I’m guessing that poring over census data doesn’t sound like a good time to a lot of people. But if you aren’t considering the demographics of your community at all when planning your wine list, then you are likely losing money.
Recently, I was visiting family in a well off New Jersey suburb of Manhattan. A town whose recent census information says that the average household income is $125,140, average home price is $627,890, and whose average monthly rent is $1500/month. A town with many families, restaurants, and a population who eats out frequently.
Yet that night at a tasty Italian restaurant, I was surprised to see a wine list that was uninspired and designed with seemingly no thought to its location, clientele or cuisine. Their wine list consisted of a lot of big brand names at affordable prices, with a separate “reserve” list for fancy pants names with overpriced prices. There is a world of wine in between those two options, and they’re missing out on those dollars. (Not to mention most diners aren’t ever going to ask for this separate list.)
Curating your wine list obviously has to take a lot of factors into consideration, and should always be led by the food, but it’s also important to take a look at the demographics of your community and take those details into consideration as well.
Start by looking up the most recent census data for the city, town or neighborhood where your restaurant is located. Find out data on average income and home prices, and if you have a lot of families, young couples, or students. These details can tell you a lot about the spending habits of your community. If your restaurant is in a town with a high household income, these guests may be willing to pay a bit more for their wine. While they may not want to splurge on something that’s over $200 on their regular Friday night out, it’s quite likely they’d pay more for a nicer bottle of wine than the $40 mass market options. If you don’t have any selections in between, you are missing out on profits.
Do some research on your own by visiting a local wine shop and seeing what’s on their shelves. Chat with the owner about what people are buying. In this same New Jersey town where I spotted this boring wine list, there were multiple wine shops with extensive selections of Italian wine from the Piedmont. People in this town clearly have a taste for Barolo and Barbaresco, yet with none on a wine list, they’re ordering a cheap Chianti. Also, ask your bartenders to chat with your regulars about what they’d like to be ordering. You might be surprised by what they have to say.
Obviously, you want to have wine that pairs well with your menu. Beyond that, you also should have a list that reflects why people are coming to your restaurant. If you’re an Italian restaurant, the Italian wine section of your list should really shine. People are coming there for an Italian meal, give them a wide range of Italian options to compliment the experience. Within this category, offer different types of grapes, regions and price points. Also, don’t forget to offer interesting by the glass options.
You don’t need to be a data expert to gain a bit more insight into your community by looking at a little bit of data. With some researching and some tweaking to your list, you can add profits to your bottom line and give your diners a more memorable experience.