Stem sells

High-quality stemware adds to your customer’s enjoyment of wine, so it’s worth the investment.

High-quality stemware adds to your customer’s enjoyment of wine, so it’s worth the investment.

Does the stemware you sell your drinks in really make a difference? Oh yes, says Ben Canaider, and here’s why …

Does the vessel in which you serve your beverages really matter? The answer is a multi-definitive ‘yes’. Yet before we consider all the reasons—and which factors can help your bottom-line the most—it is important to recognise one over-arching truth: the glass your customers hold in their hands and raise to their lips is indubitably one of the most subtle and persuasive sales and marketing tools your business has. Not to maximise its effect is to leave a void. And thereby create an opportunity for your competitors.

Trends and fashions in tableware still dominate most hospitality businesses, of course. In this sense stemless wine glasses have become a common feature de jour on many cafe and restaurant tables. Similarly, smaller sized wine glasses in the tulip shape have fought back some ground, particularly with regard to degustation menus and wine flights, where a smaller glass can hide the fact that the customer is only getting 60mls of wine. Among the keener wine and drinks set, however, a demand or, worse, a naïve expectation that the best possible glasses will be delivering the wines and other beverages as advertised on your list creates some capital expense headaches for anyone forking out the dough for replacement stems. There are ways to navigate this problem, however.

Consumer demand and expectation

The consumer demand for posh stems-ware on-premise reflects a growing wine and general drinks knowledge among your customers. This is a double-edged sword. Encouraged by their knowledge of beverages, your customers cry out for the best stemware which, when broken, you have to replace. Yet this same knowledge can help you up-sell some of the trendier wine styles, not to mention leverage profit from imported or emerging local wine styles that, when served in more serious stemware, helps create the illusion of luxury.

Specialist glassware for all beverages

And it is not just wine that is demanding specialist stemware. Spirits and certainly beer are also lining up to help itemise, stratify, and delineate the way you serve customers a drink. Gone are the days of a standard wine glass, a tumbler, a tall glass, and two sizes of beer glass—or maybe just one beer mug with a handle on it. The retro glass trend is certainly strong in late-night bars specialising in classic cocktails and old-fashions. The only problem is that vintage and retro glasses tend to last about two cycles of the glass washer. Which is why the better glass manufacturers are worth the cost.

The marque stemware names

Riedel and Spiegelau and Luigi Bormioli are the leaders in glass and glass/crystal manufacture. Riedel is the brand in the world of fine wine, and about a decade ago bought out a rival, Spiegelau, to guarantee through-put. Riedel is certainly the stem your customers will want, because it is the one they know, and associate with grandeur. Yet brands like Luigi Bormioli, which I use for tastings, are remarkably durable, with some lines chalking up 4500 glass washing cycles without deterioration. These brands also trend towards better glass lip finishes, with cut or half-cut rim edges which suggest a more delicate lip tactility. In other words, your customers don’t feel like they are at a bad wedding reception facility.

Branding and volumetrics

The other important issue here relates to glassware embossing and etching, for both branding and pour level purposes. If you’re buying 500 glasses then the set-up costs and etching/embossing costs are worth it to add your name or logo to the glass. This mark can also serve as a guide to by-the-glass volumetrics, for both staff and customers. If the plimsoll line is 120mls then you know what you’re selling, and the customer knows what they are drinking. I might also gratuitously add here that the sooner wine lists disclose the alcohol-by-volume of the wines listed, the better. Some customers don’t want to drink 15 per cent ABV red wine …

And as to the ever prickly question of stemware and wine appreciation: does your stock-standard wine glass really—actually—enhance or mute the aromatics, bouquet, flavour and texture of the wine therein served? I’ll answer this by way of a recent observation.

At a Riedel masterclass the other day, Georg Riedel himself—the 10th generation Austrian glass manufacturer—conducted the following participatory experiment. Four masked white wines were poured blind into four distinctly different wine glasses: an XL5 (the sort of glass you see at most winery cellar doors); a standard restaurant glass, thick-rimmed, tulip shaped and long stemmed; a water glass; and an unspecified Riedel white wine glass. Herr Riedel invited the attendees to go about assessing the wines in two ways: what were the four different white wine varieties; and which wine, regardless of variety or glass, was the best.

Ten minutes later, Herr Riedel had a roomful of empowered wine tasters telling him that wine number two was clearly a chardonnay and that wine number three was a good riesling that suffered by being served in a water glass—“no aromatics!”—and that the sauvignon blanc in the Riedel glass was clearly the best wine—although that particular taster didn’t really like sauvignon blanc per se. (Yes, this taster actually said “per se” …)

After a silent pause culminating in a serene smile, Herr Riedel informed the room that the four white wines were all the same—a high-quality Marlborough sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. Herr Riedel added that in these masterclasses, his family’s stems never failed to enhance the enjoyment and quality of the wine.

Now whether you think this is a neat party trick or circus piece, that’s up to you; but if a purpose-built, high-quality stem can and does add to your customer’s drinking pleasure, then the capital expense might soon be offset by return patronage, not to mention better and higher-margin wine sales. It might be time to invest in a few sets for the posh end of the wine list. The customer is always right.

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