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Boston restaurants with low wine markups?

I did a bit for Boston's Weekly Dig a couple of weeks back on places whose food I like and that I think offer wines at pretty reasonable markups, focusing on fairly budget-friendly wines offered at some old favorites of mine: Silvertone, Taberna de Haro, Les Zygomates.

But I wonder what other Hounds think: what restaurants are the real bargain purveyors of wine in town, and not just in the budget price range?

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  1. I don't know about mark-ups / margins, but I have been to Bin 26 twice now and I do feel like their (extensive) wine list has a wonderful range of prices and their tasting/glass prices and array of options are great.

    1. lol, ok, i'll bite, but this is only a list of places in which i've actually dined. more than once. and it's late, so maybe i'll remember more later... ;)

      in cambridge, central kitchen, blue room and rendez-vous. over here, including the ones above, troquet, pigalle, eastern standard, franklin cafe, bouchee, sel de la terre, legal seafood, anthony's pier 4 (kinda). often these places have mark-ups of less than 2x. in the case of pier 4, they have some old gems bought long ago they simply just don't raise the price, and franklin and silvertone still only tack on about $10 or $15 on top of their cost.

      many of these menus have wines from areas or makers off the beaten path. a common mistake diners make is being afraid to ask about the list. these restaurants all are wine-centric and their staffs are well trained. the regions or varietals might be unfamiliar, but that often makes for a better value. ASK.

      1. I saw that this discussion started under the Radius thread.

        The last time I went to Radius I had a 2001 Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile Riesling. Incredible wine. Radius charged $85. I think the retail price is usually around $40 - $50 (the 2001 is more expensive than other years). That is totally inline with normal markups.

        The worst markups I've seen are at the Butcher Shop and at Rialto (before the change)---they charged $40 for a bottle of Blackstone Merlot (4x).

        I think Ten Tables has great prices, though on the lower end. EVOO had decent prices, same goes for the Blue Room. Teatro also does pretty well, especially considering the location and the owners.

        7 Replies
        1. re: DoubleMan

          retail vs. restaurant prices are apples and oranges.

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            I guess I'm not sure I understand this comment: how are retail vs restaurant prices apples and oranges? There's a wholesale price, a retail price (or range, since prices vary widely by outlet), and a restaurant price.

            Since consumers don't have access to the wholesale prices, nor can factor in the side deals that restaurant wine buyers can negotiate with wholesalers, what other basis might they use to determine whether a restaurant is marking up their wines modestly or egregiously?

            1. re: MC Slim JB

              i was hasty with that remark. but retailers also make deals, usually based on quantity orders. they have the storage space restaurants simply do not. prices go down significantly on 3-5-10 case drops. they can also buy an assortment from one importer to add up for multi-case deals. stores with several outlets, like blanchard's, get very significant discounts this way, and often pay much less than do on-premise accounts.

              that trimbach (yes, a stunner, i agree) was available on pre-arrival (a buyer guarantees purchase before the wine is released) at around $25, and for less than that if you bought multiple cases. of course no way of telling if either the store or radius took advantage of that.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                I understand that different companies can get vastly different deals on wine that may or may not be reflected in their offering price. The actual % markup a restaurant charges above what they paid for me doesn't really matter to me as much as the % markup over the price that I can purchase the wine at.

                I think this thread isn't about the actual markup the restaurant charges but rather the difference between the restaurant price and the regularly available retail price.

                1. re: DoubleMan

                  actualy the op's question was about restaurants' mark-ups. but if you feel like this is a good rule for you, fair enough.

              2. re: MC Slim JB

                At some of these places e.g. Troquet, it might be more relevant to compare the prices of certain parts of their winelist to auction rather than wholesale or retail prices, as some of those wines (e.g. Screaming Eagle Cabs, DRC La Tache, Chateau Margaux etc...) of the appropriate vintage aren't easily found at wholesale or retail outlets.

            2. re: DoubleMan

              Speaking of Trimbach, I remember seeing a '97 Clos St Hune Riesling on the Blue Room winelist for under $200, ditto Bouchee.

            3. Troquet has some reasonable markups..also great at food/wine pairings.

              1. I second that silvertones fits the bill. The Franklin does a great job too with keep the list very good and very inexpensive.

                1. I'll second Troquet and, being only an amateur wino I'm a little hesitant to throw my own darkhorse into this race, but DBar's wine list, while certainly not of Troquet caliber, isn't too shabby either on price point or quality.

                  1. Helmand is spectacular in this regard.

                    1. The Navy Yard Bistro in Charlestown has a great selection of wines in the $25 - $40 category; from what I know, their mark-ups seem very reasonable.

                      1. Masona Grill in West Roxbury has a well chosen, affordable wine list

                        1. I was at Tartufo in Newton a few months ago and had a Ruffino Chianti Classico (Reserva Ducale 2002), for which they charged only $48. This stuff is $28 at Marty's, to my mind that's a very reasonable restaurant markup!

                          1. Giacomo's in the South End- the sangiovese is a steal at $19 for the bottle. Grotto has 50 wines under $50- I can't recall what I thought about the markup though.

                            1. Ivy has a wine list where all of the bottles are $24 or $26. If you know what to look for you can get a very nice wine- as they would lose $$ on the higher end wines, but make up for it in the lower.

