Retail Wine at a Restaurant

Happy New Year to all! I have a topic I’m researching as part of a potential expansion for our restaurant group:

Questions:

-How many restaurant wine directors/somms offer wine to be purchased at retail price? The setting is a high volume upscale casual restaurant in an urban location, there are no other retail operations in the immediate vicinity and it is not considered a ‘wine bar’ but has a respected wine program locally and regionally.

Formats:

-A guest dined with you this past weekend, they had a wine they loved, and they’d love to purchase several bottles or a case to enjoy at home. We’ve had guests adapt this into ordering other wines they enjoy, typically by the case.

-To-go orders: a guest stops in to pick up their food. Can I buy a bottle of wine as well? Staying at a hotel, etc.

                        -Do you offer discounted pricing for this?

-Private clients. Regulars. The guests who request you by name. They may order cases from you from time to time, jump in on DI minimums for personal collections, etc.

-Wine Dinner Sales.

-Education classes offered for guests. Ticket price equals several flights plus charcuterie, apps, etc. Retail wine for sale after the event.

-Wine Club Memberships. Do you offer a monthly club membership for your guests?

            -What format? i.e. $100/month for 3 bottles, shipped monthly, etc.

-What is budgeted within your pricing model for shipping, packaging, etc.?

-For those that offer wine at retail prices, do you have a physical space in the restaurant dedicated to this? i.e. display case, wine shelf, dedicated menu space to market, etc. If so, what is your pricing structure? i.e. do you offer the same wines listed on your wine list for the same price or a different price? If you offer different selections, do you charge a corking fee to purchase a wine at retail and open it as a guest dining in? For those whose positions require coding and accounting work, is this coded to wine cost or do you code it as a completely separate cost (i.e. retail wine)?

-Is this encouraged by ownership or management?  

In the ever-competitive restaurant market where hitting food cost, effectively managing labor cost, and the impending loom of tariffs, the prospect of exploring additional income streams has piqued my interest. Having a network of guests who appreciate wine seems to be the most profitable with the least risk. A regular would like to order two cases of Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon at $1560 over a cost of $1200 (assuming no case discount and a per bottle price of $65; wholesale cost of $50). We are essentially taking a $1200 investment with a return of 30% to the restaurant. Ideal, because we’re not carrying inventory, which is quite literally money sitting on a shelf, not ideal in a new branch of your business. Granted, if we move into marketing and offering a fully-fledged retail operation, we are now carrying inventory and cost and the 30% return and fast cash operation has now become a business with expenses, trivialities, and challenges. I suppose to summarize in one (two-parted) question: is this a trend we’ll see more of in the future and whose operating something like it now?

Thank you very much in advance for any and all feedback, responses, further discussion, and thoughts. À votre santé!

Tristan Walczewski

  • I've worked in two places that offered something similar. One was a country club and the members got a pretty killer deal on retail wine (cost +15%, min 6 bottles, corkage still applied should they then bring the bottle into the restaurants, though many found out they could complain enough to get it waived because country club people). The other was a more traditional restaurant with aggressive wine pricing (2x markup). The to-go pricing was a 30% discount, making the price pretty close to traditional retail benchmarks (140% of cost). 

    I've bought from a couple of restaurants doing something similar (30% +\- off list price out the door), and had no qualms about paying a bit higher than standard retail for the convenience of buying from their well written lists in the absence of better options. 

  • Thank you for the insight! I know country clubs have a corner on this aspect particularly in secondary markets where they benefit from having an exclusively wealthy pool of customers and it works to build residual clientele who purchase frequently and we have a sense of trust with in buying. I'm curious to see as more restaurants adopt monthly wine club memberships how this will change with wine directors and somms having an elevated voice at the table and changing how we approach our profit margins within restaurants. 

  • Hey , are ya'll still on this train at JHS? Any insights? Steak Houses seem to have this figured out with membership programs and on-site storage lockers. On the national chain level, Capital Grille has been doing this for years, and many of the stalwart steakhouses in big cities have similar programs.