SmartBrief recently talked with Jeff Riggs, a sales representative with Summit Distributing, which is part of Beverage Distributors Co. Riggs has been a sales representative for the past 10 years with BDC and works predominately with restaurants.

In the past decade or two, we’ve seen Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina break through to U.S. wine palates. Which regions will follow their lead?
The U.S. has not so much as developed a palate for these countries and wines as they became available to the market. They offered good quality and a good price, and perhaps good/very good marketing, with a touch of wanting to try something different. These “new” countries have been producing wine for quite some time, with the exception of New Zealand (which is only a relatively recent entrant on the larger commercial scale).

The European migrants and culture of having wine was brought along, and with modern vitucultural knowledge, the learning curve of producing exceptional wine was greatly reduced. As to the newly trending areas, there seems to be a lot of buzz in wine-geeky circles about Greece and Portugal. Personally, I think looking to wines that are produced locally will be a big trend as well. Also, any region that offers great quality for the price will always be sought out, especially in this down economy. People want to drink, but not drink poorly.

How has the recession affected how consumers approach wine, whether in restaurants or in retail stores?
People have stepped down a price point or two. Americans are drinking more wine than they ever have, but the price point sought out is lower. Where a wine always seems to excel in the market is when it over-delivers quality to price.

Why should restaurateurs take the chance of adding unfamiliar or unusual wines to their wine lists?
This is a tricky question with many factors as an answer. Maybe the better question is, why are new wines not offered at restaurants as readily? Restaurants and restaurateurs want to be distinct from their competition, but not eclectic as to scare customers away. Corporate restaurants really will never try new and interesting, as they are very risk averse. It is up to the independent restaurateur and wine/liquor store to promote new things. Unless a quality restaurateur or store owner takes time to hire quality people, educate staff, and promote their wine program, it is often neglected — which seems very foolish, as many restaurants break even with the food produced but the bar is where the profit is made.

And here is the rub: Customers typically are very open to trying and buying new things if an explanation and expectation can be provided, but a majority of servers and store owners are unable to do that. How many times has a server approached the table and just said “What can I get you this evening?” without making any effort to sell you? If you ask about a wine, the server often looks terrified because they have not taken the time to become knowledgeable. Selling a bottle of wine with the meal is the easiest way to double the value of the ticket and thus double the tip. So people just go on wondering what’s in the bottle, not willing to risk valuable dollars on something unknown.

What can restaurants do to encourage their customers to try unfamiliar wines?
Simple. Restaurants need to:

  • Take the time to evaluate wines.
  • Educate the staff.
  • Have servers take the time to ask questions and sell a bottle of wine (based on the answers). They need to tell the customer why they are going to have a wonderful experience.

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2 responses to “How to sell wine to your diners in a recession”

  1. […] were reading a great article courtesy of our friends over at SmartBlog on Restaurants about increasing wine sales during a recession, and we thought their very helpful advice could also […]

  2. Bernard Kenner says:

    Been sayiing what you wrote for years, and it is true even in good times. The problem is that owners don't want to take the time to really know the products/wines they are selling, or train their staff to sell it. The majority are too lazy to actually make themselves stand out from the crowd, beverage-wise. If they cannot or will not do it themselves, and they can't trust their wine salesperson to properly select interesting, well priced wines for their list, they should spend a few dollars and hire an outside consultant to do it. It pays for itself many times over, both in profits and customer satisfaction. But, most restaurant owners are also too cheap to spend a few hundred bucks to get it done. At least that's been my experience.