Let me set the scene: Your party of six friends have just been seated at a fine eatery, the waiter is handing out the menus and you are handed the wine list. There is light conversation around the table as everyone settles in and decides what to choose from the menu…the waiter then recites the daily specials as you sneak glances at the wines offered. What side of the wine list do you glance at first?? Do you look to the right where the prices are listed or do you look to the left to see the varietals offered? It can be nerve racking to be given the responsibility of choosing a wine that will appeal to everyone at the table and especially taking into consideration what they might order. You are also taking into account the fact that you will all be splitting the bill so you don’t want to go crazy with the price. I like to start with the left side just to see what is being offered, it’s amazing how some restaurants have the flimsiest of lists while others have incredibly extensive ones! One of the first things you might think is – Hey, I just saw that wine in the store for $30 and they want to charge me $80 for it here!! Wow, you think, maybe I should have brought a bottle or two to share, but then you notice the corkage fee is $30 a bottle! Here are some things you should know about the markup. Industry-wide markups average two and a half to three times the wholesale cost; a bottle priced at $10 wholesale might sell for $15 retail, but from $25 to $30 in a restaurant. The size of the restaurant also affects the markup; generally, the smaller the restaurant, the higher you can expect the markup to be. This is because they typically do not buy their wine in bulk, and so probably cannot receive as good a wholesale price. Also, because the smaller restaurant operational cost per customer is higher, that cost gets passed onto the customer in the markup on everything that is sold, but especially wine and spirits. Keep in mind that the position of the wine on the list usually determines the percentage of markup with the less expensive wines probably having the greatest markup. Knowing that, you should also be aware of another secret; the second cheapest wine on the list in each category is usually the most popular and therefore has the highest markup!
Sometimes you may be faced with ordering wine before everyone has arrived so you might think ordering by the glass would be the most economical, however be wary, the list price on a single glass is typically the wholesale price for a full bottle and just two glasses can run almost the cost of a bottle. I would splurge for the bottle, share it with your guests as they arrive and save some money in the process! One more thing…if you do decide to bring a bottle or two to share at a fine restaurant, be sure to check that it is not being offered on their list already as it is considered rude to bring something that is already there!