Industry Update
Opinion Article29 April 2021

In Vino Veritas LXXXIII: Upselling From A Glass To A Bottle

By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited

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Despite the recent stimulus packages and stock market blooms, one long-lasting consequence of the Covid pandemic will be diminished consumer confidence as a result of all the jobs lost and the resultant economic downturn. This in turn can be disastrous for your restaurant's alcohol sales - takeout or dine-in whenever that returns - because customers will have less disposable cash to spend lavishly.

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But rather than simply abstaining from liquor altogether, what we may observe on a cheque-by-cheque basis is that patrons opt for wine by the glass (BTG) in lieu of purchasing a whole bottle. So, besides a cost comparison, let's look at five other motivating factors for why someone would go BTG to hopefully come up with some counterpoints so that your cellar sales don't suffer.

  1. Wine lists have become increasingly unwieldy, complex to manage and intimidating to the average guest who isn't conversant enough in the lingo to know what's good value.
  2. Related to this, many customers may feel uneasy when asking a wine steward or sommelier as they feel that they are being sold a product at an inflate price or are being steered toward a slow mover.
  3. Often diners choose diametrically opposite mains - think salmon for one and pepper steak for the other - which makes pairing with a single wine untenable.
  4. Similarly, members of a group may be inflexible in their alcohol preferences or looking to sample several offerings, making consensus difficult.
  5. Drinking and driving is a constant concern, with one glass enjoyed during a meal perfectly acceptable while a whole bottle consumed may be pushing the limit.

To these points above, not all can be addressed with an omnipotent remedy, but there are nevertheless ways to prompt a bottle sale even in a bear market.

  1. Simplifying your total wine inventory will help to narrow a customer's field of view so that the 'paradox of choice' becomes less of an issue. This will take some work in the transition in that you must incentivize guests to get rid of your undesirable stock or reallocate some to banquet orders. And you may want to also examine how 'anchor pricing' can help to make expensive labels more attractive.
  2. Developing trust between your servers or somm and your patrons requires a lot of training, but it also calls for a lot of work to reframe the dining experience before customers arrive. Use your owned marketing channels to build the narrative that your restaurant is a purveyor of a well-curated selection and that your team is fully knowledgeable in all entries. Host staff tastings if need be or build a 'sommelier's choice' section to highlight seasonal favorites.
  3. Training will also help your team to navigate the many individual preferences within a group so that a compromise can be found. Again, limiting the total selection can in many ways lead to greater flexibility as it lets guests see the full range of options rather than revert to what they already know due to the 'paradox of choice' problem. If anything, your team should understand general tendencies for appetizers versus mains so that the bottles chosen can follow the food.
  4. Watching a corked bottle be opened tableside is entertaining and adds to the dining experience. While many are trending towards the twist-off tops, avoid these as they cheapen the show and have a lower perceived value.
  5. New technologies such as cellar apps can give you a laser focus on inventory numbers so that you have more accurate insights on what's moving and what isn't. Plus, if these apps have a guest-facing version, then you can better contact your inventory to the web so that you can still facilitate sales in as touchless as a manner as possible so that you are ready to meet the new normal demand for less physical contact between hotel and guest.

These are but a few suggestions to help position your restaurant for healthy liquor sales once travel restrictions are lifted. Ultimately, this all requires actions that are specific to your unique situation and market challenges.

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