Wine List Best Practices: Houlihan’s – A Diverse List with Upscale Features

September 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Houlihan’s has recently undergone a social media-driven makeover of many of its units that has increased profits an average of 12%. Very impressive considering that so far this year the casual dining segment on average has contracted 1%. For more on Houlihan’s social media campaign click here.  

 Houlihan’s wine list has features not normally found in the casual dining segment. The list we surveyed (they vary slightly by location) features 32 unique wines including 26 by-the-bottle and by-the-glass (BTG) selections, 4 half-bottles (attractively priced) and a build your own flight option of three 2-oz. servings for $9.95.  The build your own flight option is something even most upscale casual restaurants fail to offer.  Despite the slightly lower than average BTB listings (the Casual American average is 30), Houlihan’s offers wines from 8 countries and 17 varieties.

Another positive feature for consumers seeking to research a restaurant’s menu prior to dining, Houlihan’s website navigation is direct and informative. Finding the wine list menu on the site was a snap; clicking on Drinks on the homepage menu directs visitors to a list of locations to view your local wine list and menu. All menus are listed with prices, a feature especially important with this economy. The drinks list at Houlihan’s is egalitarian; wine, drinks and beer are all on the same page with an array of interesting choices, both grape and grain. This is the first casual dining chain I’ve seen offering esoteric beers in large format sizes as well as martini flights.  Another significant feature of Houlihan’s is that the food and beverage list are on the same menu. No juggling of both a food and drink menu, or worse, a single beverage menu among a pair or quartet of diners.  

Finally, Houlihan’s has introduced an eclectic small plates menu which is probably the main reason why the chain is doing so well in this recession – you can dine well and affordably. A flight of 3 decent wines and a small filet of steak or salmon (off the small plates menu) costs less than $20 without tax or tip on the menu we surveyed.  Houlihan’s innovative approach to casual dining offers much that other casual chains should emulate.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Gains Top Spot in Chain Restaurants

September 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

In Winemetrics’ soon-to-be published 2010 Chain Restaurant Report, Chateau Ste. Michelle has pulled ahead of Beringer in combined by-the-bottle (BTB) and by-the-glass (BTG) distribution in casual and upscale casual chains to claim the #1 spot in distribution. In previous Winemetrics’ surveys, Beringer held the top spot in both BTB and BTG distribution due to the commanding presence of its White Zinfandel on wine lists.  However the surging popularity of its Riesling has propelled Chateau Ste. Michelle to a significant lead over Beringer in BTB distribution and to a dead heat at #1 in BTG listings.  Perhaps White Zinfandel drinkers are migrating to Riesling, which shares fruit forward and residual sweetness characteristics of the ‘blushing’ variety. 

Independents Make Inroads in Chains

Other news in top 10 brand distribution from our survey was the strong position of two independent wineries, Francis Coppola and J. Lohr, which are in a virtual tie with Brown-Forman’s Sonoma-Cutrer for 4th place in combined BTB and BTG distribution. (Kendall-Jackson continues to retain sole possession of 3rd place).

While Francis Coppola’s position, a top 10 BTB brand in our 2009 On-Premise Wine Distribution Survey, was no surprise, J. Lohr’s standing appears to have improved significantly from our 2009 survey, where it finished 14th among BTB brands.

Other independent wineries in the top 20 brands in our Chain Restaurant survey include Rodney Strong in 15th place and Caymus in 19th.

Wine List Best Practices: Not Your Average Joe’s Is Far Above Average

September 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Unless you are from Massachusetts, you may not have heard of this 17 unit-chain based in the Boston suburbs. I did not get a chance to visit Not Your Average Joe’s during my last visit to New England in June, but it will be on the top of my list next time. From a wine standpoint, this casual chain does nearly everything right. It offers a progressive wine list with a nice mix of the familiar brands and varieties seasoned with a few more esoteric products to keep the wine geeks happy. The wine list, as well as all of the other menus, is posted on the website with prices! (Do you hear that, steakhouse chains?) While just slightly larger than the average Casual American list, NYAJ packs 23 different varieties from 10 countries into a 40 item selection. Yet it still has a wide array of the crowd-pleasing varieties, although with 6 Chardonnays and 4 Pinot Grigio/Gris, there is probably room for another exotic white or two.   And the prices are astounding, so low that we first thought some of the bottle prices were misprints and actually half-bottles. Here are some examples Caymus Conundrum – $32, Duckhorn Merlot – $44, Moet & Chandon NV (White Star) – $38, Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon – $50 ( As a point of reference, the average price for the Jordan is $93 in our Chain Restaurant Report, which only includes Casual and Upscale Casual chains). Not Your Average Joe’s also offers a build your own flight program: three 2 oz. servings of any BTG wine for $7.50.

One of the unique features this chain’s website is that you can send your comments directly to the CEO of the chain, Stephen Silverstein, not to some anonymous email address as is the case with most other chain sites. The stated goal of NYAJ is to provide a great restaurant with reasonable prices – they have succeeded, especially with their wine list.

Please note: the analysis of any restaurant appearing in the feature above is based on observations of one or more lists and may not be completely representative of a chain or restaurant group as whole. Also, no accounts appearing in this section are, or have been in  the past, clients of Winemetrics. Furthermore, no person involved with Winemetrics owns stock in, or is any way affiliated with, the parent companies of accounts appearing in this section.

Argentine Malbec Goes Mainstream

September 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

Malbec from Argentina is becoming a must-have on America’s wine lists. In Winemetrics‘ soon-to-be published 2010 Chain Restaurant Report, 52% of the over 100 chains surveyed carried at least one example of this affordable, crowd-pleasing red.  This figure would undoubtably be higher if certain chains did not exclusively source their wines from specific countries (e.g. Outback Steakhouse has only wines from Australia and the U.S.)  Currently Malbec trails White Zinfandel in 14th place in the varietal hierarchy, but has twice the distribution of 15th place Petite Sirah. A clearer picture of Malbec’s strength on-premise will emerge with the publication of our 2010 On-Premise Wine Distribution in early October.

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