Working for Estate Wines has provided me with ample experience designing menus and wine lists for all types of cafés, bars, clubs and restaurants. I like to think that after three years and a few hundred wine lists, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to do it well. To assist in creating an effective wine list for your venue, I’ve put together a list of best practices, designed with you and your customers in mind.
The below information is based on best ways to display your wine list. If you’d like further help on choosing wines for your venue, then see our article ‘10 Tips to Creating a Good Wine List’.
- Keep it Legible
For menu items, try to use a font size of 10-12pt minimum and avoid having busy images or logos set behind the text. Lights can be dim in many restaurants, you don’t want your customers struggling to read your menu. If you have a particularly elderly clientele base then aim for a minimum of 14pt. Item descriptions can be set smaller, but try for no less than 8 or 9pt. Make sure the text and background colour has a high contrast, and if you’re using bright colours then make sure to consider the colour blind – no red text on green backgrounds!
- Set it Apart
It’s a good idea to keep your drinks list separate to your food menu, especially if your venue offers areas to drink without dining. It’s a good idea to consider a format that allows your drinks list to remain on tables, making it quickly accessible to customers throughout their visit.
- Ditch the Vintage
Unless you’ve got an ultra premium selection of wines, where stating the vintage is a particular selling point, then keep the vintages off your menu. Vintages on low and mid level wines tend to change regularly, so avoid having an out-of-date wine list or the hassle of having to update and reprint. At the very least, you should display the full wine name and region. We usually recommend including a one sentence tasting note – though be sure it sounds appealing, winemakers aren’t always wordsmiths and sometimes their descriptions leave a lot to be desired. Not many people are going to order a wine described as ‘flavours of strawberries mixed with tomato leaf with black olive nuances’.
- Raise A Glass
Offer wines by the glass and by the bottle, and unless you’ve got a large selection of wines, keep it all together – don’t have ‘Wines by the Glass’ in a separate section, folks are likely to miss it or get confused. Just remember to make buying wine buy the bottle more economical. A simple way to set pricing is 4 x Glass Price – 1 = Bottle Price. So if a glass of wine costs $7, the bottle price is $27. Capiche?
- Order, Order, Order
If you’ve got a standard size wine list (no more than 10 or so products in a section), then stick to presenting your wines in price order (cheapest to most expensive). The ‘proper’ order for presenting your wines is from lightest to fullest in taste. While this can be quite subjective and dependant on your range, a general guideline would be:
- White Wine: Sauvignon Blanc > Riesling > Pinot Grigio > Chardonnay
- Red Wine: Pinot Noir > Merlot > Shiraz > Cabernet Sauvignon
If you want to go down this route, then the most comprehensive way to go about it is to pull up a stool, get some glasses and have yourself a little tasting session. Just remember to make notes as you go, because your memory may not be quite as sharp afterward.
- Enough Confucius
There is a trend at the moment for restaurants to include more obscure wine varietals, while I applaud these restaurants, you need to be aware that you are in danger of scaring people off. Let’s face it, there’s a bunch of people who still struggle to pronounce ‘Chardonnay’. If you’re including some new or obscure varietals then make sure to include a short description of the wine, or draw some taste similarities to more popular varietals. If people think they’re going to make a fool of themselves trying to pronounce the varietal, they are unlikely to order it, so if you’ve got varietals difficult to pronounce, then consider giving them a meaningful nickname e.g. Agiorgitiko (St George’s Grape).
- Match ‘Em Up!
While it can be a little time consuming at the start, suggesting wines for different menu items is a good way to up-sell and encourage people to try something out of their comfort zone. This is an especially good way to promote those more obscure varietals just mentioned. If you’re wine matching knowledge is below par, there are a couple of great online resources that can point you in the right direction. This is one of my favourites: http://winefolly.com/review/5-tips-to-perfect-food-and-wine-pairing/
- The Nitty Gritty
If your venue is BYO then have it clearly marked with the price per bottle or per person. And include any relevant conditions i.e. ‘BYO Wine Only’.