Top 6 Wine List Success Strategies Restaurants Must Employ Post COVID-19

July 15, 2020 § Leave a comment

This year, 2020, will be my 42nd year in the alcohol beverage industry, and the 20th anniversary of supplying the wine industry with on-premise insights through Winemetrics and its predecessor company. During those 20 years, I have visited at least 100 different restaurants each year to keep my finger on the pulse of restaurant wine service. It is based on this experience that I make the following observations and recommendations.

  1. Post your current wine list information online.
    It’s hard to believe this still happens, but for some reason, a sizable portion of the chains we survey don’t post this information on their websites. With restaurants now struggling for revenue, you would think this to be a no-brainer. Want high-value wine consumers to come to your restaurant? – Let them know what you are serving! The corollary to this is posting a selection online and having it out of date. With the option of merely posting the PDF wine list you currently print for your wine service, is there any excuse for this shortcoming?
  2. Offer separate Dine-In and Take Out/Delivery Menus for Wine (with lower pricing on takeout menus)
    Most restaurants have figured out that they need more value-oriented offerings on their take out/delivery food menus, offering family meals and comfort food to  patrons unable to commit to in-house dining during these uncertain times. Sadly, this rationale does not extend to the wine list, where the same list is nearly always used for both.  Any savvy wine consumer is more than willing to pay a certain price for wine served in fine stemware and at the appropriate temperature, possibly with a recommendation from a knowledgeable sommelier. That same wine stuffed into a delivery bag with none of these accoutrements must understandably be priced lower.
  3. Offering a larger variety of serving sizes to accommodate specific consumption opportunities
    Many wine consumers, especially crowd-wary Boomers, would prefer to have their wine delivered to their home or table without the need of a server or corkscrew. Half-bottles and cans in 375 ml, 750 ml screwcap bottles, even 500 ml – 1 liter  bag-in-box all provide a safer and more varied selection of consumption options. According to the National Restaurant Association, 56 percent of adult consumers said they would be likely to order alcoholic beverages if they were offered as part of a food delivery order from a restaurant (as quoted by FSR Magazine). With over 40 states permitting wine sales with take out/delivery, restaurants must endeavor to not just provide wine variety, but also convenient serving sizes. Personally, I am far more likely to order two 375 ml corkless containers with my takeout order than a bulkier and more fragile 750 ml corked bottle.
  4. Utilize the expertise of restaurant beverage professionals to sell more wine for delivery.
    Unlike retail stores, where many of the wines are chosen on brand name and/or retailer incentives, most wines on restaurant wine lists are competitively tasted prior to their selection. Such personal endorsements should be leveraged to promote wine purchases for delivery. In fact, this tactic should be utilized for both the Dining-In and TakeOut/Delivery wine lists.  Who could resist ordering a half bottle or bottle of wine personally recommended by the beverage manager or sommelier of a favorite restaurant?
  5. Pay attention to regional differences
    I have never been a fan of the one-size-fits-all wine list as practiced by some national chains. Regional differences are now mandatory in the age of COVID-19 where some states are shut down, while others have opened for in-house dining. A number of regional chains, e.g. those in New England, have now been able to re-open all of their units. Northeastern/Mid-Atlantic states are far more open to imports while the West Coast and Central States may focus more on domestic producers. Beer and cocktail lists have embraced regional differences for years; it is time for restaurant wine lists to catch up.
  6. Elicit feedback or providing access to loyalty programs and incentives
    In the thousands of restaurants I have visited over the years, I cannot remember a one asking me specifically to evaluate the wine selection. Food and service, yes, but my opinion on the wine list, never. When I have found a particularly good list, I would write a personal complimentary note and include my business card. The number of times I was contacted by a restaurant, often after spending a substantial sum of money? Maybe twice. Restaurants in the COVID-19 environment are going to depend on repeat business. Would it be giving away too much if the clientele that spent more than $100 received a free glass of wine (where legal), an appetizer or a discount with a significant dinner order to encourage a repeat visit?  It is time for the restaurant industry to collectively take a direct marketing course to understand the huge cost difference in acquiring new customers vs. retaining existing ones. Hint: the free glass of wine/appetizer will pay massive dividends.


The Post COVID-19 era will transform on-premise wine service. This is the first of many updates regarding the changes required by restaurants to meet evolving demands.

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