Do your customers come in and order the second least expensive item on your wine menu again and again? It might mean that they just like your second least expensive wine offering, or it might mean that they don’t feel confident in their wine ordering abilities to upgrade their order. Of course, a digital wine menu can help to educate and inspire your customers’ ordering habits, but here’s something you may not have thought of: hosting a wine dinner. Hosting a wine dinner at your restaurant can be a great boost for your restaurant business during the slow season, and if you set it up right, you can get not only build new regular customers, you can also get those regulars ordering expensive wines with their meals. Here is the step-by-step guide to hosting your restaurant’s wine dinner.
1. Set up a themed dinner menu
Selecting wines to offer at your restaurant’s wine dinner can be a daunting task, but one of the ways to make it easier on yourself is to start by choosing a theme that will cover both the food and the beverages. One way to choose a theme is to focus your offerings on a specific country (such as Italy) or a specific region (Europe). You can also choose more playful themes, such as vampire wines. The theme itself should be based on your customers’ interests. Working with your supplier or distributor reps can also get you added support for your event.
2. Hire a sommelier for the night
Okay, we know you don’t have a sommelier at your restaurant; if you did, you would already be selling more expensive wines. One easy way to get a sommelier to help you out is to ask your wine distributor if they can recommend a sommelier for you. Sometimes the sommelier is available not only for the wine dinner itself, but also to help with every stage of planning your wine dinner. Alternatively, the wine supplier reps may be happy to come in for the night and talk about their wines to your guests.
3. Select your wines
Usually, six wines is a good amount to start with, which makes a good breakdown of reds and whites, with possibilities for sparkling as well. Ask your sommelier for advice, and remember, the idea is to get your customers hooked on some higher-priced wines, so offer selections from all across your wine menu.
4. Plan and design your menu
Remember that theme you picked out a little while ago? This is where that theme is going to come into play. Plan your dinner items to match with your wines (or vice versa) and remember that robust wines go with robust foods and mild wines go with mild foods. Don’t believe that old and tired adage that whites go with fish and chicken and reds go with beef and pork—and make sure your staff understands not to go by that rule either.
Once you’ve planned your menu, you need to print it. You’re a restaurant, you know how to print a menu, so we aren’t going to talk down to you. We are going to remind you though, to use a thick, cream cardstock for your menu, and to print the menu in an elegant yet easy-to-read font. Your guests may already be nervous about their abilities to pronounce the names of foreign wines, make sure that at least the name is easy to read.
5. Advertise like mad
Now that you’ve planned your restaurant’s wine dinner, make sure that everyone knows about it. Consider using tent cards on your tables so that your regulars are informed, and use menu inserts or inserts with the bill, too. Don’t end your advertising efforts there though, put up menus around town, take to social media, and don’t forget to have the event prominently displayed on your website. Remember, repetition breeds appreciation, so the more places you post your wine dinner menu, the more people will read your restaurant’s name. Even though those people may not show up for the wine dinner, this step gives you the opportunity to increase your customer exposure, so be sure to spread the word.
6. Order extra wine glasses
Really, those wine glasses are important. If you’ve decided to offer six wines, that means that each guest will need six separate wine glasses. If you have 50 guests who come to your wine dinner, you will need a minimum of 300 wine glasses—so make sure not to make an embarrassing mistake and prepare your restaurant by ordering a few extra boxes of wine glasses.
7. Take reservations
You have to take reservations for your wine dinner, even if you don’t accept reservations at your restaurant normally. Why is this? Because you need to make sure to have enough food, enough wine and enough wine glasses.
8. Train your staff with clear, step-by-step instructions
Prepare your staff at least a few days in advance. Make sure that your servers and your kitchen staff have copies of the menu, so that your plating and serving is smooth and invisible. Also make sure that your servers memorize the wine list, know the pronunciations, and can answer questions that your customers will likely pose to them. The most common questions that people ask at wine dinners are “Where was this wine made?” and “What type of grapes are in this wine?” Remember that the sommelier you have hired for the evening will be on hand; you might want to have the sommelier lead a small “refresher” course for your wait-staff before the evening begins so that everyone is admirably prepared.
9. Enjoy the limelight
This is the step that every restauranteur forgets. When your long-awaited wine dinner comes around, drop the planning mode you’ve been in and don’t try to micromanage every detail of your customers’ dining experience. Instead, you should relax and enjoy the evening. At the very least, make yourself very visible to your guests. This is a special event and your wine dinner attendees, whether they are restaurant regulars or curious newbies, want to meet the person who organized the whole amazing event.
Are you ready to try hosting a wine dinner? What themes are you thinking might work for your restaurant? Have you already hosted a wine dinner and have some tips to add to this list? Please speak up; we want to know all about it.
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