How to create a wine list in Australia.

A restaurant's wine list is an important business tool designed to improve sales and leave patrons happy.

Creating or improving a wine list can be an overwhelming task but broken down into logical, thought provoking steps; it can inspire some personal creativity and become a satisfying process.

Firstly some things to consider…

A wine list importance ranking should be right up there with your staff and your food menu. One of the first things most patrons will do in your establishment is browse your wine list. ‘You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression’.

     Start by thinking about the purpose of your list. It should be an accurate catalogue of your wine inventory, a tool for improving sales and complement your food.

     The layout should be simple, easy to read, informative and considerate of your patron's needs.

     It is highly recommended that you use the wine list to speed up drinks service, by answering anticipated questions, for example, ‘is that Gewürztraminer sweet, dry or fruity?’

     The wine list should be a reflection of your establishment and show that you have given thought to the alignment of food and wine prices.

     Use it as medium to show your passion for the wines you sell.

     Make sure you have some high, mid & budget priced wines to cater for those who want to celebrate by having a splurge or those patrons just having a glass over lunch.

Selecting the wines for your list…

If you ask a sommelier what makes a great wine list, many would say; depth of inventory, with rare and prestigious brands. This is however not necessarily in the interests of your patrons who may be embarrassed or not in the mood to sort through an endless list of what they consider to be obscure wines. To quote Xavier Rousset MS of London restaurants “it’s easy to create a great large list but the real skill lies in creating a great small one”.

Start by thinking about your philosophy and the personality of your list. Will your list only have local wines or a mix of international wines? Do you provide a Champagne amongst your local sparkling selection? Will you have an eclectic collection, brands that are common in any supermarket or perhaps something in between?

Our wine representatives are available to help with the selection and will be well versed in what wines are top sellers and what esoteric wines are needed to balance out your list and make it ‘interesting’.

It’s very important to get samples to taste and assess so at Options we have a budget especially for this purpose. Try the wines with members of your staff. This process also helps give your staff the confidence to recommend wines on their personal experience. Everybody’s opinion counts as your patrons will be a cross section of the community too. Whittle down your selection to those wines that everyone loves and is in harmony with your food. Keep in mind nearby competitors and try not to have the same wines on your list.

Vintages…

‘To be or not to be’? Whilst a wine vintage on a list can be both informative and speed up drinks service you should consider that it needs to be up to date and accurate. Wines roll vintage regularly and randomly, so if you have 50 wines on your list you’ll need to reprint it once every week on average at high cost to your business. One way of overcoming this issue is to maintain a separate ‘back vintage reserve list’ for the connoisseur. A copy of this should be on your PC so updates can be printed easily.

Grouping the wines…

One of the most difficult things to decide is how you want to group your wine list. How creative do you get? There are of course endless grouping methods, for example; grape varieties, food wine matching, region, style, colour or even by price but consider your patrons and what they would like to see.

Here in Australia there is still quite a bit of parochialism so it’s not unusual to see listings by “Australian Region” and then “Internationals” grouped together or the tried and proven “Sparkling, Whites, Rose & Reds”. We feel grouping by food matching would lead to more interesting and experimental selection by patrons but it must suit your clientele.

Grouping by perceived ‘personality’ e.g. ‘bright’ ‘intense’ might be just a little too inventive and lead to problems as you would expect people’s interpretations of these descriptors will be different. We recommend to not be tempted to list your wines in price order. This is because patrons can feel intimidated or feel they are being judged by the price they are paying.

Wines by the glass…

Unfortunately wine starts to oxidize as soon as the cork or screw cap is removed from the bottle so your selection of wine by the glass is a balancing act between range versus wastage. In theory, open bottles of wine, untreated, should be disposed after two days.

A safe and reliable route is to pick a selection of what you think will be top sellers of your main varietals. Your Options representative can help you with this process. This will ensure your wastage is minimal and your patrons are happy. Most wholesale merchants will offer additional discount for your ‘Wine by the Glass’ program to balance some of the wastage factor.

Pricing…

This is where we can get a little criticism from the public who don’t fully understand the financial dynamics of beverage pricing in On-Premise situations. We always try to direct our On-Premise customers toward non-supermarket wines that are not heavily discounted and therefore pricing comparisons cannot be made that easily.

You may have already established a gross profit mark up which is necessary to cover fixed and variable expenses. This makes it a simple calculation to establish your beverage sell prices. Your accountant will be helpful if no margin has been established but needless to say you still need to remain competitive with nearby restaurants. It's important you offer an incentive for your patrons to buy a bottle as opposed to your ‘wine by the glass’ program and have a price for both options. After all is said and done, a bottle sale puts more profit in the bank.

Having established a markup for beverages it should be noted that it is impossible to mark up a bottle of $100 wine the same as a $10 wine.  Group your beverages into four or five price categories and have different markups that average what you need overall.

What Options can do…

Along with our wine representatives, we have an in-house design team who know how to make a wine list design work. We use proven strategies to help you sell more wine like careful consideration of clarity and readability, even in low light scenarios, grouping of wines and the effective use of tasting notes where applicable. Bespoke Wine of the Month material can be quickly generated to complement an establishment’s décor or style and in the right situation will definitely help generate more sales. Our in-house design team regularly sits down with customers to edit a previous list over a coffee or have a complementary design consult.

Please feel free to use this service at our HQ in Hindmarsh S.A.

We hope this article gives you at least a little inspiration to help you with your new or renovated wine list. Good luck.

Greg Turner