Tom Doorley's first Irish Times restaurant column of the new year looks forward to a very tough time for the industry in the coming months. There will be many casualties and Doorley "thinks aloud" about some measures that might help restaurants survive.
One aspect he comments specifically on is the price of wine in restaurants. For some time I'd been thinking about writing to him to see if he'd promote the concept of corkage - to give diners more choice and better value - so I've grabbed the opening offered by his column today and sent him the following email:
As we lurch into recession and a New Year bloodbath for restaurants, you've finally decided it’s time to make a sensible comment about the price of restaurant wine: “We don’t want to be reminded, every time we go to the supermarket, how much we are paying for drinking such wines while eating out.”
The league of restaurant reviewers has been happy to report a 300% mark-up regime, to which we diners are expected to add a 10%-15% tip, without any adverse comment on this long-standing rip-off.
Routinely, the most expensive item, by some distance, on my bill is the item which has had the least “added-value” provided by the restaurant. (I dislike having my glass refilled by the waiting staff, I tell them [pleasantly] that I’ll take care of it myself).
Now that you’ve acknowledged the wine mark-up problem, what about starting a campaign to promote a reasonably priced corkage regime? It might help some restaurants get through the next 6 months, it would certainly encourage me to eat out more often (currently once a week with the missus).
Email response received from Tom Doorley on Sunday 4th Jan.
Good point! We (i.e the critics) have been too ready to accept the restaurateurs' arguments about wine. I have tended to object to wine prices when they go beyond the norm but the norm is too bloody much anyway! I have long argued that people should be rewarded for trading up, i.e. by way of a standard mark-up on all but the cheapest wines. In other words, if you pay, say €40 for a bottle in a restaurant this should be pretty well at parity with retail price while €20 could represent a hefty mark-up. Surely we would all be happy, occasionally at least, to buy Volnay rather than Wolf-Blass Yellow Label. And the restaurant would still make more out of the Volnay...
In an ideal world, a standard mark-up should apply to all wines but the cost of running a restaurant in Dublin is so much higher than in any other capital city in the EU (a situation that has to change and change rapidly).
The other thing that gets my goat is the way we tend to be penalised for drinking wine by the glass. Such has been the greed of restaurateurs that if you add up the number of glasses in a bottle it comes to way more than the cost of the actual bottle. I know that there are additional costs but I think the attitude is short-sighted.
Having said all this, I have to say that I'm glad I don't have to run a restaurant for living!
All the best
PS - watch out for a lunch campaign which will, I hope, offer two courses and a glass of decent wine for €20 - and all from very serious restaurants. I'm working like a demon on this at the moment!
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