Size really doesn’t matter!

I continue to be amazed at how many old-fashioned, unprofitable wine lists are still in use.

I have a client who is losing a huge amount of money in F&B. I met their sommelier, who was very excited and proud of his restaurant wine list. He has a total of 530 labels with over 5,000 bottles in the cellar valued at nearly $250K. There were 170 labels on the wine list, and the remaining 360 were being held in reserve and were available to their wine society, of which there are only 180 members.

They do five wine dinners a year (you know how I feel about wine dinners!). I asked how often he turned over his inventory and of course he didn’t have a clue. So I analyzed their sales. 

They have a restaurant that impressively serves nearly 450 covers per day, mostly lunch and dinner. In the five-month period I studied, they sold 2,517 bottles of wine, of which 71% was served from their By The Glass list. That left only 734 bottles from their main list, or approximately five bottles a day!

Like most old-fashioned restaurants, the wines by the glass are listed on the main wine list, which comes in a classic faux leather book that is ceremoniously presented to the host or the wealthiest-looking man at the table! This itself is an archaic practice. If you have a great wine program, everyone should see it, as it acts as a great advertisement for your restaurant. I love to see a wine list on the back of the food menu.

In contrast, Cafe Boulud in Toronto has a great wine program. Wine Director Drew Walker has a total of 62 wines on this list, which is part of the lunch and dinner menu. There are 20 wines available by the glass and carafe and 6 super-premium wines available from the Coravin program. There is a reserve list of 160 wines for the big spenders. Inventory is less than C$120,000. Beverage to food ratio is 44%, of which 83% is wine sales. On an average Saturday night, he sells 75 bottles of wine, 40 from the main or reserve list and 35 from the BTG  program. 

The simple moral of the story is this: Just because you have a huge wine list doesn’t mean you have an interesting or profitable wine program.