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Restaurants, wine bars and other on-premise establishments represent important sales channels for wineries and winemakers. Getting your wines into restaurants can have a huge impact on overall profitability, especially if those restaurants have a large regional or national presence. But what, exactly, should you be doing to boost your wine distribution in restaurants?
There’s nothing that can throw off a potential deal like inconsistent pricing. Ahead of any meeting with restaurants, it’s absolutely essential to get the pricing right. Price lists should include a brief summary of what the buyer will be tasting, a suggested price by the glass for the wine, and the cost price per bottle. Just keep in mind - restaurants will typically mark up the cost of wines 3 times, so that will give you a good idea of how much your wine will sell for in a restaurant. Next, to the different items in your price list, you can make notations for any extraordinary wines, such as those that have received 90+ points from wine critics or wine judges.
In a best-case scenario, there will be a perfect match between the wines you are selling to the restaurant and the wines that the restaurant has identified as a need in its overall portfolio. While all restaurants have plenty of certain wines - such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay - they might be lacking in other areas where they have addressed a potential need. Wines can go in and out of favour, and it could be the case that your wines are able to leverage important new trends. Wines like Prosecco and Rosé, for example, have both experienced surges in popularity in recent years.
To figure out where your wines fit into the buyer’s portfolio, you will need to study the restaurant’s overall food menu. Are your wines at a comparable price point for the dishes they are meant to complement? Do they make versatile food-wine pairings for several different dishes? Versatility can be just as much of a selling point is quality, especially as many restaurants look for ways to pare down their wine menus to make them more customer-friendly.
It might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at just how many distributors ignore all the rules. Instead of tailoring their schedules to the needs of the restaurant, they assume that wine directors and sommeliers have unlimited time to taste new wines. The reality is that most restaurants have specific days when they set up tasting appointments. Moreover, many restaurants only rotate their wines on a quarterly or semi-annual basis, and may not currently be accepting tasting appointments. Being able to follow the rules (whether official or not) is part of showing the restaurant buyer that you understand how wine distribution works in restaurants.
While distributors are typically very knowledgeable about the wines they are selling, there is nobody who knows more about the wines being sold than the actual winemaker. If you’re looking for that something extra to close a deal, think about bringing in the winemaker and having him or she tells the story of the wine. Extra details about how the grapes are grown or how the wine is made can make a huge difference. Plus, there is the added psychological factor involved here - bringing in the winemaker helps to show your overall commitment to making the future relationship work. That’s especially true for foreign and overseas winemakers, who can make a huge impression on restaurant owners by showing up in person.
In today’s wine industry, branding is a key element of selling wines. The brand is about more than just the name on the label of the bottle - it is also about the story behind the wine. Many of the most popular wines today have very compelling stories behind them that help them stand out in the mind of the wine consumer. Think about the brilliant branding behind 19 Crimes wine, and how every bottle tells a story behind that wine. That is the very essence of a great brand story.
Without the involvement of the winemaker or the distributor, the only person who might be trained on your wines is the sommelier or wine director buying the wines. So think about ways that wine education, staff tastings and educational seminars can be used to sweeten the deal for restaurants thinking about picking up your wines for their wine lists. As a rule of thumb, staff tastings can be very helpful in ensuring that servers and other wine staff members are properly educated about your wines and how to sell them. That’s especially the case for wines from relatively unknown or emerging wine regions, or for wines made using non-traditional winemaking techniques (such as “natural wines” or “biodynamic wines”).
In addition to staff education and training, there are plenty of other ways that you can support your wines after you make the sale. This support can include a willingness to host winemaker dinners, to host special Happy Hour events during off-peak times of the week, and also the ability to offer additional marketing and promotional support. Family-owned, non-chain restaurants often need all the help they can get when it comes to new promotional ideas for wine. Any support that you can give in this area can help to position you as a trusted partner in a valuable relationship.
Wine distribution in restaurants is all about showing buyers that you have their best interests in mind and that your wines make a natural fit for what they are trying to accomplish. By showing that you recognize where your wines fit within their overall wine portfolio and then taking steps to show how you can add value once your wines have been added to the wine list, you can maximize your chances for success when it comes to wine distribution in restaurants.