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Sam Platt

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Re: Tip 20% on pricey restaurant wine? Why or why not?

by Sam Platt » Wed Dec 08, 2010 7:44 pm

This is just a modest suggestion, not a declaration: I wonder if you and Rogov had my attitude about making the experience pleasurable for the staff if it might be noticed and appreciated and increase the effort that is put forth for you so that you might end up with more rewarding experiences.

That's a thought, Covert. Maybe I need to have more of a "let me help you, help me" attitude.

Fortunately, I have had very few overtly bad experiences in fine dining restaurants over the years. I had one bad experience at a well known restaurant in New Orleans many years ago, and one at a heavily hyped restaurant in Chicago a few years ago. Neither experience involved problems with wine.
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Re: Tip 20% on pricey restaurant wine? Why or why not?

by Joy Lindholm » Thu Dec 09, 2010 1:49 pm

AlexR wrote:Hi,

I would like to point out that Joy was kind enough to send me the wine list of her restaurant that will shortly be opening in a private mail.
If she were a man, I'd say that was very gentlemanly of her! Suffice it to say that it was very polite and considerate.

A couple of comments:

- My fuming about wine prices + tips wasn't meant to be directed at Joy, but it sort of came off that way as the discussion progressed. My apologies to Joy.
- Perusing Joy's restaurant's list humbled me. At this stage, I am woefully ignorant of California wines, and other non-European regions
- I was intrigued to see several wines designated as "utilizing some form of sustainable growing and/or production methods". I wonder how much of an inducement this is to buy in 2010?
- The wines are divided into several taste categories rather than by region or grape. But can't a wine be both "intriguing" and "bold"? Seeing as the list is on one (very long) page this isn't a problem though.
- The rationale of ranking within categories is neither by region nor by price, so one wonders what it is! Once again, the choice is restricted so this apparent randomness isn't off-putting. Just curious.
- It is always appreciable to have good wine by the glass. But how to guarantee customers that the wine is fresh by the time it gets to them?
- The choice spans 5 continents. The French wines seem pricey, but not outrageously so, and this is maybe only normal considering the distance.

There's another point to all this: I'm increasingly careful about drinking and driving these days.
When you eat out and the wine is expensive, it further induces you to drink less - which is not a bad thing at all!

Best regards,
Alex R.


Thanks for taking the time to peruse the list, Alex. I'm glad we didn't live up to your "evil restaurant with ghastly wine markups" expectation! :D

To comment on the wines that are "utilizing some form of sustainable growing and/or production methods" - the restaurant I am employed at just received the Green Restaurant Association's highest rating to date, naming it officially the "greenest restaurant in America". This spans everything from the building materials used, to our glassware, items on the menu and even the wine list. We strive to choose from small producers using sustainable methods of cultivating their grapes and producing their wines. If anyone is interested, the local paper just wrote us up today on it:http://omaha.com/article/20101209/MONEY/712099858/0?sms_ss=facebook&at_xt=4d0100c4ef89fb04%2C0#restaurant-serves-up-sustainability.

As for the rationale of thinking in the order of the list - this was created by a consultant to be categorized in flavor and body styles rather than by region. I'm not a huge fan of this approach, but that is not my call. Since the list was posted we have made a few changes by moving some wines around.

Wines by the glass - we vacu-vin them and store them in a cooler after shift (even the reds) to prolong their life as much as possible; and will use them up within a couple of days. If we determine the wine isn't sound, then we don't serve it to the guest. If the guest ever isn't satisfied with their wine, they can choose something else. We always want to make sure they enjoy what they are being served, and if they aren't happy, we will do whatever we can to make it right.

