If a customer has heard good things about a given wine, but has never had the chance to try it, you’ll likely sell a bottle. Meg Houston Maker recalls a recent dinner when a wine list impressed her: “A few weeks ago, for example, I spied an '06 Peay Vineyards Estate Syrah 'La Bruma' on the wine list of a Vermont restaurant. This winery came onto my radar a year or two ago, and I'd noticed that they have recently been getting a bit of press (winemaker Vanessa Wong was called out this fall in Saveur, for example). But I had yet to try their wines. At about $100, the bottle was a splurge, but my curiosity got the better of me. And so that night I learned a little something about a new winery and winemaker, and got a taste of what the buzz is about.”
Just as importantly, make sure your staff is kept up to date with any changes on your list. The best way to sell a new bottle is with a heartfelt, enthusiastic endorsement from the server. Sit down with your staff before service every day to talk about wine, and if possible, offer them a taste so they know what they are selling.
Get to Know Your Guests
Your wine program can evolve as you get to know your customers. “Listen to what they're saying about the wine, watch the empties going by, and take notes on what's popular to ensure you're offering wines your clientele will enjoy,” says Maker. Consider waiving the corkage fee one or two nights a week to see what your customers enjoy (and ask them how it’s working with the food.) In addition to learning what your guests like to drink, you’ll help establish your restaurant’s reputation as a spot for wine lovers.
The insight of your customers is valuable: “Encourage staff to pour special tastes of wines that might be open, or that the restaurant is evaluating, for customers that seem particularly engaged,” recommends Maker. “It's a great way to make the customer feel special, and a great way to learn what works from the most enthusiastic of your diners.”