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Many restaurant customers dread the thought of dealing with a wine list. To them, it's right there with haggling with a car salesman or selecting a fine piece of jewelry. Deep down people wonder if they are really getting a good buy.
In a restaurant situation, customers may bypass "the list" by simply asking the server for a glass of Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. While that's better than asking and settling for a glass of white or red, this is not the way to get the best bang for your buck in a restaurant.
The best way to get a good wine value at a restaurant is to become an educated consumer. You need to know a little about how restaurateurs price wines on the wine list. In a restaurant, expect to pay two to two and a half times the restaurateur's cost for a bottle of wine; in a hotel's restaurant the mark-up is easily three or more times the hotel's cost.
Very often a restaurateur will use a sliding scale pricing strategy by which the less expensive wines carry a higher mark-up and the most expensive bottles take a more modest mark-up. For example, if a restaurateur pays $6 for a bottle of wine, it could land on the wine list at anywhere from $15 to $18. A wine that costs $60 and is widely available, on the other hand, will be priced using the lower end of the scale, or about $120. It's not unusual for some restaurateurs to be even more gentle with the markup in order to move the wine for the sake of cash flow. After all, restaurateurs like to say, "You can't take percentages to the bank!"
Here are six strategies you can use to get the best wine for your money in a restaurant:
Felicia M. Sherbert is a wineanswers.com contributor and the author of The Unofficial Guide to Selecting Wine, winner of the 2000 Georges Duboeuf "Book of the Year" Award (Hungry Minds, Inc.). She is a former senior editor at M. Shanken Communications, publisher of Wine Spectator, Food Arts, and Market Watch. When she is not writing, Felicia conducts private and corporate wine seminars.