When it comes to planning your wine list, many factors must work together to be sure it is well curated and unique to your restaurant. Thankfully, the wine world is so exciting right now. All over the world, in more countries than ever, wine is being made and exported, and along the way wine is becoming more approachable and affordable. That’s good news for curating your wine list.
Before you pop any corks and get tasting though, be sure to put some thought into what exactly it is you’re looking for.
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself before you get started:
1. Do I need to employ a professional?
If you currently do not have a wine expert on your payroll, then the answer might be yes. If your restaurant can’t justify a full time wine director, consider working with a wine consultant to help you put together a list or at least options from which you choose the final wines. Many wine reps will also offer this service for you but then you are at the mercy of the wine in their portfolio. Someone independent would not be beholden to anyone but you.
2. How is my current wine list?
Before you get going on sipping and swirling, do a careful assessment of your current wine list. What’s selling, what isn’t? What categories do you have covered, what categories are you totally missing? Make a note of your top sellers and leave them on your list.
3. What is on the menu?
The wine is the counterpoint to the food, and one of its most important function is to compliment the meal. Before you start selecting bottles, take a long look at your food menu. What ingredients are you working with, what flavor profiles are present, and how are these dishes being prepared? All these answers will be the starting point for what type of wine you should be selecting.
4. What is my restaurant's concept?
Almost as important as the food, is your brand and concept. Your wine list should be as reflective of your brand as every other element in your restaurant. Are you a very traditional restaurant with white tablecloths that would require an extensive wine list with vast selections and vintages? Or are you a hip farm-to-table restaurant with a menu that changes often and keeps your guests guessing? Whatever the answer, keep this in mind when approaching your wine list.
5. What are my price points?
Look at the price range of your menu and be sure the price range of your wine list is in sync. If you’re a casual restaurant, you want a wine list that reflects that. Keep in mind there should be affordable options, some middle of the road choices, and always a few splurge bottles. Remember, if there are no options within a price point that someone is comfortable with, they may skip buying a bottle all together. Also, price your bottles fairly. Your customer will be much happier spending a lot of money on a splurge bottle of wine at a fair price, than spending the same amount on a bottle they think is too expensive.
Lastly, train your servers well on your wine and how they pair with the food. They should be able to effectively guide guests toward making a decision that they will enjoy and will work well with their meal. When staff is more confident in their selling, they sell more and your guests are happier.
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Writer Bio: Kristin Crane is a writer and designer living in Providence, Rhode Island. She works with small businesses to help them promote themselves in various industries including food, wine, and the arts. She also contributes as Travel Editor to The Lady Project blog.