How to Sell Less Wine

You’ve managed wine sales and service in restaurants and/or hotels for much of your career. You’ve been training servers, attending wine tastings, meeting with wine purveyors and wine makers, visiting vineyards and reading Wine Spectator for years. Decades, maybe.

And you’ve been writing, designing wine lists.  Creating lists for menus. Only now do you realize, wine list elements you’ve relied upon for years are, well, ineffective. Thanks to Sybil S. Yang and Michael Lynn, Ph.D., and The Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University we now understand which wine list attributes correlate to increases in wine sales. In their breakthrough finding, “Wine List Characteristics Associated with Greater Wine Sales”  [Cornell Hospitality Report, Vol. 9, No. 11, July 2009], Yang & Lynn detail how they meticulously studied the wine lists and wine sales of 270 restaurants spanning several major markets.

Reading this is easily an “Everything You Know is Wrong” moment (thank you, Firesign Theatre). Here are some examples.

  • There is no correlation between wine sales and the number of wines on a wine list, in fine dining.
  • There is no correlation between greater wine sales and the presence of Champagnes or sparkling wines, dessert wines, wines by the glass, or tasting flights on the wine list
  •  One may reasonably infer from the data that casual theme restaurants benefit from a greater selection of lower priced wines, however this is not so in fine dining, where increasing the selection of lower priced wines does not result in additional sales.
  • There is evidence that a wider range of prices on a wine list (or a more narrow range), whether casual or fine dining, has no effect on sales.
  • Wine list design: only two attributes were found to correlate to higher wine sales: placing the list on the menu (instead of a separate book), and not using the dollar sign ($).
  • Fan of “progressive” categorization? Think again: “In addition (and counter to conventional wisdom), wine lists that used wine style as an organizational heading were associated with lower wine sales.” (Hedge: the authors suggest, well maybe it’s just about the type of restaurants that use this list…)
  • Do recognizable wine brands matter? Maybe. This tactic can’t hurt, the authors data shows, and “more frequent mentions of some brands were associated with greater wine sales”. You have to experiment.
  • Finally, you don’t have to offload those special selections: there is a positive correlation between sales and having a “reserve” section on the wine list.

The report can be downloaded on line – register and get it. Or send me a note, I’ll happily forward the PDF to you.

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  1. Very interesting – and challenging to have so much industry ‘wisdom’ turned on its head!

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