Picture the scene. You’ve just turned up to a restaurant you’ve fancied for ages. You’ve had your coat taken, you’ve been seated, and you’ve been presented with the menus. The Sommelier saunters over and presents you with the wine list and you’re thinking “Go on then why not?!” and then you look at the contents…
Initially there’s a frown as you notice the price of the first wine you see. “No bother” you think, as there’ll be plenty more wines to choose from and surely some that are in your price bracket, right? But there aren’t. That frown quickly turns to concern and then you notice it out of the corner of your eye. A tiny little bit of plastic resembling a bank card is on the floor and moving, quickly. You realise that it resembles your bank card, so you check your wallet or purse instinctively and notice your card isn’t there, it’s gone. Turning back, you see that the little shit has sprouted legs and buggered off, making for the exit shouting “NOPE!” as it disappears out of the door. Like you, it’s realised that you’re potentially about to pay over the odds for a bottle of wine that you might not even enjoy, and it’s having none of it!
It’s a relatively common gripe of wine drinkers across the world that restaurant mark ups for wine can be scandalous. I’ve looked at the wine lists in several restaurants and thought that bottles are too steep for me and gone nowhere near them. At times I’ve even not bothered and stuck to beer instead. This is now worse since I’ve started taking an active interest in wine as I’ve spotted bottles on the menu that I’ve purchased before and they cost as much as three times what they retail at.
The advent of websites and apps such as Vivino and Wine-searcher now mean that it is easier than ever to compare the retail and restaurant price of a bottle of wine. This gives us the opportunity to determine whether we’re getting value for money and whether a restaurant is taking us for a ride.
I’m pretty sure that most, if not all of us do expect to pay more for a bottle of wine when we visit a restaurant but how much extra should we be paying for a bottle? There are plenty of horror stories on the Internet about the cost of restaurant wines (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-27998052) and whilst doing my research for this article, I popped a bollock when I discovered that it wasn’t uncommon for restaurant mark ups to be north of 300%, particularly in London.
So, given my horror, I decided to do a little digging to see what some higher end restaurants & hotels in Liverpool and the Wirral charge for their wines and how they stand up to their respective retail prices. I won’t name the restaurants here though I may give away some clues. I will say that I have visited and had pleasurable experiences in two of them with the third on my wish list. I looked at 5 wines in each restaurant/hotel, two red, two white and one sparkling and I also looked at the cheapest wine by the glass too. Some of the highlights are below. Surely, we’re not going to see similar percentages, are we?
I’ve got fond memories of this restaurant as it’s where I studied for my WSET level 2 and the head Sommelier knows her stuff. Her wine list is excellent too but how does it fare when compared to the retail price of the wines…?
The first wine that stood out was a Chateau Caronne Ste. Gemme Haut-Medoc 2010. It’s a decent little drop of wine that I’d had before, and it was on the wine list at £78. I almost baulked. I’d paid around £20 for the 2015 vintage in Majestic a couple of years back so it was a mark-up just shy of 300%. It also averages at £18.98 on Vivino too. Now I’ll caveat this by saying it was the 2010 on offer and after doing some digging, I couldn’t find the 2010 retailing anywhere apart from Wine Searcher who was offering 12 bottles at £16.67 per bottle exc. sales tax and it was the highest percentage mark-up that this restaurant had of the wines I checked. Plus, you’ve got to factor in how well a Bordeaux left-bank red will age so this will also affect the price.
Their lowest mark-up was for a Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Grand Cru, Les Clos, 2014 which they were offering at £118. I managed to find the exact same vintage ready to purchase on Wine-Searcher for £61 so the mark up came in at 91%. Also, the average mark-up percentage for this restaurant was 160%, not bad…..but how will it compare to the rest?
I scoped out the cheapest white and red wine by the glass and the mark ups are similar. A 125ml of Chateau Les Tuileries Entres-Deux-Mers 2018 will set you back £4.95 in the restaurant and I managed to find it to buy via Vivino for £9.99.
