Last week, in between appointments I had some time to kill and as I usually do I try to pop in somewhere I haven’t been before, bring my price list, and make an introduction. It’s easy to get optimistic upon seeing a place from the outside and wondering what kind of cool wine list they might have inside - maybe something eclectic yet tuned perfectly to match the cuisine or perhaps something featuring small production wines from across our great state, etc.
But what seems to happen far too often is you go in to check the list and it’s just so… blah. You know the common offenders… Estancia, Simi, Ferrari-Carano, Rodney Strong, etc. Awful plonk that you can buy an entire bottle (or maybe even 2!) at the supermarket for around the price of a glass. When I see lists like this, talking to the “person in charge of the wines” is basically an exercise in finding out if the problem is sheer laziness, lack of knowledge, or that they sold their soul to SWSatan.
Let’s look at each of these explanations and their typical excuses.
1) Lazy owner/buyer: Typically these buyers will try to justify this by saying “people don’t care about what wine they drink” or “wine people are not our clientele” or “we don’t really sell a lot of wine”.
Yeah, so you like to serve crappy wine because like whatever? Or you mean to say your target customer are all those people out there that hate good wine. Hmm… and no shit you don’t sell a lot of wine. It’s because you aren’t trying. And your wine list sucks.
Now some of these places have great food and maybe that will be enough to keep them afloat. Don’t get me wrong I’m not wishing for these places to go under because that’s just bad for everyone. But you are doing your chef a disservice by not putting at least a little bit of effort into building a wine program with some identity that matches the cuisine. Your restaurant may survive and serve good food but you will never be a destination.
2) Lack of knowledge: This is probably the easiest one of these to overcome. Just outsource the job to someone. Hire a somm. Ask your reps to train your staff on how to sell wine. I may want a sale but I also want to help my customers. You don’t have to build a 10,000 bottle cellar. Just get someone who is going to build the most unique list then can within the budget they are provided. A true pro will get the job done. You’ll sell more wine and your customers will be happy.
3) Sold out: Well, not much you can really do about this one. These places are on the path to failure in my opinion. All because of a stupid leatherbound printed menu whose Word doc you are no longer in possession of. Or maybe you fear you won’t get the “best price” on spirits if you give up that coveted Pinot glass pour to someone else. Or whatever myriad tricks they use to get your list to look the same as the guy next door.
I do what I can to help these accounts. I work with many accounts that work with the big boys as much as they work with the little guys and they are doing just fine. If someone wants to pour Salmon Creek for happy hour then there’s not much I can do. I’ve got good, drinkable cheap wine. I wish these accounts would not associate “boutique” with “expensive” or “hard to deal with”. But again, not much you can do.
I understand you need the big boys to provide your liquor and maybe your business focuses on beer or mixology, but if you’ve only got a basic beer & wine license and you’re still dealing exclusively with the bloodsuckers you’ve got a real issue.