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Tip: Planning a Restaurant Wine Program

By Michael Flynn, Wine Director, Kinkead’s

The only way a restaurant wine program makes any sense is when it's in harmony with the overall mission of the establishment. Nothing could be sillier than striving for a "Grand Award" within the context of a casual Tex-Mex restaurant, and nothing more pointless than a two-page list in a DiRoNA setting. The program must make sense within the scope of the restaurant's overall theme, and must fit within the practical considerations of storage and display space. These are decisions which must be made at the outset, since it’s a much more daunting task to reorganize a fully-stocked cellar later on.

Wine should always be presented as an enhancement to the enjoyment of an establishment's food and ambiance, and not try to take center stage, since the essential appeal of any restaurant rests in the quality of its kitchen. All things being equal, however, a restaurant's cellar and the quality of its service may indeed tip the scale, so the pursuit of excellence in the area of wine is always in the best interest of the house. Wine may be used to make a statement about the house's commitment to quality, and to this end the visual appeal of the list, and of the various storage areas within the establishment, serves to set the tone for a seriously enjoyable food and wine experience.

Finally, wine is meant for enjoyment, not as a beverage of intimidating stature. Your wine program should be fun, accessible, easy to read, and full of interesting choices. Diversity is the hallmark of a successful operation, from by-the-glass selections and half-bottles to fine sherries, ports, and other sweet wines, through tasting flights-- whatever it takes to engage the interest of your patrons, and compel them to try new things. After a few low-risk, yet successful experiments, even the most reticent consumers may be more willing to put themselves in your professional hands when a truly special bottle is required. Show them you put their interests and tastes first.

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