The 10 commandments

The 10 commandments of upselling wineOenophile Ben Canaider will have customers drinking out of the palm of your hand with his 10 best techniques for upselling wine.

Your wine list is so often a game of snakes and ladders. Just when you get one customer to move up to something imported, aged and pricey, you get another one trading down to the second cheapest shiraz on offer. It is rarely win-win, yet there are some tricks and tips to try that can help you upsell your wine. Some of the following points are tried and tested; others are more experimental and rely on an understanding of local conditions. The overarching point is you’ve got to be constantly on the move and engage with your customers—and with wine trends and fads. If you’re not, you will not be upselling wine to your best advantage.

1. Champagne

I don’t care what anyone says about price, vintage or label, if you can’t sell Champagne then you’re in the wrong business. Champagne is the stand-out, affordable-luxury wine brand in the world. Australians drink eight million bottles of Champagne a year, making us its sixth biggest importer, worldwide. Champagne represents spontaneity, success, extravagance, and an escape from reality. Putting Champagne at the forefront of your wine list, your wine-menu matching suggestions, your specials board, your waiters’ lips, and your general raison d’être, is a no-brainer. Furthermore, if you imbue your business with something of Champagne’s allure and romance, you might just upsell a few other non-fizzy drinks, too.

2. Big glasses

Set your restaurant’s tables with big glasses. As big as you dare. Much like the trick of the late 1980s, whereby chefs would put tiny, tiny bits of nouvelle cuisine on very, very, very big white plates, putting big wine glasses on the table sets an air of expectation. People buy more-expensive wine—the glasses expect it.

3. Colour-coded wait staff

Get all your floor staff into the same outfit. No, no—that’s not quite what I mean; I mean get them all wearing the same kind of uniform. White shirts, at the very least. You can go for uniform aprons too if you want to set a stuffier French bistro mood. The more immaculate your floor staff look the more formal a feel you bring to the dining room’s atmosphere and—ipso facto—the more pressure will be on customers to order posher bottles of wine.

4. No $$$ signs

This one—like much of the abovementioned—is something I’ve garnered from recent Culinary Institute of America research into best, most profitable restaurant practice. It relates to wine lists: don’t put a $ sign in front of the prices. List a Chateau Blah-de-Blah 2010 for 85, not $85. Research suggest that the lack of the $ sign will make customers more likely to buy a more expensive wine, as the notion of money (via the $ sign) is not there to visually scare them off. It’s a bit like not having windows or clocks in casinos.

5. The second bottle

If a table of six has dealt with their first bottle of red wine before the main course is finished, this is now the time to pounce. “Another bottle?” is not, however, the line you want to be peddling. If they are enjoying a Margaret River cabernet offer them another example from this region, using the geographical link, to suggest an all too natural segue. Just make sure it is a bottle that sits a little higher up the price list.

Using the ‘compare and contrast’ trick with a more expensive wine turns the dinner into a wine education seminar. And who cares about cost then? 

6. Compare and contrast

Similarly, if table 13 is on the last dregs of a bottle of Australian tempranillo, an upsell to the real deal—Spanish tempranillo—is an easy step. Using the ‘compare and contrast’ trick can even be employed before the last of the initial bottle is finished. Offer the table the Spanish example along with another set of glasses. This turns the dinner into a wine education seminar. And who cares about cost then?

7. Older vintages

Inventory costs can limit anyone’s cellared wine collection. But having a few examples of the red wines that most Australian restaurant-going customers want—Penfolds, Wynns—is a pretty easy way to build in an upsell. List these older wines immediately alongside the newer vintages. Every customer compares big brands’ prices to current $RRP, but few customers have these older vintages in what they might all too boldly call their cellars. An older wine can thereby seem within reach.

8. Flights

As much as degustation offerings have become the apex predator of so many restaurant menus, flights of wine can do the same sort of thing—one wine is never enough. Encouraging customers to try 50mls or so of, say, three aromatic white wines with their hors d’oeuvre, and then another three fuller-bodied whites with their entree, is a good way to introduce customers to the breadth and brilliance of your wine list. After the equivalent of two full glasses of white wine they are then in the mood to be more expansive with the bottle of red they order with their mains.

9. Awards & the 100-pt system

As much as this revolts proper wine connoisseurs, the heavy marketing on your wine list of the accolades your listed wines have recently enjoyed helps to assuage any fears people might have about the posh bottle of wine they are keen to try. Third-party endorsement, in this manner, can come across as a bit of a hard sell, but don’t underestimate the thirst for knowledge and reassurance so many restaurant customers have when it comes to wine. In this way, spruik the slightly higher-priced offering on your wine list for a better return.

10. By the glass

The single and most important revolution in Australian restaurants over the last three decades. BTG offerings can help you add even more markup to your LUC per bottle. This is clearly the best method for upselling wine, as long as your per-unit cost seems affordable. It’s an upsell not so much on a plate, but in a glass.

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