Tag Archives: Hospitality

Are the days of long lists numbered?

Jon Harris, Hallgarten’s Director of Scotland and NW England has pondered the future of long lists and just what a short list would comprise of.

First up, I agree the question is quite ambiguous – the answer really is dependent on the kind of venue you are talking about; however for this piece I am considering a long list being one that is 60 bins or so.

In my opinion there are still some places where a wine list should be a leather bound tome, covering every country, region and producer imaginable – the type of wine list you can happily spend a few hours flicking through. Wine is hugely emotive and romantic for many, and the UK market is one of the most exciting and diverse in the world. It is vital our top sommeliers and buyers keep this tradition alive. 67 Pall Mall is the shining beacon of this.

All that being said, for a huge proportion of the UK On trade it is simply not a sensible option. With a move to a more casual cooking and dining style (just look at Nathan Outlaw’s announcement in June closing his 2-star Michelin flagship restaurant to replace it with a ‘more accessible’ dining option) it is important the modern wine list keeps pace.

I am sure some of the traditionalists even within my own business will disagree, but I believe you can build an exceptional, balanced and exciting list in under 40 bins. Here’s how it could look:

  • 3 or 4 sparkling wines. You can cover entry-level, an interesting upsell or Rosé and a Champagne
  • 10 to 14 whites and reds. Anything less than this and you run out of room for the more esoteric wines, certainly once you include the “must haves” (Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, etc)
  • 3 Rosé allows a range of styles and regions to suit customer pallets and price points
  • 2 or 3 sweet wines, including fortified – unfortunately a declining category but essential for a quality restaurant. Try adding them to your dessert menu as well as or instead of the wine list.

There are a number of benefits of a shorter list. Firstly this approach allows a range of list design options, from the more traditional by price or alphabetical by country, to a modern style-based model. I am a big advocate of a list constructed by style/flavour profile: it forces the customer to read the list to find what they actually want to drink, rather than purely selecting by price or grape variety. It also makes sure the list’s creator is offering an even(ish) balance of styles, not simply what they like to drink.

Having a more concise list also allows you to include and give focus to some exciting and esoteric wines at key price points. On a larger list these quirkier wines can often get lost as customers search for something they recognise, or rely on a Sommelier’s recommendation. Here they are front and centre.

The shorter list gives you the opportunity to offer a large majority (or all) of the list by the glass. This not only has margin benefits, as the GP on glasses is usually higher than by the bottle, but offers the customer the chance to experiment and experience the range.

A shorter list by no means removes the need for a Somm or buyer; in fact, it arguably makes their role more important – shorter lists need to be regularly changed, usually seasonally, in line with food menus. This means the link between food and wine is more important than ever, and any decisions must make real commercial sense and not purely be whimsical.

An important financial consideration is stockholding value. A more concise list will automatically help control par levels and stock management. In the On trade where margins and cash are almost always tight (particularly at the moment), it is vital not to tie up too much in stock.

Finally team training. This has become increasingly important over the years and can have a huge impact on wine sales. A couple of years ago, one large national customer of ours was able to attribute a 7% growth in value and volume directly to our training programs. A shorter list makes training easier, and opens it up to all the team, not just a select few wine specialists and Sommeliers. If all your team are selling better wine, it will drive incremental margin.

I understand that for the purists out there having a list with just one or possibly no Bordeaux or Burgundy mentioned will simply not cut it, but for much of the trade I believe an exciting, regularly changing, concise list is absolutely the way forward, not just financially but predominantly to enhance the guest experience.

The Blink Effect

Do customers really make decisions on wine spend that quickly?

As I write this article we are all in Lockdown and the industry in which I ply my trade has been shut down. These are uncertain times, but I’m hoping that by the time this article is released the worst of this pandemic will be behind us. Let’s all hope for a bounce back of monumental proportions!

I can’t remember the first time I heard the term ‘The Blink Effect’ but at the time I remember thinking, this all makes a lot of sense. From then on I’ve pretty much made this concept the basis for my sales patter over the last ten years, but is it real?

The premise behind my theory was that a consumer will make a very quick decision on what they are willing to spend on wine within seconds of entering an establishment. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking’, “spontaneous decisions are often as good as, or even better than, carefully planned and considered ones”.

So if consumers are going to make a really quick decision, I wanted to make sure all my customers were armed and ready. Let’s just say I was an unequivocal believer and ready to spread the word!

So what are we talking about here? What can we change in an establishment to increase the average spend on wine? It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get more bums on seats, so increasing the average spend has never been more important.

Firstly I want to acknowledge that the concept of any establishment has the biggest influence on wine spend. For example a restaurant specialising in burgers will undoubtedly have a lower average spend than a restaurant serving up rare breed steaks cooked over coal. It’s the little details that I want to concentrate on. My theory is that when you add up the effects of all these little changes, the positive impact on spend far outweighs the level of investment needed. I realise I’m starting to sound like Dave Brailsford (former Director of British Cycling) and his Marginal Gains philosophy, but I’m sure you get my point.

In my opinion, one of the key influencers on wine spend is stemware. It’s a simple concept: if you see a decent glass on the table you’d be more inclined to want to fill it with something good. If I go somewhere and see glasses that would be more at home in the Queen Vic, I maybe unfairly presume that wine isn’t a focus for their business. You’re hardly going to drop a Barolo into it! Is it really this simple though? Put out sexy glasses and watch sales sky-rocket! My colleagues have often asked me if I have proof that this actually works and to be honest I haven’t – but it has to make a difference, doesn’t it??

The actual visibility of wine in the outlet is another area that I like to explore with customers. It’s something else that customers can see, or not as the case may be, within seconds of walking into a restaurant. Again for me it underlines how serious an establishment is about wine. Now this could just be a simple wall display using dummy bottles, or budget permitting, display fridges on show in the restaurant. For me, any visibility should be seen as positive. I remember one customer asking me why wine sales had dropped and I could see three newly installed beer vats over his shoulder! It’s pretty clear to me, if you don’t show people that you sell quality wine, why would you expect them to buy it?

Place settings – now there’s something that keeps me awake at night! On one occasion I had to remind myself that I was supposed to be selling wine, after I’d spent the best part of an hour obsessing over salt and pepper mills with a customer. As a customer if you sit down at a table and everything just looks right, I believe this can have a really positive impact on wine spend. If I see salt and pepper pots that don’t match, I’m grabbing my coat and sprinting for the nearest exit! When a customer walks in, one of the first things they’ll see are the tables, so making sure they send the right message is vital.

I suppose what I’m saying is everything the consumer sees influences the average spend on wine. The reality is most of what I’ve outlined can be seen within 5 seconds of walking through the door. So if the Blink Effect is real and we only have a few seconds, let’s make them count.

-Joe Wadhams, Business Development Director

Featured in issue two of Assemblage.