Skip to main content

How to Create a Wine List for Your Restaurant

Learn how to create a restaurant wine list from restaurateur Paul Bolles-Beaven in this Howcast video.


Interestingly enough, when you're creating a wine list, the first place you should start is looking at the food. Because, wine is a condiment to go with the food. So, you want to make sure that the wine list idea matches the food idea, matches the concept of your whole restaurant. Now, you may not feel comfortable creating your own wine list, in which case, you're going to need to enlist the help of someone who is an experienced and knowledgeable wine professional. You may want to hire someone to be part of your team, like a wine director or sommelier who can choose wines to be listed in your restaurant and can maintain the wine list and the inventory of the wine. And can also control the cost of the wine and the pricing so that your wine portion of your restaurant is profitable.

Another thing that a wine director or sommelier can do for you is to train your staff about wine. One of the most common impediments to wine sales is insecurity. People don't know what they like. They don't know how to order. They don't know what will go with their food. So, when the staff is more confident, they'll sell more wine and the guests will enjoy it more.

One thing to consider is size. Are you a restaurant that really just needs a red, a white, a rosé, and a sparkling wine by the glass and that's plenty for your concept? Or, are you a restaurant that wants a wide selection of wines? Is wine part of your brand and part of your idea for your restaurant? And, are you one of those restaurants that's going to come out to the table with a large book with an extraordinary selection that might even get you some attention or some awards. Each kind of wine list has an investment behind it. And the only way you can have a big wine list, is if you're willing to carry a big inventory, financially. And, you need to have staff to maintain that inventory and wine list and sell it to your guests.

It's important that the wine list match the menu and match the space. It's also important that the menu pricing and the wine pricing are similar. A standard rule-of-thumb is that the check average for dinner is what most people will spend on a bottle of wine for dinner. Now, of course, people buy wine at the low-end and the high-end all over the place. But, on average, they want to spend about what dinner is going to cost them.

Another option is to find a salesperson who's willing to build your wine list. I Don't really recommend this, because what you'll end up with is a list of what that salesperson wants to sell you, not what goes with your food or matches your restaurants or will make your guests happy. But they will try. So you might want to have someone in-house who's knowledgeable, who's on your side, who understands the restaurant, to pick those wines and to list them and sell them to your guests.

When you think about wine pricing, you often think about the markup. How many times is the wine marked up before it's sold? This is what's called your beverage cost. It's an important part of the financial profitability of a restaurant business. To charge more than what the wine costs wholesale. Thankfully, it seems that the era of dramatic wine markups is passing. People will buy more wine and have a better time and ultimately spend more if they feel like the wine provides a great value.

If they feel like there's nothing they want to drink in the range they want to spend, they're going to be unhappy. So, like a menu, it's important to provide great quality and enjoyment in wine at all levels. At the inexpensive level, the medium level, and for the people who really want to splurge or really know wine, special, exquisite wines at the higher end. You want to provide a broad range of prices for people to enjoy with their food. So don't gouge people with wine pricing. Remember, you'll have a happier guest and a bigger profit if they buy more wine, than if they buy one bottle and feel like they're broke.

Popular Categories