not offer the WBTG choice at all. It may just not make sense with the bar profit margin goals you’ve set for your business. But you’d be wise to try to make it work. Because when it hits, it hits big.
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