Tips from a Mystery Wine Shopper: An Open Letter to Restaurateurs Who Sell Wine

If you offer a wine list and you intend it to be a profitable part of your operation, please stop doing the following offensive things immediately:

The Nakedly Ridiculous Mark-Up
When I scan your list for a reasonably priced bottle of wine, don’t pepper your offerings with wines whose retail prices your customers know by heart, and then mark that retail price up three times or more.


You may think the Mark West Pinot Noir at $35 fills out your reasonably priced wine category nicely (for you), but I (and most of your customers) now know where your mark-up strategy is.

Think a mystery wine shopper – or any customer – is going to take any chances on your hand-picked selections that they don’t have a feel for? Sorry, your wine list no longer has pricing credibility. Waiter, a draft beer please.

Okay, assuming you did not make mistake number 1, you have a customer here who is looking for some adventure and will not hesitate to spend a few bucks on some wine to go with the food. You seem serious about wine Mr. Restaurateur – let’s get busy.

You’re Hot, You’re Cold
No one appreciate spending $40 on a nice bottle of white wine that is shockingly close to 33 degrees Fahrenheit. Your customers should not have to wait 20 minutes for the wine to reach the proper temperature.

The more common and equally egregious offense is the red wine that is served at room temperature. Red wine should be a slightly cool, cellar temperature.

Do I expect that from your $5 glass of house red? It would be nice, but once your customer is making a significant investment, it is assumed as part of the transaction that the wine was stored correctly and served at the right temperature.

Also, the customer did not sign on for babysitting their wine in an ice bucket until it reaches a good temperature. That was your job.

A Mystery Wine Shopper Favorite: You Lie About Your Age
When I order the 2007 Silver Oak Cabernet, don’t bring me the 2009 and pretend it is the same wine. It isn’t. You know it, and everybody parting with big vintage wine cash knows it.

Honestly, it hardly bothers me at all when a server isn’t a wine savant. It is okay if they struggle a bit opening the wine; we have all been there. It isn’t a crime either if they don’t perfectly refill our glasses, or face the label out.

The customer is after what is in the bottle and should know that there is care and integrity in the offering.

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