September 2013
$1,000, the market value might be $3,500,
it’ll go on the list for $4,000. Collectibles
like DRC or Mugnier might end up priced
below retail otherwise. Or if we get down
to four bottles, or I want to keep a vertical
together, I’ll raise the price on them.”
Some simple math will tell you that
with mark-ups between 2.1 and 2.7, the
Pluckemin Inn list is not going to hit the
28-30% margin than many owners aim
for. Hider’s glass pours are priced more
conventionally at about 4 times cost, but
his secret weapon is the Pluckemin 100.
This separate selection features 100 wines,
all priced at $66 or less, and are all marked
up 3 times. The list is organized varietally,
and is designed to appeal to non-aficiona-
dos. Despite the more aggressive mark-up,
Hider is still able to offer value. “For ex-
ample, I get Frank Family at a better price,
because I buy a lot of it. I buy it at $16
when it’s normally $22. It retails for $30,
and it’s $48 on the wine list here.” Focus-
ing volume on the Pluckemin 100 allows
him to take advantage of multi-case dis-
counts without tying up cash in standing
inventory unnecessarily. Hider’s approach
has made the Pluckemin Inn the only
Wine Spectator Grand Award winner to
be listed as “inexpensive.”
Keeping Clientele in Mind
Less extensive programs might take other
concerns into account. Alex Cauchon,
wine and spirits director at BR Guest Res-
taurants in New York, agrees that strong
margins on by-the-glass wines are impor-
tant, since they can account for more than
30% of beverage sales at a given location.
He also tweaks prices on the bottle list for
different reasons than Hider. “On a name
like Jordan or Silver Oak we want to have
competitive pricing. It develops trust and
shows guests that we’re not trying to rip
people off,” he explains. “We establish a
comfort level by giving them something
they want at a good price. Then they
come back next time and try something
more adventurous.”
With that in mind, mainstream do-
mestic varieties from lesser-known pro-
ducers support the strongest mark-ups.
“California Chardonnay or American
Pinot, people are going to take a chance
on it,” says Cauchon. “If you’re selling
something more obscure, like a Vouvray
from Foreau, you have that excellent
quality but the customer needs a little
push”—most likely in the form of a lower
price. Already slower movers because
they’re less familiar, their impact on the
overall cost-of-goods will be minimal, and
as Cauchon notes, “I’d rather have the
money in my hand.”
Cauchon’s pricing also takes into ac-
count certain borders. If the full mark-up
on a wine would put it at $102, “it’s going
on the list at $98 or $99.” The same holds
true for pours: “A good by-the-glass wine
at $19 feels like a value; at $21 or $22 it
feels like too much.”
The specter of retail pricing looms
over all these considerations. “We are
very aware of what retailers and other
restaurants are charging,” says Cauchon.
“Almost every conversation with vendors
includes ‘What’s the retail presence on
this?’ I send managers around to retailers
down the street.” He says they recently
pulled a by-the-glass rosé from their list
when they found it being sold for $7 or
$8 at a nearby Trader Joe’s. The best way
to avoid explaining restaurant pricing to
guests (glassware, etc.)? Stop the conver-
sation before it starts.
High-End Adjustments
Pricing doesn’t just depend on the prod-
uct, but the people. “On the Upper
East Side the clientele are much more
wine savvy,” says Keith Nelson, who
oversees the beverage program for three
Alex Cauchon, BR Guest
Restaurants in New York
Sommelier Brian Hider at
the Pluckemin Inn in
Bedminster, New Jersey.
Keith Nelson, the Tao
Restaurant Group
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