Profits by the Glass

A wine-by-the-glass program provides the opportunity to present today's adventurous guests with a variety of grape types, brands, regions and price tiers. But simply listing a few random wines by the glass doesn't guarantee success. A number of techniques are vital to promoting a profitable glass program.

When creating a wine-by-the-glass program, it's important to design a list showcasing a range of grape types, brands, regions and price tiers and to establish multiple guest contact points to send a wine message. It's also crucial to establish training systems to educate staff on the wines, food pairings and windows of opportunity. Let's look at those steps more closely.

Opening Windows

Glass wines allow an operator to present a wide array of wines — including emerging regions or grape types — as a low-risk proposition for the patron. In addition, by-the-glass lists allow operators to test the waters with unusual or unfamiliar offerings by first presenting the label or varietal by the glass prior to adding the wines to the bottle-only selection. What's more, promoting these wines by the glass opens the window for servers to interact with guests.

Operators are sometimes concerned about placing new or out-of-the-ordinary wines in their by-the-glass programs because they fear the wines won't sell. My feeling is that a glass listing is feasible if it can achieve sales of four to five glasses every two to three days to maintain freshness. The key is to have only one bottle at a time open for each glass placement.

As for where to market your wines by the glass, look at consumer contact points including the menu, back bar, bar and tabletop. A wine-by-the-glass list placed on the bar ensures guests don't have to wait for a bartender or server to bring one. In the dining room, place the wines-by-the-glass list near the front of the menu or in the appetizer section to send a wine message at the beginning of the dining experience. Also, consider placing some wine recommendations near the entrée section. Where possible, have a decorative wine storage area behind the bar to remind guests that wine is part of your experience.

When the Glass Hits the Table

With wines by the glass, one size does not always fit all. Offering two different glass portion sizes such as five-ounce and eight-ounce provides the guest with more options. If you plan to use an oversized glass, take the wine to the table in a small decanter to show the guest he is not getting less than a standard pour. You can also offer wines by the glass in a half-liter carafe as a shareable option for diners.

By having a good range of wines by the glass, you allow the guest flexibility to enjoy a Pinot Grigio with her appetizer or salad, and then a Malbec with her entree. It's important to remind your staff that your glass offerings are a great way to experience food pairings because each guest can customize wines to their specific meal.

A useful method for promoting wines by the glass is a seasonal feature that is not on the wine list, giving servers another opportunity to explain the wine and offer a glass.

For dining room wine sales, timing is everything. Offer wine at three different times during the meal: initial table approach, prior to the entree arriving and just after the entree is delivered. These windows of opportunity allow staff to engage guests and assist once again with food pairings.

Finally, a successful glass program should offer a range of pricing. It's best to have a three-tiered price structure based on grape type, brand and region. Offering a good, better and best price structure in popular categories such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon will accomplish this. The actual prices will vary based on the style of your operation.

David Pennachetti is the founder and president of Wine Guru Services LLC, based in Dallas. The company provides beverage consulting and educational seminars for the hospitality industry. Reach him at [email protected].


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