Wine sales aren’t just a matter of sourcing, stocking and listing. As competition becomes exceedingly stiff, hotel restaurants must be cognizant of the need for a great wine list and make moves to differentiate their offerings in order to gain an edge with consumers.

So, what’s your edge going to be? What will make your wine list extraordinary and meaningful? Developing a theme for your wine list can turn it into a marketing tool in its own right and help progressively shift your menu to this new theme.

The following are some fundamental principles to help steer your efforts.

Approachability: Although not necessary the same as affordability, there is a significant overlap. While there will always special-occasion diners willing to splurge on a rarified Bordeaux, such individuals run contrary to current restaurant trends. The future of dining is one of reasonable pricing and sampling the unknown, while still inviting patrons into in environment that’s fun and enlightening. With the millennial cohort now acting as major forces for new concepts, start to think about small batch, craft infusions, exciting glassware, tasting flights and wines with a story behind them.

Accessibility: This pertains to the actual physical display for your list. The key is enhancing a patron’s sense of discovery while not inducing decision fatigue. You want your alcohol listings to be a pleasure to read but not so long it makes it difficult to come to a final selection within a reasonable timespan. It’s up to you to ensure the list only features the wines and spirits that best represent your theme.

Congruency: All alcoholic offerings must fit with the restaurant’s theme and its intended clientele. It must be a harmonious effort to tell a consistent narrative. For example, if you’re opening a fancy, $1,000-per-meal steakhouse, then stock a few bottles of Mouton Rothchild. But, if you’re running a bustling pizzeria, you might consider only a few whites and reds to simplify the decision process.

Exceptionality: If all you have in stock is what’s also offered at the local liquor store, then whoever built your wine list is just plain lazy. True, one can make the argument that what’s familiar to guests is what makes it approachable and thereby increases sales, but I would argue strongly for the opposite. It’s the unique twists and subtle differences in both the beverages themselves and their presentation to each guest that will earn you buzz and the ability to justify a higher price.

Memorability: If you were to distill your restaurant’s beverage offerings down to a single sentence or quintessential drink that will be the belle of the ball on Instagram, what would this be? Today’s consumers are bombarded with media and businesses vying for their attention so the only way to cut through the noise is to simplify your concept down to its most emotionally titillating component.

Regionality: Even if only for that one meal experience, diners want to immerse themselves in a culture, time and place, for which your wine list is only one element of the overall equation. For example, the hyper-regionalization of traditional European eateries — no longer can you simply open an Italian or French restaurant and hope to garner sustained attention without an edge. Instead, people are opening Sicilian or Savoyard restaurants, with the beverage selections narrowcast on each respective territory’s local produce and heritage.


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