Spend Less, Drink Better

Wine by the glass in a restaurant

Two recent surveys provide an interesting glimpse into current restaurant trends.

According to MillerPulse, a monthly survey conducted jointly by Nation’s Restaurant News and Larry Miller (a restaurant securities analyst), there’s good news and bad news: restaurant traffic is up, but check average is down. On the face of it, this seems more than logical. Consumers are concerned about rising gas prices and the cost of living in general, but they still want to go out, so many of them are monitoring their restaurant spending carefully.

The second survey is more interesting. It was compiled by Ink Foundry, a marketing firm, and commissioned by Napa Technology, makers of the WineStation (a high-tech wine preservation and dispensing system). Ink Foundry surveyed more than 150 sommeliers, wine directors and beverage managers about the current drinking habits of their customers.

Over 90% of them reported that consumers are more knowledgeable and sophisticated than they were four years ago, and demand more variety in wine by the glass programs. This is not surprising, considering the impact of the Internet. Wine drinkers have access to more information, and are less dependent on critics than ever before. Instead, they tend to use interactive websites to obtain opinions on wine from other consumers like themselves.

The other major trend is the willingness of restaurant customers to splurge on a premium glass of wine. Glass sales have increased, mostly at the expense of bottle sales, but 73% of the public said they would be willing to spend more than $20 on a glass of something rare or unusual—provided, of course, that the product has been kept fresh by a system such as WineStation. This allows customers to indulge themselves with a glass of exotic wine without paying for the entire bottle, and thus keep their overall costs under control.

Good news? People in the industry think so, since consumers are less likely to revert to generic wine once they’ve tried something exceptional. When levels of disposable income increase once again, all signs point to another wine boom, but one that will probably be oriented more on quality than on status or labels.

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