Inspire Guests with Your Wine and Beer List
By Ryan Turner
At Muss & Turnerâ€™s, weâ€™ve created a beverage program that promotes the excitement of exploration and delight of discovery. After all, if we can keep it interesting for ourselves, our guests will never be bored with it. Although we do not have a full bar, our focus on beer and wine has proven an extremely valuable portion of our business, and can be for your restaurant, too.
The successful management of our beer and wine lists and service boils down to one word: TRUST. If your guests trust your intentions then you can meet them where they are and bring them where you want them to go. That is the essence of sales at its very core.
Your beverage program has the potential to become a deeper component than just tertiary profits around food and be a primary reason why people talk about you or continue to come back. Here are some key points on what, how and why you should develop a strong, successful beverage program.
This statement is on the top of our wine list: Our Take on Wine â€“ We love wine, but hate the pretense that often surrounds it! Really … it’s fermented grape juice that is intended to make you feel warm and fuzzy. What really matters most to us is matching the style of wine you’re looking for and whether or not you like it. We put ratings, tradition and brand recognition aside. We trust our own palate and select wines based on merit. Our selection process is simple. 1. Is it delicious? 2. Is it unique? 3. Is it a good value? The list is categorized in style and it changes often.
Selection. My hope is that 95% of our guests do not recognize any wine on our list. The more esoteric, the better. On any given day, we have about 25 to 30 wines by the glass to choose from categorized by style vs. varietal. I am a big proponent of helping people understand the style of wine they enjoy or not, and we intend to have something for everyone. Make your customers feel comfortable that wine is not always about points and pretense. Delicious matters. Recognition does not. Remember that reference to discovery.
Distributors. There are a lot of wine distributors these days, which can be a challenge in managing the sales calls. At any given time, there are more than 15,000 skus of wine in inventory in Metro Atlanta. We look at distributors as partners who are bird-dogging for us and sifting through to get to the gems. I ask them to bring me what they like and feel is a good value. What is the bottle of wine they are hoping they have some left to bring home after riding around town all day? That is the bottle I want. We don’t seek deals and demand tons of free samples. I tell people jokingly all the time, if we ever go out of business, I’ll be damned if I am going to have an inventory full of wine I don’t like.
Inventory & Menu. One of our biggest advantages is also our greatest challenge day to day. We change and print a new menu everyday. We run a very lean inventory for a couple of reasons. 1) we have limited space to store wine, 2) to preserve cash. We don’t buy anything to store and age. We buy it to sell. We buy based on a budget that is based on the sales of the previous week. We order what we think we need to get through the week and will move wines around all the time and if we run out. This dictates having someone to maintain the list and inventory very carefully every day. Our menu will also have descriptions that will hopefully help our guests make a decision (or at the very least make them chuckle). These descriptions also help our servers in guiding guests through their experience with us. So when we have five new wines come in, it is quite the endeavor to manage writing a description, updating POS system and educating staff. I am crystal clear on why many operations buy wide, go deep and do not change the list often. The path we’ve chosen can be a royal pain, but if you believe your efforts are a major part of who you are, it pays huge dividends long term.
Price & Value. Does it taste better than what you perceive it costs? That is value, and that is what matters to us. When we try wine, we never look at the price first. Does it taste good on merit alone? If so, then give me the cost and story of the winery. I would rather sell two glasses of wine for $7 that will rock your world than a one-time hit of $12.
One of the biggest complaints about the restaurant industry is the mark up in wine. Our guests understand that it takes serious expense to procure, prep and produce the food, but they have trouble with the fermented grape juice. I am very aggressive with educating them about this. We explain that when a bottle of wine is opened, it becomes perishable. If we don’t sell three more glasses after the first, we risk losing money or just breaking even. So itâ€™s important that we recoup as much of the bottle cost as possible in the first glass. Most folks understand and respect this. Where they still have a disconnect is we can’t make the same argument when selling an unopened bottle, but they do understand that we can’t sell it as cheaply as a retailer because of higher overhead costs and labor our gross profits needs to absorb.
If you are not aware of how popular craft beer has become in Atlanta, consider this your wake-up call. Many of the cerebral components that make wine so alluring are found in beer as well. I can sell a 750ml bottle of what many consider to be one of the best beers in the world for $24 and it might give more real satisfaction than the most expensive bottle of wine on our list.
Sophisticated consumption has nothing to do with a guest’s wallet size, but more to do with the appreciation of what variables are involved with making great wine or beer. The varietal of hops and where they came from is now being listed on some beers.
If you want to provide your guests with delicious elixirs of uniqueness and authenticity, then beer can be a very powerful component of your business. I love to see the proverbial light bulb go off over the head of a fellow wine geek when they try a tripel or intensely hopped beer.
There are far fewer distributors who are really embracing the beer phenomenon, but it is happening and we are now seeing the wine vendors bringing on beers into their portfolio. They don’t do that unless they think there is money to be made, and the momentum is self-evident.
We make it a point to not sell the standard selection of domestic or imported beers. The beer revolution in Atlanta blossomed in 2004 when the law changed to allow higher alcohol levels for beer. The tide is turning and the minds are opening, but people’s attachment to brand name beers is still a very personal thing. When we don’t have their brand, we need to be very careful that they don’t view it as judgment on them. We explain that we simply want to be a place of exploration with food, wine and beer. We don’t want to sell you something that you can get everywhere. We’d rather force you into trying something new and gamble on the enjoyment that could bring.
The path we have chosen with wine and beer is a more challenging one, but our guests seem to love it and come back often to experience it. It works for us, but may not for you. Start asking your guests what they are interested in. As long as they sense your intent is pure and not purely profits, they’ll give you all the answers you need to determine your own path. That’s what I do. Cheers!
Ryan Turner is the co-owner of Muss & Turner’s restaurant in Smyrna. Now into its 6th successful year of business, Muss & Turner’s is a casual neighborhood spot that has been characterized as “foie gras in your flip flops.” They specialize in a seasonal farm-to-fork menu alongside an ever-changing boutique wine and beer list. M&Ts is currently ranked No. 2 in Atlanta on the Open Table Diner’s Choice survey for Notable Wine List. Visit mussandturners.com for more information.