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Why Most Wine Lists Are Poor & Five Things You Can Do About It

Posted on May 30, 2007

By Michael Green

Most hotel and conference center wine programs are a study in vinous mediocrity. Commercially acceptable at best, though if you factor in typos, missing vintages, outrageous markups, lack of wine knowledge and poor wine service you quickly get to mediocre.

Remember what I spoke about in my last posting ― “Wine and Food: The Perfect Event Partner.” Think of food and wine as your marketing partner; it can brand your event.

Five Things You Can Do to Stack the Bottles in Your Favor:

1. Get the Wine List WELL in Advance. This will give you an idea of what you have to work with and how committed the venue is to a wine program. As you peruse the list, ask yourself the following: Does the list feature both prolific and boutique selections, are vintages listed (yes, vintage can make a difference), is the markup over 300%? Do any of the selections excite you? Does the sales or banquet manager know anything about wine (and wine and food pairing) beyond what they are trying to sell?

2. Ask For the REAL Wine List. Often the venue will present you with the banquet wine list, which features “easy” to get selections. These limited selections are high-volume products that are often easy for the hotel to get on a regular basis. Not a bad thing necessarily but can be limiting. Ask for the full wine list – the list that is used for the general hotel/hotel restaurant. This will often be more global, and more well-rounded.

3. Ask to Speak with the “Wine Guy.” Involve the beverage director/sommelier or food and beverage director when considering selections. If they know you are serious about using wine and beverage to help brand your event, they might special order something for you (often at a lower markup) since the venue does not need to hold onto extra inventory.

4. NEGOTIATE! If you know the markups seem unfair, negotiate. If you are planning many events on-site, they will (most probably) be willing to work with you.

5. B.Y.O. It might be less expensive and more of a branding/marketing opportunity to bring in your own wines. Even with a corkage fee of $10-$20 per bottle you might get a better-quality wine for the money. Source that special wine yourself.

Wine: A powerful event tool to make your event even more, well… eventful!


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Leslie Zeck

For our special events, we actually use a wine broker to purchase good, quality wines at lower cost than we would pay our caterers. I share the menu with the wine broker who matches the wines. I agree that despite the minimal corkage fee, we get a better quality of drinking wine for our event attendees!

Jay Selman

Great tips! BTW, you can also try to negotiate the corkage fee. Many times, I have seen the fee waived.

Make suggestions on wines they should offer if they are not on the list.

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