A 125ml glass of Chateau Haut-Philippon Bordeaux 2018 was the same price and I managed to find it to buy via Vivino for £9.49 so two glasses of each bottle were the same as the retail price. You could only buy the glasses in 125ml size, but this restaurant did offer Coravin glasses on much higher quality whites and reds which was good to see.
I’ve visited this restaurant on several occasions and had pleasurable experiences each time. I have been disappointed by the choice on their wine list in the past (a Pinot-Noir from every region on the planet was a particularly irksome) but it has recently been revamped and there are some proper quality bottles on offer.
The first wine that stood out at the second restaurant was Tiganello Antinori 2014. I’ve had this wine before, and it is an absolute cracker…but it should be when it retails at £84.95 via Vivino. In the restaurant it came in at £126 so the mark-up was a mere 48%, a good start.
The highest mark-up was for a Moko Black 2018 Sauvignon Blanc which was £32 on the menu. Again, not too bad….until I realised that the exact same bottle cost £9.30 ready to buy via Vivino, a mark-up of 244%! The average mark up for this restaurant was 171% though it was saved by the Tiganello or it would have been much higher.
I was pleased to see a greater choice of sizes for the wines by the glass. A 175ml glass of the Fauno Blanco will set you back £5.75 but I found the full bottle ready to buy for £7.15 via Vivino. The Murviedro Fauno Tinto was £6 to buy and cost the exact same price for the bottle via Vivino.
Basically, you can buy over four times the amount if you buy it at retail price and if we factor in the cost of purchasing this wine wholesale then a 175ml glass is likely paying for an entire bottle and then some…ouch!!
At the time of writing I’m yet to visit this restaurant. It’s new to Liverpool and it gets rave reviews so I’m looking forward to going. It has a decent little wine list too, so I enjoyed having a nose whilst doing my research.
Their lowest mark-up was with a Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé which they were selling at £85 for the bottle. I found the same bottle was selling on Waitrose for £60 which presented a mark-up of a mere 41%, the lowest mark up of all the wines I researched. Good start restaurant three…
The highest mark-up I found was with an El Coto Rioja Reserva, Coto De Imaz. This was on the wine menu for £39 and I managed to find it via Vivino retailing at £13.45. This presented a mark-up of 189%. I’ve had the Coto De Imaz before as well and I thought it was punching above its weight so the mark up should be viewed at around 100%.
The average mark-up percentage for this restaurant was 130%, the lowest of the three by a good margin! Hats off to the Sommelier too as the wine list looked fab and the first thing I’ll do after I’ve posted this article is book into this restaurant at the weekend…
Their cheapest wines by the glass was intriguing. A 125ml of the Madregale Bianco 2017 will cost £3.50 a glass and the cheapest I was able to find by the bottle was for £8.29 on Wine-Searcher so you’re getting much better bang for your buck here too. It was no different for the red as a 125ml glass of Madregale Rosso was also £3.50 and cost £8.24 on Wine-Searcher. Bravo restaurant three!
Ok, so we’ve had a look at three decent restaurants in Liverpool City Centre, now it’s on to the hotel restaurants. When doing my research for this article I noted that several other articles pour scorn on hotel restaurant mark ups (see the link above) and I wanted to see if this was echoed in Liverpool and on the Wirral. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised….
Hotel Restaurant One
The first of the two hotel restaurants I’ll cover is based in Liverpool City Centre is a 4-star hotel where a typical room might set you back around £100 a night. I was at a wedding here many moons ago and the staff managed to cork a Jeroboam of champagne and I laughed my bollocks off. I’m not sure whether they were able to get the cork out but hopefully they did! The menu for the restaurant was straightforward but no vintages were given for any of the wine which means that we must take this mark ups with a pinch of salt.
Their highest mark-up was for a Flagstone, Word of Mouth Viognier. This was priced at £34.45 on the menu but I managed to find it to buy right now on Vivino for £11.60 which represented a mark-up of 196%. Not great but not Andy Murray’s level of “excellent value”.
Their lowest mark-up was for a bottle of Moet & Chandon which was priced at £65.45 on the menu. I found the same bottle on Vivino ready to buy for £34.50 which represented a mark-up of 89%.
