Glass act

Wine by the glass in restaurants today is a win-win situation for everyone. Customers love it and there’s good money for restaurateurs.

Okay, let’s cut to the chase. Selling wine by the glass in restaurants today isn’t just where the action is — it’s where the big money is. Putting it bluntly, any restaurant which isn’t into it is stark-raving round-the-twist mad.

The profits are enormous. With wine company discounts and other incentives, restaurants have never had it so good. In many cases they can charge as much for a glass as they pay for a bottle. And at five 150ml glasses to a 750ml bottle, this is a 500 per cent mark-up.

The popularity of wine by the glass is a supply-and-demand thing driven by opposing factors. It’s a response by people who want to drink responsibly for a mixture of health and social reasons. It’s also due to a need by our increasing number of wineries to find a market at a time when domestic wine consumption has been flat for a while at around 20 litres per person.

This means that at a time of increased wine supply and relatively flat demand, wines by the glass is an opportunity for restaurants to hold the line on wine sales generally, and possibly lift them a tad.

Paul Boothby, brand executive with national distributor Tucker Seabrook, says: “Wines by the glass have become one of the most important avenues by which wine is sold. It’s important to us that almost every brand we have on our list is available as a by-the-glass pour, and we offer significant discounts to restaurants as an incentive to sell wine this way.”

Restaurant & Catering Australia’s research figures show WBTG, to coin a term, is booming: up from 24 per cent of restaurant wine sales to 33 per cent, according to figures released this year.  The reasons customers gave for liking WBTG gave strong indication of a growing sophistication among wine drinkers.

Twenty-two per cent said they chose a glass when no-one else at the table was drinking; 19 per cent wanted to drink responsibly; 18 per cent liked to match wines with their food; 15 per cent wanted that style of wine no-one else wanted; 13 per cent liked to try something new and 10 per cent gave cost as the reason.

So what’s driving it all? Apart from the reasons given in this survey, it seems drink-driving and the steady decline in the long boozy lunch are having an impact, especially where women are concerned.

There’s also the fact that with 1700-plus wineries in Australia and 18,000 domestic wine labels, many winemakers are desperate for a market and the on-premise trade has great allure. Not that every wine is suitable as a WBTG pour. Most restaurants avoid wines that are heavily discounted. Let’s face it, any restaurant charging $5 a glass for wine you can buy at $10 a bottle will have a riot on its hands.

“I’ll have a wine of a similar price but not the discounted brand,” says Stuart Halliday, the sommelier at three-hatted Est in Sydney’s CBD. “These wines receive quite enough coverage anyway and I’d rather have a wine that’s a little bit different.” Although some restaurants dispute the “glass for the price of a bottle” rule, a glance at the costs involved (wholesale price plus WET and GST) shows restaurants which choose brands carefully will still do nicely, thank you.

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