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Archive for March, 2006

Do Wine Awards Bring Customers In The Door?

Friday, March 24th, 2006

March/April 2006

By Melissa Libby

An “Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator, a national wine magazine for consumers and professionals, is similar to an Academy Award nomination. The honor puts your restaurant name in lights and positions it within a select group of your peers. A win in the magazine’s prestigious and difficult to get into “Best of Award of Excellence” category is equivalent to actually taking home the gold statue. At least that’s how it feels to the restaurant owner and the sommelier or wine director. But does the consumer care?

“Absolutely,” says Ed Michael Reggie, a frequent diner with businesses in Georgia, Louisiana and Florida. “I use the award listings to make restaurant selections because I want my guests to know that I have given thought and consideration to where I take them. If the restaurant has been recognized by Wine Spectator then I know the wine selection will be varied and excellent, and it says something about the food, too.”

Photo by Haigwood Studios 

Robby Kukler, an owner of Fifth Group restaurants, which count three 2005 awards of excellence among their then four restaurants, concurs. “Atlanta diners are savvy and they pay attention to recognition like wine awards and food reviews. While it might be hard to say the Wine Spectator awards generated more business on a certain night, we certainly believe that the effort put forth to enter and achieve the awards has a payoff with more educated customers who order better wine and appreciate our attention to food and wine pairings.”

An effort it is to prepare an entry for the Wine Spectator awards. Restaurateurs must follow the instructions to the letter, providing wine lists, a dinner menu, a one-page letter about storage conditions, inventory, pricing and more, and the non-refundable $200 entry fee. And that’s just to get the form to fill out for the award.

But the hard work begins long before the entry process. Wine lists must be meticulously compiled and presented, including vintages, appellations and prices. Typos are definitely a no-no. Jane Garvey, an Atlanta-based wine writer, teacher and consultant, spotted several errors in a Vinings restaurant’s otherwise well-rounded list and suspected that’s what kept them off the award list. An email from Nathan Wesley, a Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards program staffer, basically confirmed her suspicions as he wrote,”… it could benefit from some fine tuning with regards to appellations, vintages, and typos.”  Wesley praised the restaurant’s large offerings of wines by the glass and felt that the “solid list” could become a strong candidate for the program with some “attention to detail.”

Of the 2,906 current Award of Excellence winners, 68 are in Georgia. Of the 613 Best of Award of Excellence winners, our state has just five: Atlanta Grill, Emeril’s, Joël, Seeger’s and The Dining Room. What about the Grand Award winners?  That would be zero here in Georgia. The magazine says, “only the very best wine-oriented restaurants in the world qualify.”  These lists “show serious depth of mature vintages, a multitude of top-notch producers, outstanding breadth in regions, exceptional harmony with their menus and superior organization and presentation.”

Steve Goodman owns a meeting planning company, dines out often for business and pleasure, and has an extensive wine collection. Does he take wine awards into account before selecting a restaurant in which to entertain? “It’s hard to say. I just looked at the list of Wine Spectator award-winning restaurants and those are the ones I usually go to, but I don’t know if I knew they had won or not,” Goodman admits. “And I have a couple of favorites that aren’t on this list and I wonder why-they have great wine programs.”

That is one core issue. Unlike a Mobil Guide report, the awards aren’t handed out based on all the restaurants in the city, but to those who fill out the form and pay the fee for the chance. Just because a restaurant doesn’t have the award doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy; more likely someone forgot to send in the form or the award just doesn’t seem worth the effort. Perhaps the restaurant believes that the consumer will recognize the quality of its wine program by dining in the restaurant.

That may be true for restaurants with a steady stream of customers. But there is a nice public relations opportunity that goes along with receiving an award of this caliber. A short release to local media announcing the win will surely result in some news coverage and a few new guests. And if those folks enjoy the restaurant they are likely to return soon and to tell others. That’s not a bad deal for a $200 investment.

“All awards are great at generating new customers for us,” says Andrew Fotos, owner of Rainwater restaurant in Alpharetta, an Award of Excellence winner for the past four years in a row. “When someone sees that we have a Wine Spectator award, or any sort of recognition, they are more likely to try us out. It’s a source of credibility. We don’t really need it for our regulars, although I think it makes them proud too.”

Restaurants hoping to be considered for a wine award from Wine Spectator have almost a year to prepare. This year’s entries were due February 1. All award winners are announced in the August 31 issue. Studying those winners, fine-tuning your list, paying attention to detail, and getting your entry in on-time (or early, as the magazine suggests), can greatly increase your chance of being among the elite list next year.  Sounds like it might be worth the effort.

Melissa Libby owns and operates Melissa Libby & Associates, a PR firm with several restaurants among its clients. Melissa can be reached at (404) 816-3068.

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