As to the pricing - we pretty much employ an even percentage based markup to all the wines. Unfortunately, being in Nebraska, wine prices (even at retail) are often quite a bit higher than online pricing or wine shops I've been to in larger cities such as Chicago. Overall though, I would say our pricing is very reasonable and not exceeding 2x retail (often less). We do take time to educate the staff (part of my job! :) ) and although the list is small now at 49 bottles, we are looking forward to morphing it and bringing in exciting and unique offerings.
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Re: Tip 20% on pricey restaurant wine? Why or why not?

by Oliver McCrum » Thu Dec 09, 2010 10:03 pm

Joy,

I really like the so-called 'progressive' organisation of wine lists, in that I think it might encourage people to try new things. Good for you for giving it a try.
Oliver
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Re: Tip 20% on pricey restaurant wine? Why or why not?

by Tom V » Fri Dec 10, 2010 6:06 am

I think that a person's wine knowledge and wine cellar are apt to have much to do with this question. Excepting folks to whom $500 dollar bottles of wine and a tip of several hundred dollars are immaterial, it seems to me to be mostly about using one's head to get reasonable value for one's money.
I would never go to a restaurant and drop hundreds of dollars on wine. Firstly, I have an excellent cellar, a significant portion of which I am sure will outlive me, so why would I want to leave a few of those precious bottles lying there while I go out and pay many times what those bottles cost me in order to buy expensive wine off a restaurant wine list? If I want to go out to eat for a special occasion and drink expensive wines, I certainly want to bring them. I am happy to pay what I consider to be a reasonable corkage charge if need be, and add some $ to my tip in consideration of the fact that I have done so. At the same time, if I hadn't spent the money which I have on the wines I own and their storage, and wanted to have that same experience, I wouldn't mind paying the tariff within my means and tipping well.
In the second place, because of my interest and experience with wine over the past 25 years, I consider myself very capable of studying any decent wine list and selecting a wine for $40 or $50, and under, which will in every case provide more than acceptable enjoyment. My perfect restaurant is a BYO place, but I do, not infrequently, buy those $50 and under wines.
...solves all the issues. Doesn't send me to the poor house, doesn't make any service folks unhappy, allows me to enjoy more of the terrific wines I've been fortunate enough to accumulate, and lets me enjoy very good to great wine all the time! :D
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Re: Tip 20% on pricey restaurant wine? Why or why not?

by MikeH » Fri Dec 17, 2010 1:45 am

Robin Garr wrote:
David M. Bueker wrote:I will not pay restaurant blood money on wine.

I feel your pain, but bear in mind that restaurants operate on very tight margins and argue that they need to profit well on alcohol in order to make the numbers work overall.

Of course, this raises the question of how BYO joints make their numbers work ... :?


Not well, if recent events in Cincinnati are any indication.

Slim's was a restaurant with no liquor license and a chef/owner who was local sourcing ingredients before the practice became popular. The restaurant routinely made Cincinnati Magazine's annual Top Ten list. A number of denizens of this forum will attest to the quality of food as we held at least two offlines there. Despite the quality, reasonable prices, and what appeared to be lots of covers, Slim's closed its doors a few weeks ago. :(
Cheers!
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Re: Tip 20% on pricey restaurant wine? Why or why not?

by AlexR » Fri Dec 17, 2010 6:29 am

Are you implying that the restaurant had to close because they couldn't make outsize margins on the wine?

Might there not be any number of other reasons for this?

Alex R.
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Re: Tip 20% on pricey restaurant wine? Why or why not?

by David M. Bueker » Fri Dec 17, 2010 9:22 am

AlexR wrote:Are you implying that the restaurant had to close because they couldn't make outsize margins on the wine?

Might there not be any number of other reasons for this?

Alex R.


I would be interested in knowing the specific reason the restaurant closed its doors as well, though it may not be out there for public consumption.

Sometimes the overall business model was poor, or the rent was too much for prices to be reasonable. Sometimes the owner or chef (or both) just gets tired.
There behind the glass lies a real blade of grass. Be careful as you pass. Move along. Move along.
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Re: Tip 20% on pricey restaurant wine? Why or why not?

by Craig Ganzer » Fri Dec 17, 2010 6:39 pm

For those Europeans on this thread who have compared US wine markups to those in Europe, I would point out that the most expensive prix fixe in New York (other than Masa, which isn't really comparable to the restaurants discussed here) is Per Se, at $275, or about 180 Euro. That's half the price of Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenee, and it IS comparable, since Per Se includes service and bottled water. You really can't compare the business models.
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Re: Tip 20% on pricey restaurant wine? Why or why not?

