How to boost your wine-by-the-glass program

• More restaurant beverage trends

Wine-by-the-glass programs are key revenue drivers for many restaurants, but rigorous data about them has been hard to come by to date. Now new information is shedding light on which wine varietals operators may wish to feature, how many ounces of them you may want to pour, and how you might price your offerings.  

The numbers come from Newton, MA-based Restaurant Sciences [4], a provider of syndicated data about restaurant, bars and nightclubs. The company compiled the results of this study by analyzing  “a sample of 10 million wine purchases at family, casual, upscale and fine dining establishments along with samples from nightclubs and hotel bars throughout the United States.”

Here are some the key data points from this study of wine-by-the-glass consumption.

White wines by the glass

Among white wine varieties, Pinot Grigio offered the best value proposition from a patron’s point of view. Its average price per glass was $6.25 in family dining restaurants, $6.91 at casual dining operations, $8.39 at upscale casual spots and $8.32 at fine dining establishments. These price points may be why Pinot Grigio, with a 25 percent share of the wine-by-the-glass market, now ranks as the second-most popular variety of white wine.

Chardonnay dominates the category, controlling 44.5 percent of the market. At 13.6 percent, Sauvignon Blanc is the only other white wine whose market share is in the double digits.

Red wines by the glass

The market for red wine varieties sold by the glass is slightly more diverse. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the category (a 29.4 percent market share, but merlot (18.1 percent), Pinot Noir ($15.8 percent), Zinfandel (10.9 percent) and Malbec (9.2 percent) are all strong performers.

Perhaps the most surprising news to emerge from the data was how blended red and white varietals perform on wine-by-the-glass lists. In particular, blended reds hold a solid market share (7.4 percent) and command a strong price point, particularly in higher-end restaurants. Their success may be signaling a shift in the wine-by-the-glass market.

“Restaurant Sciences’ data shows varietals that were considered especially good values a few years ago, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir, have now climbed in price and popularity to be directly comparable to their primary U.S. competitors, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, respectively,” says Chuck Ellis, president of Restaurant Sciences. “Consumers, however, were not concerned by prices per glass as three out of the four most popular wines were more expensive across the dining categories.  Our data shows that red and white blends are increasing in popularity with a combined 8.75 percent market share and in some areas blends outperform varietals like Shiraz and Sangiovese.”

The most surprising data point turned up in the white wine category.

Restaurant Sciences’ data shows that consumers paid more across all categories for Pinot Gris versus Pinot Grigio. Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are generally made from the same grape although grown in different regions. Ordering a glass of Pinot Grigio instead of Pinot Gris saved patrons an average of $1.90 across all establishments.

Many other variables factor into the success of wine-by-the-glass programs. Labels, vintages and country of origin of the wines you offer can matter a lot. So does the size of your pour (Restaurant Sciences found that the average pour across all segments was 6.18 ounces). And the way your wines-by-the-glass listings are organized on your wine menu is crucial, as is your waitstaff’s ability to suggest ideal pairings. But be sure to take a glance at the Restaurant Sciences data the next time you revamp your wine-by-the-glass list. It can help you make sure you’re getting the basics right.