Paying through the nose for wine


One of the biggest whinges I hear about wine is the high price it is sold for in restaurants.
Compared to the discounted offerings in the local supermarkets, restaurant mark-ups seem ridiculously steep for many people and owners are accused of taking advantage of their patrons by attempting to squeeze every last penny out of them. 

I would like to defend the integrity of many restaurateurs who are trying to earn a dollar and who have been brave enough to put their money, heart and soul into a fickle, risky business. 

My point is this. When we’re served wine in a restaurant, we get it poured into nice glasses, having been opened by trained and knowledgeable staff and served at the correct temperature. 

We select the wine from a list that represents a broad range of styles, hand selected for their quality and value for money (or at least that’s how it should be. If it isn’t, don’t go back.).Restaurants are labour intensive and it’s the biggest cost for any hospitality business, hence the higher price for its product. 

A friend recently moaned that a bottle of wine was twice the price in an eatery than it was in the supermarket.

Where would you rather drink it, I asked? 

Supermarkets can sell wine cheap because of bulk buying and relatively low staff costs. When was the last time you got a recommendation in your local supermarket? They are not designed that way. They are convenient and rely on heavy discounting to stay ahead. 

Margins on wine in a restaurant can be as high as 70 per cent (added to the cost price, plus tax). Cafes are usually closer to 50 per cent. Retail wines usually sit between 20-30 per cent. I believe this difference is justified by the service provided within the hospitality industry. Next time you are buying a pair of jeans in a clothes store chain, ask how much their margins are. I bet it’s much higher than 70 per cent and usually with only two, low-paid staff on shift. 

I will agree that some restaurants don’t live up to their prices. But the ones that do, I support their pricing and when I choose to eat there, I’m prepared to pay for it. If I don’t get value, I vote with my feet.
You should get a good offering on the wine list. To justify their prices, the selection should be broad and well thought out with each price point representative of value for money. The staff should be trained and know what they are talking about. Furthermore, they should be able to open and serve a bottle of wine properly.
Incidentally, if an eatery doesn’t offer a good wine selection, then I think BYO should be allowed with a small corkage charge. If you can’t offer me something interesting, I would rather go to a shop that can. 

By the way, there are bars in this town with minimal overheads that charge restaurant prices for their wines. Now that’s a rip-off. 

Paul Tudgay is Queenstown Resort College business hospitality manager, part-time wine appreciation lecturer and fulltime connoisseur

See more at Paul Tudgay’s Wine Down site