A few weeks in the US are the best way to fuel inspiration in a sometimes overwhelmed mind. The last few weeks were no exception. I had the opportunity to go to various restaurants and noticed a few changes in the way some hospitality businesses are run in our lean times.
Two years ago, Leslie Thomas, a young wine consultant in Santa Barbara, CA, partnered with an organic local restaurant, Spiritland Bistro, to offer a rather creative program, BYOB wine and dine. Once a month, people bring their own bottles of wine to match the theme: Pinot Noir, Roussane and Marsanne, Zinfandel, or whatever fits the attendees or Leslie. The menu is designed to pair the wines. Of course, there is no corkage fee. At the beginning, there were about 20 to 30 people attending the dinner. The relaxed setting, the convivial tables, the quality of the wines brought by the attendees and the moderate costs – the price of your bottle and the dinner – brought an immediate success to the event. Nowadays about 50 people gather every first Wednesday of the month to the dinner.
While in Santa Barbara or in Napa, we brought bottles to several restaurants. Some of them lifted the corkage fee (ZuZu in Napa), one reduced it from $20 to $14 dollars and charged only once for our several bottles (Arts and Letters Café) while the last one, Olio e Limone, charged full price ($20 for each bottle) in spite of the fact the chef and the waiter were offered to share a glass with us. What did those various policies tell me as a consumer?
- Some restaurants really care about their customers: they want them to have a nice experience and to come back with more friends. After all, what is the extra cost to a restaurant for washing a few extra glasses and having a waiter opening a bottle?
- Some restaurants think it is more important to make money than to care about their customers’ happiness. Too bad but this “European” attitude is not what will make customers loyal, at least not in the uS and even if the food is good.
BYOB is a very good way to attract wine lovers to a restaurant but corkage fees can (and sometimes should) be lifted when customers are loyal customers or, on the contrary, new customers who could become trendsetters.
Wine by the glass is a different story. The price of bottles are sometimes a little extravagant. Why spend $50 or more on a bottle of wine you know you’ll buy from $15or 20 in a store? Consumers are usually ready for new experiences: why not a glass of a very good wine at $10 rather than a bottle of average wine at $30? A lot of restaurateurs understood this new trend and are now offering more wines by the glass. When a few years ago consumers had the choice between 6 wines and were not sure of how long the bottle stood open, they are now offered a more interesting and long list of wines: “The public has become more interested in different wines and different producers of different varietals, and there are more varietals available than there have been in the past”, said the owner of the Prohibition-Speakeasy Wine Club in Healdsburg, Richard Rosenberg, to The Fresno Bee. The quality of the experience is enhanced and the consumer happy. And it’s much easier to get back behind the wheel after moderate drinking.
BYOB if you are not sure of the wine list or select your restaurant by its offer of wine by the glass? The consumers’ choice, but now at least there is a choice.