SOUR GRAPES: The cost of wine can be tough to swallow says Sour Grapes columnist, Robert Rees.
I was at a dinner recently when one of the guests behind us had a choking fit. Given that my idea of First Aid is a medicinal dry martini with a twist, I glanced around frantically for a barman with the hope that he could sort me out and would also know the manoeuvre that’s in every B Grade chick flick. (You know, the type of movie where The Neurosurgeon and Part-Time Astrophysicist Blonde lives happily ever after with The Labrador-Owning Street Artist after preventing him from choking on his cheeseburger – whilst also saving the world from a meteor. All in a 90 minutes so painful, that I would rather be gelded than live through it a second time.)
Anyway, back to the restaurant.
An eager waiter took control of the scene and rushed to the table without my having to tackle the mixologist. It turns out that the guest wasn’t actually choking on his wok-flashed organic broccoli from the Southern Highlands – but merely reacting to the prices on the wine list.
I understand that restaurants need to pay their bills and wines have to be marked up for profit, but sometimes the margins are so bad they make Bernie Madoff look like Santa Claus. Things always seem to come apart when a prospective diner either buys a lot of wine or doesn’t mind checking prices on his App before deciding on what to order.
It turns out that I knew the offending sommelier from way back. After all the drama I felt the evening demanded a martini anyway to calm my shattered nerves, and so we caught up after service and discussed the issues of wine lists and rebellious clients.
It seems that the old adage still remains that novice clients will order the second or third cheapest listing. They don’t want to appear too cheap – but also feel that whatever is higher is going to cost too much. My mate says that it will take nothing short of the Dance of the Seven Veils to coax more than $150 out of the average diner for a bottle of hooch. Apparently there just aren’t enough Russian Oligarchs to go around these days since the oil price went south and everybody else is left getting excited about whatever Elon Musk is going to do next.
I eventually left my mate to do his end-of-night staff wrap-up. With his voice ringing high into the night about how to do the Heimlich Manoeuvre next time somebody had an issue with wine prices, I felt relieved and privileged that I was in the discount wholesale end of the wine business instead of the fancy pants side of town.
Robert Rees runs Sales and Marketing for wineexchangeasia.com. Originally South African, he lived in Sydney for a decade before moving to Singapore. (Views expressed do not reflect the views of the company).