by Dale Williams » Fri Dec 17, 2010 6:42 pm

Tom V wrote:I think that a person's wine knowledge and wine cellar are apt to have much to do with this question. Excepting folks to whom $500 dollar bottles of wine and a tip of several hundred dollars are immaterial, it seems to me to be mostly about using one's head to get reasonable value for one's money.
I would never go to a restaurant and drop hundreds of dollars on wine. Firstly, I have an excellent cellar, a significant portion of which I am sure will outlive me, so why would I want to leave a few of those precious bottles lying there while I go out and pay many times what those bottles cost me in order to buy expensive wine off a restaurant wine list? If I want to go out to eat for a special occasion and drink expensive wines, I certainly want to bring them. I am happy to pay what I consider to be a reasonable corkage charge if need be, and add some $ to my tip in consideration of the fact that I have done so. At the same time, if I hadn't spent the money which I have on the wines I own and their storage, and wanted to have that same experience, I wouldn't mind paying the tariff within my means and tipping well.
In the second place, because of my interest and experience with wine over the past 25 years, I consider myself very capable of studying any decent wine list and selecting a wine for $40 or $50, and under, which will in every case provide more than acceptable enjoyment. My perfect restaurant is a BYO place, but I do, not infrequently, buy those $50 and under wines.
...solves all the issues. Doesn't send me to the poor house, doesn't make any service folks unhappy, allows me to enjoy more of the terrific wines I've been fortunate enough to accumulate, and lets me enjoy very good to great wine all the time! :D


While that is all reasonable, and I also tend to either BYO or buy $50, I do on rare occasion spend more than $100 (though never close to $500). Sometimes a place like Kittle House will have outstanding wines at prices that make bringing one's own just ....silly. :)
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Re: Tip 20% on pricey restaurant wine? Why or why not?

by Robin Garr » Fri Dec 17, 2010 7:15 pm

Shedding a little more light on this question: Mary and I and our pal Lucinda went to one of Louisville's most pricey restaurants last week, and we decided to splurge (just a little - the list runs up to four figures) on Louis Latour 2007 Puligny-Montrachet for $95 (about 2x local retail, 3x wholesale). It was a decent white Burg - I didn't take detailed notes in a social setting, but it was textured, chestnuts, a little toast, all those good things.

Now, this eatery has a mandatory 18 percent service charge, and I was curious to see how they'd calculate it. Sure enough, it went on the total bill including wine and tax. I noticed that nobody was complaining about this ... in fact, excellent service prompted me to toss another $25 atop the calculated $45 tip, but hey, it was on the expense account. 8)

Point being, though, at a pricey, high-end eatery with an excellent but high-end wine list, people who make the decision to dine there just don't nickle-dime management over a mandatory tip or what it's calculated on. The overall experience was appropriate to the overall price, and it's all good.
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Re: Tip 20% on pricey restaurant wine? Why or why not?

by MikeH » Wed Dec 22, 2010 12:41 am

AlexR wrote:Are you implying that the restaurant had to close because they couldn't make outsize margins on the wine?

Might there not be any number of other reasons for this?

Alex R.


Not implying that at all Alex. I am implying that the demise of Slim's will cause others in this market to think twice before bucking the conventional wisdom by opening a BYO restaurant, regardless of what really happened. Slim's had been around for a while, reasonably priced, and annually rated as one of the tops in the area....and still shut down after 7 years or more.

Perhaps, as others suggested, the chef/owner just got tired of the grind. I have not seen any indication as to the reason for the closure.
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Re: Tip 20% on pricey restaurant wine? Why or why not?

by Tom V » Wed Dec 22, 2010 3:29 am

Mike wrote:
"I am implying that the demise of Slim's will cause others in this market to think twice before bucking the conventional wisdom by opening a BYO restaurant"


Interestingly, I have seen the exact opposite situation occur in my neighborhood. Several BYO restaurants that I frequented within the past 7 or 8 years, and which always seemed to draw a large crowd, decided to get a liquor license. I'm sure the reasoning was that everything else would remain the same except for the fact that they would make an extra $20 to $40. per table. The crowds, however, thinned, and they closed within a year or two. I personally knew several people who regularly attended one of these restaurants. They found it fun to bring their favorite wine, and the cost attractive. They all stopped going when they could no longer BTO.

