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Friday Fishwrap
The Disservice of Overly Expensive Wine Lists

By Stephen Eliot

Earlier this week, the San Francisco Chronicle’s executive food and wine editor and restaurant critic, Michael Bauer, offered up his views on restaurant wine pricing policies and was met by an torrent both of support and of pointed criticism, some of the latter quite nasty, for daring to suggest that mark-ups were often too high and that the customers were not always getting good value for their money.

I must admit that I weigh in wholeheartedly with Michael on this one.

I spend a fair bit of my limited discretionary funds on dining out, but a smaller and smaller portion is allocated to wine these days. I have more regularly adopted the advice of many of Michael’s supporters by bringing a bottle from home and paying corkage, or simply settling for something inexpensive (relatively speaking) from the wine-by-the-glass offerings of the day.

Now, I love to try new wines from new places and new producers, but I have grown rather cautious at the prices such experimentation demands. A glass perhaps of the latest Balkan beauty or some biodynamic breakthrough from Eastern Europe, but, please, not a whole bottle. And, I have real problems with seeing favorites priced upwards of two-hundred dollars when they might be found for closer to fifty at retail.

I understand that there are costs associated with a good restaurant wine program, and I appreciate that expertise, an interesting inventory, good glassware and fine service are worth paying for. That is, when they are truly present. When dining out, however, I confess that, while my world is rarely a wine-centric one; my first concern is the food. Rarely, if ever, do I choose this or that restaurant solely because of its wine list, but a poorly drawn, overly expensive list will most assuredly turn me awa--as will a sommelier or wine director who will not or cannot be bothered to deal with discerning dinosaurs like me who actually enjoy the occasional Chardonnay or Merlot.

Make no mistake, the restaurant business is a tough one. There are simply too many things that need to be done right. Damn few restaurants turn out to be a success. But, as with any successful business, it is those who pay close attention to their customers and can ultimately justify price with perceived quality who will thrive. In a truly open market, there are no free passes, nor should there be.

For me, a restaurant has a single chance to impress. If the first visit is not successful, I will not be back, and trying to pick my pocket is a guaranteed way to ensure it.

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No Subject
by Gerald Weisl
Posted on:11/14/2012 11:09:15 AM

I understand the costs of inventory, stemware and the high rent, but I don't find the notion of a 400% mark-up as being particularly sensible.  These days, though, sommeliers claim this is the "industry standard."

Many restaurant managers don't understand the notion of banking dollars and not percentages.  They may make their high margin on a couple of beers, but that amount of dollars is far less than they'd have made had we ordered a bottle of fairly-priced wine.

Many restaurants should simply have a donation jar at the door with a plea for helping their "charity." Another option is simply mugging customers in the parking lot instead of mugging them at the table.  They might consider a 900 number for their reservation line, automatically adding a few bucks to the cost of dining.  How about a menu fee and a wine list surcharge if patrons need to have a look at these?  Tables could be auctioned (the starting bid for the ones by the restroom are lower, of course!)...and if you want a chair with that table, patrons can perhaps choose from a variety of styles and quality levels.  Want a table cloth on that four-top?  That's extra!  Metal utensils instead of plastic?  Ka-Ching!  I'm sure you and Charlie can come up with a few additional ones (Rubicon used to charge a rental fee if customers requested Riedel stemware...).

No Subject
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:11/14/2012 12:29:15 PM

Now you've got it. An upcharge based on the stemware.

two buck for mason jars

four for Libbey

ten for Reidel Overtueres and twnety for the real thing.

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