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This is what I used to do for a living, along with the food and service side (and negotiating of related contracts with suppliers).

Here is the strategy I would recommend and have employed successfully dozens of times in my career:

* Take a hard look at the current wine list and see what wines and categories are selling well.

* You don't want to remove the top 20% of best sellers on the list.

* Make sure you understand the food menu, so that you can create a list with balance that will have some harmony with the food served.

* Decide on how many wines would be most effective on the wine list - and then determine how many wines you want to offer that are by the glass.

* ALWAYS - keep in the back of your mind that whatever new wines you select for the list, will have to be introduced to the management and service staff through a rigorous training program.

* Contact all of your local wine reps that you plan to utilize for creation of your list and ask them for their current pricing book.

* Determine how you want the list to look to the guests. It can be one long page on 11" x 14" page, it can be in a multi-paged book and many variations inbetween. Due to the fact that vintages change and wines may not always be available to you ... I strongly suggest that you figure out how to be able to create the list and print it out on a PC, instead of having to rely on a printing company. This is not as important if you plan to keep the same wine list for a longer duration and only have one unit, but still something to think about for future renditions.

* In addition to creating a wine list that is well balanced with good wines, you MUST create a wine list that makes money for the restaurant (here is where WE ITB will get criticized by the consumer public that does not understand all of the financial dynamics in beverage costs ... and their application to covering fixed and semi-variable costs that are hidden from the public's view). Determine if the owners have a specific COGS (cost of goods sold) percentage in their budget or in their heads. If not, make sure to get a feeling if they want to sell more wine at a higher COGS (always my preference in designing lists) or sell less wine at lower COGS. You must have this understanding before proceeding to design the actual list. If you need ammo to help change "their" mind set, explain that they can't take percentages to the bank. Selling more wine make cents and dollars. Lastly, get them to start focusing on GPM (gross profit margin) rather than COGS if you need to persuade them further.

* When you have the financials understood, realize that you can have some wine at a 60% cost and some at a 20% to attain your blended cost percentage. Also it is important to offer value to your BTG (by the glass) program. Additionally, their should be a price "incentive" to those wines sold by the glass, that are also sold by the bottle ... so servers can upsell to the bottle.

Now comes the fun part ... (few realize the diligence involved in properly creating a wine list).

* Check out the wine lists of your local competiting restaurants, clubs etc. Look carefully at their design, pricing and specific offerings. See if you can obtain a copy. If you know they have a one page list, bring a digi camera (like a spy). : )

* Time to start creating. Go through the wholesalers catalogues and highlight the items that will fit into your schematic for the list. Not just great names, but price points that fit too. When you do this, determine how many wines you want in each varietal category. So if you want to have 15 white wines, how many will also be offered BTG? How many Chards, SBs, Riesling, etc. These will fit the style of the food right?

* When you have done this for bubbly, white, red, and dessert wines you are ready to contact your suppliers. Plan to have taste offs and make sure to invite the GM, Chef, Barteneder, top selling waiter and bar server ... if possible. If you make them part of the process, they will buy into your program and will help you sell it and train it to the rest of the staff. It instills pride in all of them.

* Get the suppliers to deliver all of the wines you need (at no charge ... they have a budget for doing this for wine list rewrites). Depending on quantity, divide your wines into bubbly, white, red, and desserts and you can split reds into 2 sessions if you have more than 15-20 if the others in on the tasting are not wine savvy. It is fine to have non-expert palates in on the tasting only if they can say, "I like it" or "that really sucks." Lots of people who order wines will not know much more than that. So it is good to have varying levels of expertise on your tasting panel.

* Hold the tastings. Take careful notes as to which are the top wines liked by the majority of the group ... not just you, the expert. Plug these into your wine list with their wholesale costs.

* Apply selling prices to the wines you have selected (in your first round of playoffs). You should see where the list looks good in certain categories or depth in specific key selling varieties. Plug the s/p and COGS into the model and see where you are at overall. You probably still have too many wines. Look at the name recognition of the wines you choose to keep or remove. There should be a presence by names that are well recgonized like KJ, Beringer, Mondavi in order to have more esoteric names like Sea Smoke, SQN, Darioush etc. (used for example sake only).

* You will continue to play with the pricing model so make sure it is an interactive spread sheet where inserting/removing an item will effect your baseline COGS. Make sure you look back to your initial goals of balance, menu friendly, not hard to teach or pronounce, and profitability.

* Whittle it down until you get to the place where you go back to your suppliers and talk to them about protecting your "allocations" especially on your wine BTG program. If they are not willing to do so, you are working with the wrong person. Realize these wholesalers want your new business. It is a good thing to not rely to heavily on just one or two suppliers. Work with 3-5 if your list is over 50 items. Try to balance what they get so you don't have one supplying 60% of your wines on the list and another with 5% as they won't want to send a truck to deliver 1 case. Discuss these dynamics with them openly and find out their minimum deliveries and # of times per week.

* The last major consideration should be the actual positioning of items, as they will appear on the wine list. This is way too involved and too critical, to go into here ... so email me when you are at this point and we can have a phone conversation.

