Industry Update
Opinion Article16 November 2020

In Vino Veritas LXXX: The Wine Windows of Florence

By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited

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Have you heard about the little wine holes in Florence (and to a lesser extent in other Italian cities)? It's a cute little story that has emerged out of the pandemic and yet one more reason to visit this illustrious Renaissance cultural nexus. Importantly for you, it demonstrates a critically overlooked principal about selling wine that you can use to rethink your beverage program.

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Even with all our contemporary influences, people still like to drink just as they did millennia ago, especially during an epidemic when other pastimes are restricted. Large enough only to slide a wine glass through, these fun buchette del vino were first installed on the exterior walls of taverns during a 17th century bubonic plague outbreak as a means of giving Tuscans a much-needed hit of sangiovese while limiting human contact. Their construction is similar to the milk delivery boxes built into 1950s homes. Nowadays, these wine windows have largely remained shuttered, generating only a quizzical glance from the average sightseer as they saunter off to the next art museum with gelato in hand.

Now that Italy's tourism is ramping back up primarily amongst fellow Europeans who may already be familiar with the more popular attractions like the Duomo or the Uffizi, Florence has had good reason to relish in this tiny speck of its grand history while it rides out the long tail of recessed COVID travel numbers. The wine windows make for a quick distraction while touring the city and a great social media bragging moment, all in a safe and physically distanced manner.

Look deeper, though. These windows have helped to transform the wine sold from simple beverage consumption into an entirely iconic drinking experience. While I am not advocating you drill a giant hole in the wall of your restaurant to set up your own little wine hole, understanding the inherent value of creating unique and memorable experiences is what will help you increase alcohol revenues in the months and years ahead. Consumer buying habits are in flux and you need to offer something truly remarkable in order to keep people coming back.

Sadly, many outlets still treat wine like a transaction instead of a chance to craft an exceptional dining experience. As is often the case, the F&B director or sommelier meets with merchants to develop a satisfactory list with a reasonable selection around a given theme. This alone takes a tremendous amount of time and dedication. The problem is that most people haven't developed their palates to accurately distinguish good wine from the true standouts, nor do they have the raw passion to care about all the nuanced differences between specific varietals or growing regions. The end result is a mild apathy towards all those modifiers used to justify higher price points.

Instead, think about what you do 'around' the wine. Drawing again from my limited knowledge of the Italian language and culture, what underlies these little wine holes is best described through the phrase l'ambiente del vino where it's not about just the purple fluid itself or the process by which it's made but the where, when and how it's enjoyed. You can pop the top off the most expensive Super Tuscan, but it will taste wildly different if you're alone watching a sports game than if you are delighting in a romantic summer evening while seated out on a medieval piazza.

How do you create your own magical experience to help drive additional wine sales and simultaneously boost meal satisfaction? The answer is different for every hotel, and that's entirely the point in that there's room to grow for every property that works at refining their wine program.

Experiential drinking depends first on embellishing the specific setting your hotel already exists within. This is done through amplifying the onsite features of your program as well as any promotional aspects and creating an eager culture so that your team understands the mission. Maybe you excel by offering a variety of different tastings to highlight some of the more unique winery partnerships you've formed over the years. Perhaps it's creating a strong point by differentiation by only offering vintages that cannot be found in a liquor store or focusing on a hyper-regional subset of producers while also utilizing esoteric glassware to visually drive the message home.

There are many ways to separate your restaurant from your competitors by creating a lasting impression. With COVID changing the way we all think about practically everything, now is the time to devote more energy to what distinguishes your wine program so that, much like the wine windows spread throughout Florence, it becomes something that customers specifically seek out.

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