Perhaps the closings were for other reasons, but I do know why I stopped going. Once I was no longer able to enjoy the considerable pleasure of bringing on of my "cellar babies", the restaurant lost that special something that always put it high on my priority list. Adding a $30. bottle of unspectacular wine to the bill put the place head to head with lots of other restaurants, might as well try something new, there was no longer any particular reason to go.

I should think that the many BYO restaurants that are successful argues for the fact that there is a successful business model that envisions a packed BYO restaurant, rather than a sparsely populated one with a liquor license.
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Re: Tip 20% on pricey restaurant wine? Why or why not?

by MikeH » Wed Dec 22, 2010 5:13 pm

Tom V wrote:
MikeH wrote:Mike wrote:
"I am implying that the demise of Slim's will cause others in this market to think twice before bucking the conventional wisdom by opening a BYO restaurant"



Interestingly, I have seen the exact opposite situation occur in my neighborhood. Several BYO restaurants that I frequented within the past 7 or 8 years, and which always seemed to draw a large crowd, decided to get a liquor license. I'm sure the reasoning was that everything else would remain the same except for the fact that they would make an extra $20 to $40. per table. The crowds, however, thinned, and they closed within a year or two. I personally knew several people who regularly attended one of these restaurants. They found it fun to bring their favorite wine, and the cost attractive. They all stopped going when they could no longer BTO.

Perhaps the closings were for other reasons, but I do know why I stopped going. Once I was no longer able to enjoy the considerable pleasure of bringing on of my "cellar babies", the restaurant lost that special something that always put it high on my priority list. Adding a $30. bottle of unspectacular wine to the bill put the place head to head with lots of other restaurants, might as well try something new, there was no longer any particular reason to go.

I should think that the many BYO restaurants that are successful argues for the fact that there is a successful business model that envisions a packed BYO restaurant, rather than a sparsely populated one with a liquor license.


Your scenario sounds quite plausible, enviable, and enjoyable. But you do mention "several" BYOs in your area.....Slim's was the only one in Cincinnati of which I am aware.....and, again, I suspect its demise will have a chilling impact on any restaurateur/entrepreneur thinking to open a replacement.

Ohio has the funny wine laws that exist in many other states with some embellishments. Three tier distribution is in place....but also, minimum 50% markups at every stop along the way. (Closeouts are excluded from this.) So if a producer/importer sells the wine to a distributor for $10, then the distributor must charge the retailer at least $15. The retailer must charge the customer at least $22.50. It seems the standard restaurant price is at least twice retail, so that bottle of wine will go for $45 at restaurant....netting the restaurateur a cool $30 profit on that one bottle. In addition to the minimum markups, Ohio establishments with a liquor license permitting sale for consumption on the premises are not allowed to permit BYO....all alcohol consumed on the premises must have been purchased by the establishment in accordance with the law. It does seem that some, very few actually, restaurants will permit BYO despite this but will charge corkage that can be stiff. All in all, huge wine profits are part of a restaurants bottom line in Ohio.

Perhaps we see other benefits from this business model. With the huge alcohol profits, food prices might be lower in restaurants in our area.
Cheers!
Mike
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Re: Tip 20% on pricey restaurant wine? Why or why not?

by Robin Garr » Wed Dec 22, 2010 5:28 pm

MikeH wrote:Three tier distribution is in place....but also, minimum 50% markups at every stop along the way. (Closeouts are excluded from this.) So if a producer/importer sells the wine to a distributor for $10, then the distributor must charge the retailer at least $15. The retailer must charge the customer at least $22.50. It seems the standard restaurant price is at least twice retail, so that bottle of wine will go for $45 at restaurant....netting the restaurateur a cool $30 profit on that one bottle.

Exactly, Mike! In my experience, when running these numbers, restaurateurs skip over the middle step and think of wine list planning as "3X wholesale." If you think about it, it actually sounds worse that way.

As has been pointed out all through this thread, though, in terms of actual practice and what the market will bear, this markup system and the practice of winelist markup (and expecting tipping to supplement a less-than-living wage for servers) is all part of the rickety Rube Goldberg machine that makes the fine-dining business model work in most of the U.S. Tinker with one part of it, and you'll have to tweak somewhere else to keep the operation running. It's not like most restaurateurs are getting rich.
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