The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2010

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Page 34 of 112

STUDY RESULTS Common Goal R estaurant wine lists are the most basic—and important—on-premise communication/sales tool for the con- sumer, apart from a recommendation from a sommelier. Wine directors, distributors, restaurateurs and consultants lend advice regarding content, format and semantics, but few direct tests of these wine list concepts have been studied and published. With a common industry goal being increased wine sales, we’re paying atten- tion to a recent wine list effectiveness study engineered by Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research. The research project, sponsored by Southern Wine & Spirits of America, Inc. and entitled Wine List Characteristics Associated with Greater Wine Sales,* evaluates the extent to which 30 wine list attributes coincide with higher wine sales.1 The analysis was based on design and content attributes extracted from 2702 lists from restaurants in several major metropolitan areas3 across the U.S. *Cornell Hospitality Report, July 2009 by Sybil S. Yang and Michael Lynn 1 Two first-level graduates of the Court of Master Sommeliers coded each wine list for characteristics including selection and offerings, physical attributes, design/organi- zation and information provided. 2 214 are independent restaurants and 56 are affiliated with a multi-unit chain. 3 Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami, NY Metro, Orlando, San Francisco Bay area, SoCal and Tampa. The study concluded that restaurants with higher wine sales tend to have wine lists that: 1) Are included on the food menu. 2) Do not include a dollar sign ($) in the price format. 3) Include more mentions of wine from a specific set of wineries favored by the guests (including well-known national wine brands). 4) Include a “Reserve” category of wines. Another interesting finding was that using “Wine Style” as a major organizational category was associated with reduced sales. 34 / the tasting panel / september 2010 wine CORNELL UNIVERSITY/SOUTHERN WINE & SPIRITS WINE LIST STUDY EXPLORES WAYS TO HEIGHTEN WINE SALES According to the report, “Wine lists that used wine style as an organizational heading were associated with lower wine sales.” However, this may not indicate that listing wines as “sweet” versus “dry,” or “bold” versus “subtle” is ineffective, and the outcome is dependent on the type of restaurant that is listing these classifications. Some restaura- teurs may note that their less-experienced wine drinkers would benefit from descriptors and style categories. In terms of results specific to the casual and fine-dining restaurant categories, casual- dining restaurants were noted to garner higher wine sales when their lists contained approximately 150 bottles of wine (versus lists with fewer or more bottles), as well as when they offered more value-priced wines. However, neither of these factors showed any statistically significant effect in fine-dining restaurants. How about the wine-by-the-glass or tasting flight programs? The study concluded that there was no relationship between wine sales and the presence of these offerings. This seemed counter-intuitive to both Cornell researchers and Southern professionals alike, and it is proposed that future research examine this topic more closely. Despite these variables, it is ultimately still up to restaurant sommeliers and waitstaff to be well-trained and on-point in order to place their wines in the best possible light. There is, after all, no beating the combination of a well-designed wine list and a well-trained professional to guide the consumer.

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