While good food can draw the crowd in and make them keep coming back, it’s the beverage sales that really bring up the bottomline.
I often wonder how a restaurant (standalone or in a posh hotel) would feel if I walked in, sat and blocked a table for a good part of an hour, maybe more, and only ordered one glass of juice to keep me company. Cafes can make a career out of this, but I am talking more fine dining—like a place with a serious gastronomic angle—just sitting there, whiling my time away, as I gently sip from a glass of juice, effectively blocking a table of four for the entire evening. Would they come and curiously ask? How far would they go to try and (up)sell me some food, or another drink? Would they be utterly fine with me blocking a table on, say, a weekend when the same real estate could have earned them at least 10 times the money had they had a chance to sell it to another more compliant guest? Would they ask me to leave?
While no extreme steps may be involved, they might ask me to shift to a smaller table, but it would certainly be noticed and discussed the next day at the morning briefing—the peculiar guest last night.
Why? Well, because a restaurant is in the business of food and beverage, so if no food is sold, surely, there is much unease aroused, not just professional, but also financial. So why then, by corollary, isn’t the same unease sensed by the management when a table walks in and orders only food and doesn’t even as much as glance at the beverage list?
For, if this is the business of F&B, then food is as important as the beverage. In fact, if you ask any seasoned restaurateur, he/she will tell you that while good food can draw the crowd in and make them keep coming back, it’s the beverage sales that really bring up the bottomline. And yet, most places I visit seem quite content with selling no more than a few shots of whisky or a couple of glasses of wine or maybe some units of juice or mineral water on a shift, which played to a packed house. The servers somewhat knowingly accept the reality that guests don’t offer beverages as often as they’d like to imagine.
There can be many reasons cited for this: Indians traditionally don’t drink with their food is one of them, but how many Indians are following tradition when they dine out really? So clearly, our socio-cultural past is not the residue holding us back. Nor is it the food because, let’s settle this once and for good, pairing possibilities exist in all types of situations and for all forms of cuisines.
Which leaves price as the last variable in the mix and it is this one factor, which is to be put under the magnifying glass. The same guests who on a weekday come and bill a fairly pricey bottle to their corporate expense account will return on the weekend with family and abstain from as much as mineral water! The reason: they are more prudent about spending their own hard-earned money, especially when they feel that the outlet is commanding an exorbitant price for it.
So to cut a long story short (although I feel I am past that point at this word count), outlets need to seriously revisit their beverage pricing policy. Gone are the days of 25% beverage costs when a manager could simply multiply the buying price of a bottle by four and expect it to sell. Today, they have to deploy yield management and smart pricing tactics to achieve success. I know there exist places, which not just sell a lot of wine, but also a lot of quality wine, and this, for me, ups the ‘beverage quotient’ of a place.
If not affordably, good drinks should at least be sensibly priced. We are all ready to pay a premium for a good time, but it shouldn’t come at the cost that feels almost regrettable afterwards.
The writer is a sommelier.