Planning to visit one of your favorite restaurants tonight or over the weekend? Dining out can be expensive, especially if you intend to drink wine with the meal.
Here are three things to keep in mind…
- The best restaurant wine lists are created by owners who love wine.
Have you ever noticed how similar wine lists are at different restaurants — particularly family-owned eateries with limited lists? In most cases, wine is an after-thought at best or a necessary evil at worst for the owners, who got into the business primarily because they love to cook.
A typical list may consist of a “house red” and a “house white,” perhaps a few name-brand whites and reds, and a White Zinfandel — known as a sweet, go-to choice for people who don’t like dry wine. Such lists typically are “curated” by the restaurant’s wine distributor rep — hence the “sameness” from eatery to eatery.
But if you find a restaurant where wine is taken seriously, you could be in for a memorable culinary experience. At such restaurants, the owners stock the cellar with wines that pair harmoniously with dishes on the menu. That makes it easy for servers to recommend wines, and for diners to feel good about the choices they make.
- Wine prices in restaurants help cover food and labor costs.
The restaurant business is notorious for being a money pit. It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and furnish a restaurant — especially one with a theme — creating a great deal of debt before the doors even open. As restaurateur-turned-television-personality Anthony Bourdain has noted, “If anything is good for pounding humility into you permanently, it’s the restaurant business.”
No wonder, then, that a wine list is looked upon not just as a revenue source, but an important profit generator. In 2014, according to GuestMetrics, the average price of a glass of wine in an American restaurant was $10.77. Bottle prices were no more customer-friendly, as the average mark-up from the wholesale price can be anywhere from 200% to 500%. Food can’t be marked up that much, so every glass or bottle of wine sold helps keep the doors open and people employed.
- Corkage fees are not evil.
Because wine helps boost revenue and profits, I don’t mind when a restaurant charges a corkage fee for wines brought in by diners. A fair fee, to help cover the cost of glassware and its upkeep, is between $10 and $20 per bottle — which is still probably less than the mark-up on a bottle you may purchase off the wine list.
- A word about tipping.
Because restaurant wines are marked up so much, I do not feel compelled to include the bottle price when calculating my tip. Rather, I tip by the number of bottles ordered — usually $5 or $10 per bottle, depending on the restaurant and level of service — and add that on to my tip for the food portion of the meal. It requires no more (or no less) effort on the part of the server to open and serve a $200 bottle of wine than to open and serve a $20 bottle of wine.