2009 Texas Sommelier Conference in Dallas: Managing a Beverage Program

My office today.
My office today.

Notes and quotes (in shorthand) from the just-completed “Management of a Beverage Program”

Panel: Richard Betts, MS, Paul Roberts, MS, Larry O’Brien, MS, Greg Harrington, MS, Joe Spellman, MS, Drew Hendricks. Moderated by James Tidwell, MS .

*Sommeliers are considered greedy prima donnas that take your money. In reality, they must be an artist, businessperson, and maintain a low ego. Good qualities of a sommelier include—team player, able to do other restaurant tasks, and be physically strong.

*What not to do in a bad economy: panelists are all concerned about “doing deals.” They don’t mean anything if everyone is doing them. When the economy comes back, the customers will remember and think “when the economy is good, you are screwing us.” So, wine programs need to spin programs differently and readjust their long-term and short-term goals. “Think outside the box, lower the cost of sales and increase your volume.” “Engender good will.” “View this time as an opportunity to buy new or lesser know styles or regions.” “Indies should depend on this.”

*“Food writers hammer restaurateurs and sommeliers on wine prices, but don’t hammer spirit prices.” “We are a business and have to make money.”

*Basics of building a wine program. Have ten familiar “core wines” such as Jordan, Cakebread, Silver Oak, Dom Perignon and sell them at a lower price than your competition. You will look like a hero. Customers are familiar with these wines and will feel more comfortable and consider your list as a good value list.

*Developing lists for small indie restaurant. Balance regions and price points and allow the list be a direct extension of your menu and concept. (Some on the panel felt it was essential to have core brands on the list; others disagreed.) “If core wines are 50%, the list is a bummer.” Write your wine list without any wine first. Pick your types of wines and your price points and then develop and map the list with particular wines. This not only helps control your costs, it pairs your wine list with your business model and menu.

*The economy and overpriced wines. There are overpriced wines all over the world and they are in the process of a worldwide correction in prices. The strong will survive, but there will be blood in the streets for others.

*Wine prices follow Wall Street bonuses. People invest in the Bordeaux market based on Wall Street bonuses.

*What do you do if the customer wants to pay a certain price for a wine? If you “eBay” the wine, the customer will always remember. Don’t do it. Use it as an opportunity to find out what price they want to pay for a wine and then guide them to another selection. Usually the people with the most money play this game. “When the Wall Street guys got their $10 million bonuses, they tried to make deals on wine and took it out on sommeliers.” According to the panel, a lot of Wall Street dropped some “sick money” on wine. Those days are gone.


  • ChefHung

    What an informative session this was, and the panel had a lot of smart, impressive, accomplished guys who were generous and frank in sharing their knowledge. My only quibbles were that (1) I might have preferred that part of the session have been a round-table format in which the panelist talked amongst themselves; I learned a lot just listening to them relate to each other, and (2) too few of the diverse audience’s questions could be addressed, given the length of the session. I could have gone another hour on this seminar.