When Drew Hendricks was the sommelier at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, we used to argue about why restaurant wine prices were so high. Typically, restaurants mark up wine three to one, which means that $8 bottle of white zinfandel is at least $20 in a restaurant. Or, why it costs as much for one glass of wine in a restaurant as the bottle costs in a liquor store. This holds true for almost every kind of restaurant, whether it’s a neighborhood independent, a national chain or a high-end steakhouse.
Drew always defended that kind of pricing, which made sense. Pappas Bros. was paying his salary. But in his new role, as sommelier at the new downtown Charlie Palmer restaurant (set to open this fall), he has seen the light. "Everywhere we turn we read, ‘The huge markups have got to go. The huge markups have got to go,’ " he told the Observer’s Mark Stuertz.
Hallelujah! Few things stop people from trying wine, from learning about wine, from enjoying wine, more than high restaurant wine prices. If you have never heard of a wine before, why would you pay $50 for a bottle? Or $15 for a glass (especially if one glass costs more than your entree)?
Restaurateurs defend those markups because they see wine differently than they see chicken or lettuce. Buy chicken, and it’s out the door in the next couple of days. Buy wine, and you have to keep it in inventory until it sells, and who knows how long that will be? Of course, if you cut prices — to a two-to-one markup, say — you should increase sales. But I always lose that argument.
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