If you don't tell your customers about your wines, you're not going to sell them. James Aufenast provides 10 ways of marketing your vinous assets.
Don't underplay your marketing! You may have the greatest wine list in the world, but telling people about it is the only way they will feel the quality. Informing customers what they can buy is a major part of having a selection of good bottles. Here are 10 top ways to shout about what's tucked away in your cellar.
Take over the space nominally set for the chef's creations with recommendations of wines to go with the food. It helps the diner through the tricky pairing minefield - but you have to be prepared to offer some of your better wines by the glass, and try to theme it where possible. A Taittinger menu at the Harrow at Bedwyn, Wiltshire, this month matches a glass of Rosé Prestige, Comte or NV with a starter. "This leads to an inclusive price to give a perceived better value," says Harrow owner Roger Jones - plus drinks companies will often provide funding, or offer staff sales incentives.
Make sure there are images of glasses on the site, or pictures of rows of bottles in the cellar. This should be enough to ensure the vinous aspect of your business remains in the front of visitors' minds. Take a look at the opening page of the Square (www.squarerestaurant.org)) where the home page has a photo of a table in the restaurant. When you click on "Wine", a picture of head sommelier Christopher Delalonde appears.
These conjure up naff laminate cards with shouting script and colours of yore, but they don't have to be that way. You can provide simple offers with a menu, or separate leaflets in classy browns and beige that work just as well in suggesting a certain wine to customers, or highlighting a wine-producing region each month - for example, Portugal, South Africa or Australia.
"When people make their buying decisions at the table rather than the bar it's harder to influence them," says Henry John, head of marketing at London wine supplier Bibendum. "You have to think about how the customer is actually operating within your environment. Where are the hot spots? Where should I be merchandising? Tent cards in menus or table talkers are one very good way of marketing your offer."
ON THE WALL
Your surfaces don't have to be covered with offers or drinks lists. In fact, it's better if they're not. Selling the image behind a drink gets people in the drinking mood. Leicester Square basement bar Cork & Bottle, London, has original early 20th posters promoting Champagne that look great and emphasise the glamour of the product.
Owner Don Hewitson says: "Customers must appreciate that we are there to sell terrific individualistic wines - not the average stuff available from the supermarkets and the nearest All Bar One. I reckon the walls are worth their weight in gold for atmosphere and PR!"
According to research by him! Ontrack in May, 17% of people haven't decided what they're going to drink when they approach a bar. So any way of upgrading them by letting them try the product is often going to work - and having been generous in your pouring they are more likely to reciprocate in their spend.
The policy at Amuse Bouche, the mini-chain of London Champagne bars, is to encourage customers to try the less pricey options that are also on show on shelves behind servers. "We train our staff to suggest samples to people so that we can upgrade them," says co-owner Charles Adam.
TALK TO PEOPLE
It sounds daft, but focusing on those people who show an interest yields results - certainly Hamish Anderson is an advocate of this approach. As head sommelier of Tate restaurant, Anderson has built up a reputation from small steps. "If someone comes in and shows an interest in the list, staff are briefed to take their card," he says.
Anderson sends a follow-up eâ'mail thanking people for dining at the Tate, and a list of wines that have just come in. "It's a great way of building rapport, and your name spreads. Word-of-mouth is powerful. It's far better to send a personal eâ'mail to 15 people rather than a round robin to 8,000. You can get caught up in the whole idea of contacting vast numbers of people, but personally I get millions of eâ'mails every day, and unless I really want to read them I won't."
The scattergun approach of leaflets and group eâ'mails obviously works, otherwise restaurants wouldn't do it, but when it comes to wine, the personal touch is more successful.
This is an obvious option, but one that many people rarely do properly, if at all. For every lost gross profit on bottles opened, there is considerable business and goodwill generated in its stead by opening up your range to customers. Charging a nominal fee, say £5, is a way of preventing freeloaders from turning up, and it works even better if the event is kept light-hearted, not a deadly serious examination of each wine's qualities - this isn't a trade tasting after all.
The Old Wheatsheaf in Frimley Green, Surrey, held a tasting with six wines mostly to tempt customers away from their default Pinot Grigio choice, serving up Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, 2007 Valdivieso, and an Austrian GrÁ¼ner Veltliner, 2006. David Laycock, the owner, says: "People who came as a couple are now buying six-plus tickets to future events. It shows just how effective the event was - not just in getting customers interested in our wine menu, but bringing new faces into the pub."
The best way to get people excited - show off your wares in long rows in a dusty room and your customers will love it. And if you haven't got one already, build it! Neleen Strauss, owner of High Timber restaurant just by London's Millennium Bridge, is a strong advocate of grabbing customers and shoving them in her basement space. Her list has a fraction of the 40,000 bottles on offer, so waiters are trained to tell people they have the option of a trip to the cellar. Plus the wine list suggests it, too.
"The physical contact changes everything," says Strauss. "When they're holding a bottle in their hand it's much easier to tell a customer a story or some gossip that's going to make them buy the wine - rather than blathering on with just the list in front of you."
About 90% of diners visit the cellars in the evening, and tend to up-spend on the second visit to the restaurant - having been given the full experience first time around. Strauss also has a habit of bringing back bits of earth and from around the world to slot alongside the bottles. The latest is a large lump of clay from Billecart-Salmon's property in Champagne - which should promote discussion about the soil in the famous sparkling region.
Increasingly common in recent years, these tend to be themed around a particular winemaker or a company's wine and draw in locals keen for a night out with a difference, as well as those who want to rub up against a star winemaker. Top Margaret River producers Keith and Clare Mugford at Moss Wood showed a range of their wines at the one-Michelin-starred Harrow in May, and the tasting was sold out. According to Jones, "Once customers have met a winemaker they stay loyal with this brand. It is also a good bonding exercise with the winemaker, ensuring we get the best treatment on supplies and prices."
Don't be ashamed! If pubs can do it, why not anywhere with room to spare and drink to flow? In fact, wine lends itself to a quiz format - people love to show their knowledge, especially competitive males, and it was on that basis that Gerrie Knoetze, of Vivat Bacchus, ran a "Wine and Wisdom" quiz for the first time this year, "which attracted considerable interest from City customers", he says. The inter-company event mixes general knowledge with wine testers plus a blind tasting. An example question from Vivat Bacchus is "How many bottles do MoÁ«t & Chandon stock on average in its cellars in Epernay?" Answer - 100 million. Now you knew that all along, didn't you?
WHERE CAN I GO FOR ADVICE?
Peter McCombie has devised lists for Fifteen and Roast among many others. A Master of Wine and experienced in spreading the word about major London restaurant lists, McCombie dispenses useful, friendly advice.
Huw Gott and Will Beckett own London's Hawksmoor restaurant, in Spitalfields, and the Green and Red tequila bar, Shoreditch. They have set up a consultancy on all aspects of the bar and restaurant business, including the "Underdog" wine list. Tel: 020 3006 7639
Lulie Halstead is chief executive of Wine Intelligence. She has experience in importing, marketing and retailing wine and her company carries out research and provides marketing advice.
Tel: 020 7089 3890
E-mail:email@example.com Website: www.wineintelligence.com
Your supplier will have experience of working with sommeliers and wine buyers, and in many cases devise wine lists themselves. Chat to them for advice on how to better promote your selection.
Tel: 020 7722 5577
Tel: 020 7720 5350
Tel: 020 8961 4411
MORE WINE ARTICLES
Master sommelier Gerard Basset on how to become a sommelier >>