How To Sell The Bottle

There really is no greater subtle statement of status in a restaurant than having a great bottle of wine on your table.  The surrounding tables all take notice.  It is a declaration of class and announces to the dining room that you can afford the finer things in life.  It is a reward.  It is the stuff of memories.  It is romantic.  It is professional.  It tells the world you mean business.

It is also expensive.  It is no secret that restaurant’s markup on wine is often absurdly high.  While more expensive bottles have lower markup, they still can be intimidating to guests.  Guests want all of the perceptions in the first paragraph, but between the price, uncertainty about the wine list, and the amount of wine they may be fearful of the commitment.  This often times leads them to order only a glass at a time.  As a server, part of your job is to make people comfortable ordering what they want to order.  The guests want the bottle.  Your job is to make them comfortable with the purchase by addressing any of the three issues listed above that they might have.

There are two things you must know in order to make this work:

-You must know what specific bottle of each varietal you want to sell.

-You must know the point where a bottle becomes cheaper than individual glasses.  This is generally 3 glasses.

Here is my three-step method to moving guests from the glass to the bottle.

Step One: Offer a recommendation.  The key here is to make one glass out of the glasses you offer in a specific varietal sound outstanding.  I addressed how to do this in a previous post. If they have a wine selected, either praise it or wait for the next glass to be ordered.  If another person at the table orders a similar glass, you have the option of making it sound better than the first glass ordered.  If you praised the first glass, you may want to say nothing about the second.  The key is to encourage order envy.  The person ordering the glass you didn’t praise will question their order immediately.  This reassures people about their decision on the wine list or confirms their fears.

Step Two: The key here is to sound completely relaxed.  This step is based upon the perception you are looking out for their best interest.  Which is exactly what you are doing, but you have to avoid coming off as a salesman.  This is where you deliver the line, “Just to be safe, are either of you considering a second glass of wine?”  If the answer is not an immediate “no”, follow up with this statement.  “The only reason I ask is because if you have three glasses total you have more than paid for the bottle, but receive less wine.”  This should be enough to put them over the top, but follow up with the closing statement.  “I always like to check because I can not retroactively give you the bottle discount.”  This turns the fears of price and ammount of wine around by making the bottle the better value.  Far more often than not, you have sold a bottle of wine.

Step Three: This is the step even great servers often overlook.  Once they have agreed to a bottle, you usually have a whole variety of other options to consider that are only available by the bottle.  The key here is not pressing your luck.  If you feel the guests are receptive to suggestions and pleased at your offer of a bottle, consider whether or not there is a bottle they might enjoy more.  This does not mean going for the most expensive bottle.  If you know there is a bottle on your wine list that is better than the selections by the glass in the same price range, suggest it.  The key here is to be quick and knowledgeable.  Present a clear reason why the bottle is superior.  You are sticking your neck out here, you must have confidence your recommendation is correct.

My tips on presenting and serving a bottle of wine can be found here.

These three steps work for me about 90% of the time.  When you return to the table, offer everyone a glass.  If one or two extra guests want a taste, you will have a second bottle out before the entrees.  The primary benefit here is not that you have sold more wine, but that you have altered the table’s experience.  This has gone from a glass of wine with dinner to a memorable dining experience.  You allow them all the positive feelings mentioned in the first paragraph.  This makes the dinner more significant and special.  Understanding the power of a bottle on the table is the key to unlocking an exceptional dining experience.

As for me, with my new post up early it is time to spend the rest of my day off doing this.

Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips is the new book from the author of The Hospitality Formula Network.  It contains the 52 essential skills of the exceptional server.  This book teaches the philosophy to turn average service into an exceptional guest experience that will rapidly increase your tips.  This book shows how you can provide better customer service and dramatically improve your tips.  Enter the coupon code “squared” to receive 20% off your copy today.

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  1. The Index « Tips on improving your Tips - September 9, 2010

    […] How To Sell The Bottle […]

  2. The Lost Art Of Suggestive Selling « Tips on improving your Tips - November 18, 2010

    […] How To Sell The Bottle […]

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