* When you get to this point, you are about ready to go. Determine a launch of your wines BTG on a "fresh sheet" or daily specials list, a month before the actual roll out, in addition to at least 2 training classes for ALL personnel except BOH staff. Explain why the list is changing and the exciting new things that you've done.

From here, I think you will have a better understanding. Creating a profitable and mouthwatering wine list takes lots of time if done methodically and correctly, with tons of minute details. Of course, probably only 1 in 10 wine lists are put together with this painstaking detailed process in mind, but that is why back storage rooms are filled with wine inventory that does not move!
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My wine list was put together real simply.

Before I opened, I tasted as much wine as possible, mark them up at $20 over retail, and only purchase from suppliers whose wine has been refrigerated at all times from its origination point to me.

As a wine bar, most of what I sell is by the glass. However, with a bottle list now exceeding 350 selections, IMHO we have a well rounded, diverse list that offers something for all price points, varietals, and geographic locations.

About 75% of the wines on our bottle list are ones we previously served by the glass. Whenever we take a wine off our glass list, we keep 1-4 bottles in the cellar so customers can still order it. More importantly, it allows our servers to be as fluent in the bottle list as they are with the glass list.

Many of our servers have been with us since day 1 when we opened 2+ years ago. I like the fact that they have personally tasted and are well versed in 75% of the 350 bottles on the bottle list. The other 25% I gladly offer my advice to customers, as needed.
Excellent advice, Roy, there should be a price tag on that counsel.

Your post reminded me of a conversation I had with a Washington winemaker who called me to discuss the naming of his impending winery. I could tell from his first word that he was determined to stick with his initial choice so I just listened to his petitionary dissertation. At the end of our conversation I told him that the name was intriguing, interesting - blah, blah, blah - but if no one could pronounce it, it would not bode well on any wine list in the U.S. If they can’t pronounce it, most people will not attempt ordering it. Sad, but true.

This from the back end, going in, another bullet point.
Last edited by queenofhearts
Originally posted by Red guy in a blue state:
Interesting post. The folks at 1500 Ocean at the Hotel Del Coronado should read this. By far the most overpriced and poorly executed wine list that I have seen in quite some time.

I have not eaten there, but checked their wine list online, their wine list has a lot to choose from. When you say it is poorly executed, how do you mean? Does what is available on the internet not match up with the actual menu they present to you when you sit down at the table?

Mark-ups look to be somewhere between 100% and 200% and maybe a few that are almost 300%, not uncommon for that real estate. I think wine in Coronado is a little expensive. If you look at the Wine list at Chez Loma or Coronado Boathouse you will find similar mark ups.
One of the best posts I've read on this forum since... ever!

Roy, would you consider (without going into too many secrets and give up your liveleyhood?) breaking the process up and writing a more detailed guide? There has been way too little said on the topic in books and trade litterature even.

The wine side for the is a lot easier to understand than the economic calculations side of it. I have no problems selecting wines that I find interesting and think will sell, but when you go into COGS percentages, I'm lost. Smile

Also, how would you go about "training" your average waiter, with little to no interest in wine?

Thanks again!

Thanks for the kind comments. I agree there is way too little information on this process in print and I am not sure exactly why. It is certainlys something that must be searched for on a regular basis as restaurants, clubs, casinos, catering businesses, hotels, airlines and many other companies require the expertise to prepare wine lists.

As you probably know I am involved in writing for my own site ( and therefore only explore other websites a couple of times a week and mostly lurk.

If I had the inclination to write a full on document or detailed guide ... it would be something that would require a ton of time, as I would never engage a project like that half assed. However at this stage, it would more than likely be something I'd want to have published, as what I have provided above is basic and that is why it was donated as a freebie, as I knew it would be informative to some and provocative to others who have their own way of going about preparing a wine list.

Also, how would you go about "training" your average waiter, with little to no interest in wine?

For the nominal charge of my airfare, meals and hotel (no other fees required) I'd be happy to teach your staff how to sell wines off of your existing list. It is not all that hard actually and I have done so with MANY early 20-somthings with zero wine knowledge. It was my passion for a number of years.
Originally posted by cdr:
Why would one hire a server with little or no interest in wine? Let previous employers and pay for your wine training - hire only those who drink and enjoy wine. A few simple questions during a screening interview should eliminate those with no knowledge.

Well of course, cdr. That's the ideal, and I was not asking for myself. I don't run a restaurant. I was merely thinking ahead, and fantasizing of in the future pursuing a career (at least part time) like Roy's. If you're consulting for restaurants that obviously need help creating a balanced list, chances are that at least some parts of the staff are not motivated to learn. How do you tackle that?

The sad fact is that many restaurateurs hire young cute girls instead of knowledgeable personal. I have worked in a Michelin-star restaurant that on routine hired waitresses without much experience via a modelling agency. They claimed it paid off - sadly, because the business crowd would forget bad service if it came from a cute face. Which makes it a low harder for those of us with a decent background and training to demand the salary we "deserve".

Roy, perhaps it's time to start thinking of writing that book then! Include some fundamental wine facts (like 99% of the wine books out there) and you'd have a solid hit.
Last edited by thorn

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