Wines by the glass were a mixed bag. A 175ml glass of Bespoke Chenin Blanc cost £5.60 and I was able to buy the bottle off Vivino for £7.02. It is likely a single glass of this stuff is paying for the bottle at wholesale. Their cheapest red was a 175ml glass of Short Mile Bay Shiraz for £6.00 but I couldn’t find the bottle any cheaper than £9.20 via Vivino.
The average mark-up per bottle for this hotel restaurant was 146% so it was smack bang in the middle of the averages I’d researched so far. I will point out, however, that their wine list was the weakest of all the places I researched for this article.
Hotel Restaurant Two
The final restaurant on my little virtual journey is based in a 5-star hotel on the Wirral. Understandably, it gets rave reviews and is quite a small hotel which I prefer. I must congratulate the Sommelier there too because what a bloody wine list you have compiled. I literally had to wipe the drool away from my keyboard after staring longingly at the selection on offer. But was it a rip off or good value money? Well we’ll see….
Their highest mark-up was for one of the cheapest wines you could buy by the bottle. It was a Pactio Fortuna 2014 Super Tuscan which came in at £33. I managed to find the 2015 vintage on Wine-Searcher for £11.89 which represented a 177% mark up. If you find yourself in Florence however, you will find this wine to buy for £5.94 a bottle exc. sales tax (in Nettari Etruschi)! If we take this price, then the mark up is 455%! In the interests of fairness though, we will stick to the 177%.
The lowest mark-up was for an Ayala Brut Majeur which was priced at £55 on the menu but could be found for £27.50 via Vivino. This represented a mark-up of 100%, the highest of all the “lowest” mark ups I found.
I could not find a single wine by the glass at all, however. I had a good scour on the website but there simply wasn’t a drinks menu. Either I’m being an idiot (likely) or they haven’t uploaded one.
The average mark up at this hotel restaurant was also 146% so I wonder if both Sommelier’s follow a formula. Either way, it was much lower than what I had expected for hotels.
Conclusions and Tips
So, there we have it. We can conclude from my research that if you’re looking for a bit of fine dining in Liverpool then expect to see an increase anywhere between 130-171% vs retail price for a bottle of wine. Thankfully, this is far south of the 300% extra that you’re likely to pay in some London restaurants, but it is still a significant price increase and one that many diners will find prohibitive. We’ve also not factored in that all the restaurants above will buy their wine wholesale so the margins per bottle are going to be higher because I’ve only compared them vs standard retail price.
But why do restaurants inflate their wine prices so much? Why should we sit down at a restaurant and must feel like we need to re-mortgage our house every time we buy a bottle of wine? Well, there are several reasons…
The main reason boils down to money. Restaurants need to inflate their wine prices to specific margins so that they can cover their overheads and return a profit. If you factor in rent, staff wages, glasses and glass breakage, the cost of washing the glasses, spoiled bottles, printing and reprinting the menus, toiletries, cutlery, staff training etc. to name a few then it becomes clear that restaurants are actually relying heavily on these margins to keep them afloat.
We can also factor in your experience at the restaurant. If their Sommelier has their act together and has a cracking wine list coupled with expert knowledge, then they are more likely to be able to make you feel like you’re the only mug whose ever bought a bottle of wine with them. For me admittedly, this increase in cost can be worth it because I get to feel important, I get paid lip service (“Oh you know so much about wine Mr Kelly, would you like my job?!”) and most importantly, I get to discover new wine.
If you’re likely to be heading out to indulge in some fine dining any time soon then you’ve got a few options open to you that might save you a bit of money and enable you to enjoy your dining experience more:
Finally, I’m going to give a shout out to Wreckfish who came top of this list. They had the lowest single mark up at 41% and the lowest average mark up at 130%. They deserve extra credit for being consistently good (I’ve even heard rave reviews about them on the bloody bus coming home from work) and their wine list is pretty good too. I especially loved the when it’s gone it’s gone section as there were a couple of crackers listed in there. I’ve not been yet but I’ll be paying them a visit. Many thanks for taking the time to read this article, I hope you found it useful and as always, please drink responsibly.