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July 23, 2021

Harry Crowther: How to get the most from your by-the-glass wine listings

Guest: “I’ll have a glass of the house wine, please…”.

Ergh… How many times have we all heard that during a busy service?

The bigger question here, however, is how many times have we responded with, “yeah sure, I’ll get that right away for you”? I know I have. I’ve then walked away and thought to myself, “why did I just do that?”

A wine list is all about balance. A balance of styles and a balance of pricing as well. A pricing structure that ranges from £20 up to £150 (or dollars/euros, guess what country I am in…) wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows. But, a by-the-glass (BTG) range that hits the £15+ mark tends to promote a nervous gulp from customers.

We have all been guilty of playing it ‘safe’ with our BTG options under the danger of sacrificing a lot of wastage or, more importantly, upsetting customers with unrealistic listings. Whacking on a premium wine BTG is always a risk. But no more so than asking a customer to spend that extra bit on a bottle. Actually, it’s less risky. Why? Because the bottle is already open, so there is no excuse… “Try before you buy, madam? The bottle is open…”



If it’s better for me, I’ll take it

I am fully aware that the content of this piece is an unromantic, commercial approach to building a successful, thriving wine list and I won’t be making any apologies for it.

Here in the UK, there has been a systemic issue in the wine trade long before everybody’s favourite pandemic came along: consumption and volume decline (amongst other things). Essentially, people are drinking less, but they tend to drink better. And in Blighty (and beyond), we are all going through the age of green credentials and transparency. With that comes a natural willingness to put our hands deeper into our pockets.

Wine volume in the UK has been dropping year on year by around 6%. The only way to combat this issue is to sell better wine, not more. Value over volume in a declining market is the winning ticket my friends.

There are a few techniques when it comes to selling better wine more often. Working with organics is a good start; we are naturally more inclined to spend a little bit more on an organic product (20% more to be exact). That’s the first opportunity for a BTG listing I’m throwing out there: stick an organic wine just underneath your ‘house’ option and see what happens. Better yet, remove your house wine BTG and start with an organic wine BTG. Sure, it might be an extra £1, so alleviate that price hike with a green splodge on your wine list. You won’t see any resistance.



Beyond organic…

Covid-19 has pricked the conscience of humanity, no more so than hospitality. So, when we consider greener wines for the list, we need to be mindful that green credentials now go beyond the realms of a green-leaf-logo on the back of a bottle. Our customers are now seeking a greater sense of community. Let’s use the UK as a benchmark and set the scene…

[cue the smoke machine]

It’s London, early 2020, pre-Covid, and all is well. Whispers of a far-away virus in the east and only 7% of consumers are looking to purchase wines that ‘give back’ to the local community.

[Enter pandemic]

That number is now closer to 50%.

[Exit stage right to the bar for a glass of wine]

Opportunity knocks. This is surely another major consideration for your by-the-glass list offering. I don’t know about you, but for me there is nothing better than spending an extra couple of quid on a glass of wine, sitting back with the knowledge that because I am drinking it, I am making the world a better place.

[pours a large glass]

I have been pushing this notion with my clients with great success, almost overnight. We have been searching for producers that incorporate socio-economic initiatives into their sustainable approach. Listing a top wine by-the-glass from a producer who has just facilitated a project that provides clean water to a local village is a powerful thing. Make some noise about it. More importantly, make sure your staff are trained up on it and know how to communicate that with your guests. If anything, it’s just a cool story.

[tips the waiter]



Wine list suicide

I get it. Wastage is a thing. And there really is nothing worse than having to pour half a bottle of premium wine down the sink after three days. In truth, this sad reality doesn’t really fit the sustainability narrative making its way around the industry &, luckily, eliminating wine wastage couldn’t be easier…

[Insert shameless plug for Bermar as their guest writer today]

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I often ask people, “why doesn’t it sell?” I’ll give you three guesses what the answer is… It’s too expensive. The next thing I do is go to a member of staff and ask them to sell me the wine in question… another three guesses… they often can’t. If a team member can’t sell me – a total wine geek – a premium glass of wine, then what hope have they got with guests?

Did you know that around half of your customers will try something new and different off the back of a recommendation from one of your waiters, waitresses, or bartenders? Surely that’s worth a moment’s thought.

Selling wine from the ‘cheaper’ end of the wine list is a big problem in a volume declining market; we need to sell better. Sure, listing sustainable wines will go some way to remedying that, but there is really only one way to ensure a thriving wine list: get your team behind it.



Confidence all day long

Confidence trumps knowledge every day of the week. A wine-confident member of staff will offer your customers so much more choice than a knowledgeable one. Get the team confident and empower them with it. If they are interested enough, the knowledge will come, I promise. If they aren’t interested, at least they are wine confident, so at worse, they will help you grow your average spends.

