September 2013
he host picks up the wine list,
turns to his preferred section,
and runs a finger down the
right-hand column, stopping at
the price-point he’s looking for. It was
true before the recession, and it’s even
truer since: A large portion of diners or-
der wine by price, so how you price your
wines matters.
Restaurant wine mark-up often come
in for criticism, some deservedly so. “I have
seen some interesting mark-up strategies
lately,” says Beth Von Benz, who consulted
for a variety of restaurants before recently
becoming a buyer for Whiskey &Wine Off
69 in New York City. “Many new trendy
restaurants are using five-times-plus mark-
ups for both by-the-glass and bottle pric-
ing. I believe there should be a squad of
‘wine police’ that go around the city outing
certain restaurants! I like to use a mark-up
on average about 2.75 times, but I believe
that is becoming rare in this day in age.” In
New York and other major urban centers
an informal survey suggests 3 or 3.33 times
cost may be more typical.
For that matter, guests may or may
not be thinking about the mark-up when
they complain about prices; not offering
a decent selection at various (especially
lower) price points can be enough to set
some diners off. “I often like to list some
high-end wine selections adjacent to a
list of value wines made up of interesting,
eclectic selections” says Benz. “Showing
a broad range on the wine list may appeal
to many.”
Elasticity in Mark-Up
With 50,000 bottles in inventory, cover-
ing different price points is rarely a prob-
lem at the Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster,
NJ. Sommelier Brian Hider uses a sliding
scale that’s plugged right into his inventory
programming on Cellartracker, software
he’s been using for almost a decade. Wines
with a bottle cost up to $20 get marked-up
2.7 times. As wine costs increase, his scale
adjusts, eventually hitting 2.1 times mark-
up for the bottles that cost him more than
$500. He then manually overrides wines as
needed: “’98 Pétrus, for example. If I paid
When is the Price Right?
Consider Perception, Not Just Cost,
When Assembling a Wine List
Beth Von Benz
LEFT: Wine
selection at Arc
in Los Angeles
Pluckemin Inn
wine cellar room
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