food and beverage underground

Spring Cleaning – Dusting Off
Your Wine Program for Seasonal Profits

By Jonathan Smiga

Not unlike other food and beverage, wine has a wonderful seasonal dimension. The warm weather beckons us to lighter foods and longer days enjoying leisurely refreshment on the veranda. As we explore wines that focus on this seasonal time, we’ll also consider the opportunity to promote wine as the perfect fit for guest enjoyment and club profitability. A “spring cleaning” for your wine program and outlook.

Why Wine? Wine is a living beverage. It is naturally diverse, low alcohol, and the perfect companion to mealtime. Though counter-intuitive, wine is also typically more profitable per serving than any other beverage you serve. Here’s how it works:

Be Proactive - It’s all about Margin Dollars/Day.

A day in the club is a “perishable” event meaning you can’t sell twice tomorrow what you didn’t sell today. So the first rule is to be proactive, share your enthusiasm for your programs, and “right sell” the guest who wants to buy. The goal is to maximize dollar contribution for every guest served. From the typical beverage mix, we can see that wine delivers the highest dollar contribution. So be proactive and sell wine!

  • Tea and Soft Drinks - $2.50 with 90% margin = $2.25 margin.
  • Liquor - $6.50 with 80% margin = $5.20 margin.
  • Beer - $5.00 with 75% margin = $3.75 margin.
  • Wine - $8.50 with 70% margin = $5.70 margin.

Be Natural - Wine is Food Friendly, Mealtime Beverage.

You can sell wine after wine to enjoy with dinner. You can sell wine after cocktails to enjoy with dinner. It’s hard to push cocktails through the meal from either a gastronomic or social basis. Also, when’s the last time a guest reminisced about that “great vodka and tonic I had last week”? Probably never. Guests DO talk about compelling wine experiences and they tend to remember (and reward) the places where they had them. So remember, the sooner you move the guest to wine, the more interesting the experience and more profitable for all.

Be Flexible and Market-Driven to Maximize Profits.

Now that we’ve established that wine sales are worth building, here are a few suggestions to use flexible, market-driven pricing to your advantage.

  • Bundle wine with the meal. Offer wines paired with entrees at a slight discount. This can also be done with multiple-course menus and works well with desserts and dessert wines. Make it clear that it’s a bargain and you’ll sell more.
  • Discount wine by format. Offer a 1.5 glass carafe as an upgrade to your wine-by-the-glass offer. It pre-sells the guest who’s thinking about a second glass, a chance for their companion to have some wine versus none at all, and a great pitch for two at lunch.
  • Reward with Wine. As club members are regulars by definition, develop programs that encourage exploration of the wine offerings by tracking and rewarding frequency or completion.
  • Use Value Pricing to encourage higher spending. Look at your mark-ups and set them so you make more money on every retail tier but the guest simultaneously gets better value: $10 cost = $35 retail = $25 margin, $20 cost = $55 retail = $35 margin, $30 cost = $75 retail = $45 get the idea. This is a win-win for all and often missed.

Fun Wines for Spring and Summer. Warm weather brings out guest desire for casual refreshment. Satisfy it profitably using the tools mentioned. Consider wines that are lighter, with brighter acidity and lower alcohol. They can be dry or sweet.

  • For whites, there are many – generally “anything but chardonnay” – such as German influenced Riesling, Pinot Gris and Tokay, Pinot Grigio, Soave, and Vermentino from Italy, or Chenin Blanc, Muscadet and Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire. Roses from the south of France are also appealing as is Albarino from Spain.
  • For reds, Beaujolais and Southern Rhones from France, Dolcetto and Barbera from Italy or Grenache from Spain. Try “Merlot on Ice” to shake things up at lunch or mid-day. It’s a fruit bomb!
  • Of course, from the States, any of the above made well. Same from Down Under.
  • Don’t be afraid of semi-sweet wines with fruit finished sauces, desserts and cheeses or the higher acid, herbaceous wines with dishes calling for a squeeze of lemon.
  • Sparklings – focus on Cremants for dessert pairings, Prosecco and Cavas for value, solid domestics like Domaine Ste. Michelle for sparkling aperitifs.
  • Wine Cocktails – consider herb or spice infused wines for aperitifs as well. Great for afternoons…drifting in relaxation on those beautiful veranda you are all so famous for. Santé.

Jonathan Smiga has engaged the food and wine world for over 25 years as educator, entrepreneur and corporate executive. His current work includes strategic planning and business development. He can be reached at

From Wine Program to Burgundy Wine

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