The SOMM Journal

April / May 2016

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Page 32 of 108

32 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } APRIL/MAY 2016 { bottom line } ANYONE WHO HAS WORKED SUCCESSFUL RESTAU- rants in different places—on the East Coast, the West Coast or anywhere in between—will tell you the same: Each market is different, but in many ways the same. Wine lovers respond to pretty much the same things, no matter where they are. Six rules of thumb that will always keep you on the straight and narrow, wherever you may be: 1. What's the point of price gouging? A lot of sommeliers assume that when you brutally mark up a popular wine—say, 25% cost as opposed to your usual 33% to 36%—you're doing yourself a favor by discouraging guests stuck on name-brands, and encouraging them to look at alternatives. No, you're not. Guests aren't stupid. They'll shell out for wines they know, but will always remember that you made them pay, say, $75 for a wine that competitors are selling for $50. All you're doing is making yourself look stupid, and probably losing business for your restaurant. 2. Sheer volume never makes up for higher costs. It is possible to stimulate sales by selling wine at lower markups—but just slightly. Unless you can achieve crazy success, like a consistent doubling of dollar sales, lower prices rarely make up for profits lost by reduced markups. Besides, price is just one of many reasons why guests order wines. They're attracted to comfort labels, but are also compelled by well-reasoned, enthusiastic staff recommendations. They respond to promotions, and are open to new wines highlighted in food contexts. They love the idea of smaller glass portions. Above all, they are motivated by quality: If a wine is truly good, they'll keep buying it regardless of price, and love you for it. 3. It is not good to upsell. As self-evident as this concept may seem, the objective of every success - ful restaurant is to wow guests, not to get them to spend as much as possible. Never take your staff 's eyes off the ball by exhorting them to do otherwise. If anything, check-building can hurt you. Do the math: Would you rather your guests pay $200 and feel a need to come back next week and dozens of times thereafter, or $1,000 and have them look back at their visit as a once-in-a- lifetime experience? 4. Don't be a snob. The sommelier trade has a bad enough reputation as it is for focusing exclu - sively on "somm wines"—esoteric selections that do not appeal to the common palate. Many guests, for instance, still prefer a soft, fruity wine like white Zinfandel, but selections of bone dry, sharply acidic German Riesling or Savennières sec won't do it for them. The logical thing is German Kabinett or Spätlese, which obviously can be as glorious as any wines. Can't stand typical California Chardonnay? Join the club; but there are still lots of California producers crafting innovative or terroir-driven Chardonnays chill enough to melt the coldest sommelier's heart. You need to compete with a unique, interesting wine program, but not at the expense of alienating possible guests for life. 5. Great wine list = great restaurant. Which is not to say that a crafty, comprehensive or award- winning wine list is useless. Only that it does not automatically correspond to incredible guest experiences. A celebrated chef, for instance, does not need to offer a thousand dishes, just a few exquisite ones. In fact, an overstuffed wine list only prevents you from being flexible—being able to adjust your selections according to sea - sons, the time of day, special dishes or even your latest whims or unexpected discoveries. Don't let a bulky wine program drag you down. Which brings up our final rule. . . 6. Wine is a condiment, not the main event. Let's get real: Wine is rarely better than the fourth, fifth or sixth reason why guests return. Most return business is garnered by outstanding service, fan - tastic food and favorable location, not to mention factor s like value or atmosphere. That's why restaurants exist— so people can eat and be served with a reasonable degree of convenience and fulfillment. Which is why it only makes sense that the best wine programs are those with affinities built into them, consisting of wines chosen for specific purposes, not to satisfy an ego or to impress other sommeliers. Long ago Danny Meyer once said that identifying one of his places as a "wine restaurant" is like calling Yankee Stadium a "mustard ballpark." You can be sneaky by choosing wines that do an incredible job of amplifying the experience. But in the best restaurants, wines compliment the main event, and don't detract from it. Six Universal Rules of Thumb by Randy Caparoso

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