Have you ever asked for the wine list at a restaurant and had them hand you a cocktail napkin with the words “Red” and “White” scribbled on it? How about when you ask for the list and they call out a burly gentleman holding a tome that looks rather like a New York phone book with a red leather binding? Either one of the situations is annoying, but there has to be a happy medium, doesn’t there?
A restaurant needs to have the right wine list for its food and clientele, and it’s easy to see how that could be challenging. Adding to the frustration is the fact that, even when a restaurant puts a lot of time and effort into wine selection, there’s still going to be one guy who took a wine class at a community college who’s going to ask why they don’t have a Chateau Le Blamonge from 1648 with its original lead-lined cork or one drunk lady asking why she can’t get the best Chablis on the list in a box instead of a bottle.
How Does a Restaurant Menu Affect The Wine List?
For some people, choosing a wine is as easy as white with fish and red with pasta, but for others, it’s much more complex. For just about every entrée you can imagine, there is a wine that is the absolutely perfect accompaniment for it.
Does a restaurant have to carry the right wine for every entrée? No, but some restaurants like to come pretty close. With this in mind, a larger or more varied menu would go hand in hand with a larger and more varied wine list.
Sometimes a restaurant specializes in cuisine from a particular country and the restaurant may feature wines from that country. If that country is famous for wine, like France or Italy, the wine list could be quite large. If the restaurant specializes in the cuisine of Qatar or Antarctica, the wine list will probably be a bit smaller.
How Does a Restaurant Type Affect the Wine List?
The theme and ambience of a restaurant have a lot to do with the size and composition of the wine list. A sports bar might have a limited selection of wines and nobody would be too surprised if none of them topped $30 per bottle. On the other hand, a restaurant that specializes in wine or alcohol–for instance one that has “grape” or “winery” in the title–had better have a pretty good wine list.
Location is another big factor in determining a selection of wines for a restaurant. When your restaurant is a country diner in the middle of 50 miles of cornfields, the odds are that a great percentage of your guests are not going to be wine connoisseurs. In this case, a huge wine list may be unnecessary. If, on the other hand, your restaurant is in Manhattan and caters to Wall Street executives, your wine list had better be large and intriguing.
Still, just knowing that you have upscale clientele doesn’t entirely give you the layout of your wine list. There is much debate about whether it’s more important to satisfy the connoisseurs or to make people who aren’t as familiar with wines comfortable ordering one. The website for Food Service Warehouse recommends a mix of recognizable wines and new and more obscure labels. A good waiter or sommelier can certainly help customers to feel more comfortable and make good selections, as well, if the wine list is on the larger or more adventurous side.
What is the Danger of a Large Wine List?
The obvious downside to a huge wine list is that it will take guests longer to choose a wine, causing servers to want to scream out “Just pick one already!” While this does not create the ideal environment for enjoying a good glass of wine, there are problems that go even beyond that. For one thing, a huge wine list means that somewhere on the premises there must be a huge supply of wine. Acquiring and storing several bottles of a hundred different types of wine gets very expensive, very quickly.
Another issue with a huge wine list is that it can actually rub people the wrong way. According to an article in the New York Times, patrons can actually feel intimidated or irritated by a wine list that is too large or too complicated. Some patrons might relish the opportunity to learn about wines they might be unfamiliar with, but for others, the endless list of foreign-sounding names they’ve never heard of will just ruin their self-esteem.
There is no magic number of wines that a restaurant should have because there is so much variance in restaurants and their clientele. One restaurant can offer six wines and satisfy its customers perfectly, while another might have the resources to support a hundred different wine labels and customers who demand at least that many. The trick is for a restaurant owner to truly understand their business so that they can get the right number and variety of wines to their customers.