Gotcha by the Glass

By / Magazine / November 15th, 2013 / 1

That’s it, I’ve had enough. I’ve had it up to here with restaurants milking wine lovers like proverbial cash cows. Yes, we all know the bottle markups are typically outrageous. But then again, who actually orders by the bottle these days? With drinking-and-driving thresholds now so low that you risk being busted for sniffing a cork, a party of two is typically scared witless by the very concept of ordering a bottle by either the markup or the spectre of The Law. Probably both.

But some savvy restaurateurs have actually managed to turn this potentially profitless scenario to their advantage. They realize that a couple of people sitting down for a meal or maybe just a drink after work are not going to order a bottle, so they “help” the wine lover by offering a by-the-glass selection. Of course being a wine-friendly boîte doesn’t necessarily mean being a wallet-friendly one.

Out with Tidings writer Matthew Sullivan for some grub and a glass, I was charged $13 for five ounces of Muscadet. Which is about what a bottle of the stuff costs. Not to be outdone in the getting-hosed department, Matt cavalierly sprung for not one but two $15 glasses of Cali Sauv Blanc. Wine bill, before tax, more tax, tip, et cetera … $43. For 15 ounces. Probably coulda got a bottle for $43 and had 26 ounces. But I had to drive.

So, let’s have some fun with math. There are 26 ounces (sorry, I’m going old school with imperial here) in a bottle — roughly five five-ounce glasses. Divide the cost (for the restaurant) of the bottle by five, and a glass works out to be $2.60. I paid $13. That’s a 500 per cent markup. Now, a 300 per cent markup on a bottle, though still outrageous, is pretty much par for the course. But a freakin’ 500 per cent markup on a glass? That’s robbery, plain and simple. (As an aside, many a restaurant will purchase wines that aren’t publicly available via a wine agent. Since the average Joe has no idea what the wine costs, the sky’s the limit as far as jacking up the prices goes. Those running the restaurant will claim that purchasing more obscure wines makes their list “more interesting.” However, I have my doubts that this is the real reason.)

In any case, I’d like to think we just happened to pick the most wallet-unfriendly wine-friendly joint in Toronto that night. But this sorry scene has played itself out a number of times, in a number of locations and much to my financial detriment. I mean, is it really that much more costly for the restaurant to bring a glass to the table as it is a bottle? And staff don’t even have to pop a cork or unscrew a cap tableside (which, agreed, can up the degree of difficulty/danger level).

I can understand — or at least grudgingly accede — that an eatery that has installed a sophisticated and expensive wine-preservation system to display the bottle and ensure each subsequently siphoned glass is as fresh as the first might charge more per glass to cover this investment, but how many places have such gizmos?

While on the subject of freshness and being able to see the bottle, what the hell is the deal with simply marching a pre-poured glass to a table? Would it be too difficult to haul the bottle along so I can actually see that what’s being poured is what I chose from the wine list? I suspect this practice ensures that serves don’t accidentally pour a drop over the set amount. You know how much giving customers a drip or two extra ultimately costs the restaurant.

And for God’s sakes, quit it with the oh-so-cute “mini carafes.” You know the ones I’m talking about — those wee darlings that hold no more than a glass but allow you the pleasure (or indignity) of pouring the wine into the actual drinking vessel yourself. Pouring myself five one-ounce servings does not make it feel as though I’m getting more, or make getting screwed out of $15 any easier to take. Plus I still can’t see the freakin’ label to determine if what I’m freakin’ pouring is what I’m supposed to be getting! Ahem.

Restaurateurs can whine all they want about the state of the economy, the lack of clientele and the stinginess of those who do walk through their doors. (Or about writers who are constantly bitching about how they’re all criminals.) But until they stop treating intelligent wine lovers like morons and adopt civilized serving prices and practices, I’ll continue to wine and dine regularly at my personal favourite hangout … my home.


Tod Stewart is the contributing editor at Quench. He's an award-winning Toronto-based wine/spirits/food/travel/lifestyle writer with over 35 years industry experience. He has contributed to newspapers, periodicals, and trade publications and has acted as a consultant to the hospitality industry. No matter what the subject matter, he aims to write an entertaining read. His book, 'Where The Spirits Moved Me' is now available on Amazon and Apple.

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