It saddens me to see by-the-glass offerings that are capped halfway down the list. As I said, wine lists are all about balance. Your by-the-glass menu should be diverse and showcase the best your list has to offer. Seeing a list that underdelivers on by-the-glass options tells me one thing: we are not confident enough in selling our best.

How boring is it to see the same wine on the table all the time? I much prefer getting the best wines on the table, in front of the customer, that’s much more fun (for them, and me).

We live in a world where it is now vital to maximise the experience of every single customer that walks through the door. Pulling out early on the BTG selection is kind of like falling at the first hurdle. Please, don’t fall for it. The guest wants to be challenged.



Get the team behind it

Anyone that has worked with me will know that every single wine on a list should be a measured, strategic decision designed around knowing your customer and what they want.

There’s a two-step process to listing a wine:

  1. List the right wine, in the right position, at the right price for your guests.

Getting it right with your team is more important than getting it right with the customer. If you’re happy to offer your customer a taste of something, then the team need to have tasted it, too:

A Wine Legend: “You know what sir, that glass Sauvignon Blanc you want is fantastic, but would you like to try this Gavi? We tasted it as a team a few hours ago and we loved it.”

Sold, I’m yours…

NB:we loved it” … herd mentality. If it’s good for everyone else, it’s good for them.

It’s a bit chicken and egg, but if we want our premium BTG listings to be a success then we need to sacrifice a bottle and taste it with the crew. Get in touch with your supplier or the producer, they should send you a free sample in return for a BTG listing. After all, your success is their business.



Spreading wings: It’s not about the money

At the beginning of this piece, I touched upon my brazen lack of shame towards a modern and ‘commercial’ wine list. Of course, having a profitable wine category is a must. But being profitable isn’t always about the art of upselling. And upselling isn’t always about getting more cash in the register.

We are in the business of offering choice to people and giving them the best experience possible. If our customers wanted a Merlot, Malbec, or Pinot Grigio, then they could nip down to the grocery store and pick one up. We are here to spread their wings. They want that left-field wine they haven’t tried before, they just don’t know it, until your team offers it to them.

Wine from emerging regions is hot right now. Romanian wine imports into the UK alone are up 55% and there is a reason for that: the wine is good, and consumers are ready to give it a go.

Here lies another opportunity for a great by-the-glass selection. I’m not suggesting that listing an expensive Feteasca Negra from Romania is the answer (although it could be if it was trained in well enough). Listing an esoteric wine at the entry point of the list, however, is a powerful message to send (check out the Avesso grape variety from Vinho Verde, Portugal). By all means, have your Kiwi Savvy Bs and your Malbecs available, but premiumise them and bring in discovery at the more affordable end of your list. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of intrigue, variety is the spice of life (and wine lists). There is also nothing more rewarding than a guest walking out of your venue thinking, “I’ve just discovered my new favourite wine from a country I didn’t even know made wine. Better yet, it was cheaper than what I would normally buy.” And that is the best upsell we can hope for, because they will be back, and they will tell all their mates.



Putting it into action

We should all have a killer by-the-glass selection. Think of it as your highlight reel that shows off the best parts of your wine list.

Success won’t happen overnight, that would be boring. A good by-the-glass offering needs to be strategic and fun. An upsell strategy is essential, and the team definitely needs to be behind it. I am not suggesting that the team tries to take a customer from a £6 glass to a £14 glass of Napa Cab, that’s overkill. Start small – try a +£1 upsell and watch your team’s confidence grow.

Focus on a different set of upsells every week and after a few months, you will have a team who are legends at offering your customers choice. And with that, comes a modern, profitable wine category.


In summary:

  • Organic is a great way to premiumise your BTG offering, but we now need to be considering sustainable wines that speak to the customer on social and economic levels, not just environmental. Get them on the list and communicate this well with the team.
  • People buy from people. Don’t get your team in a training session to talk about soil and oak until they fall asleep (we all know this happens too much). Focus on getting them wine confident, not knowledgeable.
  • Taste all of your BTG wines with the team before they go live. If they like it, it’ll sell, regardless of the price.
  • Play around with wine from ‘emerging’ regions at the cheaper end of your list.
  • Be brave with your BTG listings. If you do the above, you’ll have no problem selling premium wine by-the-glass. The customer will realise that the added value in discovering an awesome wine for a paltry extra few quid is more than justified.


Thanks for reading and let’s raise a glass to an awesome selection on your wine list.

Harry Crowther
Founder & Legend @ Grain to Grape

Grain to Grape



Connect with Harry & learn more about his knowledge, expertise, and training opportunities below. | @graintogrape@harryjcrowther | Creating Wine Legends