                              RE 'markup'- rule of thumb for restaurants, at least wines by the glass or house pours- is that the bottle is paid for in the first pour. Obv. there are margins within this rule- specials etc...
                              I don't understand why anyone would compare retail price to restaurant price. Food runs at an average cost of 33% while a well managed bar runs at 20%- cost v revenue (and yes, that's revenue NOT profit) While many restaurants take a hit on food, most make thier money in liquor sales. This money goes towards paying the employees and all costs invloved in the running of the restaurant- like electricity, rent and insurance

                              If you want to get the bottle for retail then buy it and drink it at home!

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: foodforthought.m

                                Ivy downtown has a nice list and every bottle is $26.00, also Francesca's in Newton has a very nice list that is affordable. Good Luck!!

                                1. re: Northstar22

                                  Without getting into the qualities of the wine themselves, every wine I've had there has been served SO off-temperature as to be off-putting. A red must have been at at least 75 degrees and white was at the most low 40s. My last trip (I think) there I needed a chiller for the red or it would have been undrinkable, and even then it was still pretty yeasty. Just because it's $26 a bottle doesn't make it a bargain.

                                2. re: foodforthought.m

                                  i find wine in restaurants overpriced, but supply and demand dictates these things. i think the problem is on the demand side: americans don't drink as much wine with their meals as europeans. this results in reduced economies of scale for restaurants. That is, the more customers drink wine, the more a restaurant can spread among them its costs of researching wines, buying and storing them, educating servers, maintaining glasses, etc.

                                  so come on america, let's drink like the italians!

                                  1. re: fenian

                                    I think you're confused on the supply and demand relationship.

                                  2. re: foodforthought.m

                                    The "drink it at home" attitude is what hurts restaurants in the long run. If I follow that attitude, then I will be eating out far less often. The solution is a corkage fee, which my favorite restaurants in NH allow. Often, the best restaurant, for me, anyway, is one that charges a reasonable fee for the privilege of bringing in wine that restaurants cannot or will not provide. What is reasonable- it depends on the restaurant, but anywhere from $20, up to the price of the cheapest wine on the list, would be fair game. Somehow the wages of servers, line cooks, etc, do not justify the markup on wines in certain Boston restaurants.

                                    IMO. there is no fairer place to have rare, unavailable, well served wines than Troquet.

                                    1. re: aadesmd

                                      you're a bit pre-emptive with your solution, i.e. corkage fee. in boston it's against the law for guests to bring their own wine. if a restaurant allows you to do so, it could lose its license.

                                      unfortunately the cost of running a boston restaurant is exorbitant, and the wine and liquor program is usually what keeps a place afloat.

                                      i heartily concur about troquet.

                                    2. re: foodforthought.m

                                      The reason to compare retail price with restaurant price is simple: it's about the only way I can think of to understand how much a restaurant is marking up its wines. If you have a better method to gauge this (without being an industry insider), please let me know.

                                      Just don't confuse this comparison with some meathead notion that "all restaurants rip you off, you can do it cheaper at home." Please. I think most people who take the trouble to post here understand that restaurants aren't charities, that they must make a profit, and that margins on alcohol of every stripe are huge contributors to restaurant profitability. You don't just dine out because someone can cook better than you: it's the whole package, and you pay in some way for every aspect of the dining-out experience.

                                      That said, some places are getting way more margin on their wines than others, in ways that aren't necessarily justified by their better selection, accompanying food, service, atmosphere, glassware, expert advice, etc. My original query is like many others on Chowhound: who do you think is offering extraordinary value on this score, at all points on the cheap-to-luxurious continuum?

                                      Retail price is just one factor in that judgment, but I think it's a valuable clue to the restaurant's likely wholesale cost. I believe that one restaurant might justify a 100% markup of a wine that another place marks up only 50% -- I can see, for example, how a $15 glass of wine at Sorellina might be a better value than the exact same wine at $10 a glass at Brownstone across the street. But to assess that value, it helps to know what the markup actually is.

                                    3. I was pretty floored a few weeks ago at Hamersley's when I ordered a nice Ridge Paso Robles Zinfandel for $44-46 bucks, I've seen it in stores for $33-35. I don't know enough about their other offerings to determine if there are other great deals as well

                                      1. The cost of ‘markup’ on wine is not what you should be basing your opinion of value on- since you have no idea what the cost of running the restaurant is, or what incidentals may apply. –- to be fair, even people in the restaurant industry can only speculate as to the cost of running a restaurant other than the one they work in. --** Keep in mind as well that any restaurant that belongs to a group- or is part of a chain has enormous buying power which allows them to lower their prices below those of a local independently owned spot***That's the same as asking privileged information from any professional. They don't tell you how to be a banker or what to pay the employee of a PR firm- bc they have no basis for those opinions. So the same should apply here.
                                        Not all, if many, restaurants wildly over charge. The managers, waitsatff and owners all work really long, hard hours, not bc their greedy but bc they too need to make a living. Since most restaurants fail in the first year and many others in years after that why would you assume that they are taking advantage of you?
                                        I understand that you wish to find a reasonably priced wine and still have a nice night out. I agree- everyone should be able to enjoy both affordable wine and wonderful atmosphere- it's just not fair to try and apply industry standards- which fluctuate greatly from venue to venue. Also, keep in mind that the deals that were discussed above, i.e. buying in bulk or other special deals- also apply to liquor stores, so that's not an entirely unbiased price to base your opinion of markup on wine in a restaurant.
                                        I don’t really know what the answer is- though you touched upon a possible solution above—base it on the value of your experience on the whole and compare it with others. This is really interesting question, unfortunately I think the answer is very difficult...
                                        *PS I used to work in the industry and have since moved on, that’s why I am somewhat informed as to true costs. Though I have a much more consumer-based opinion now, I still keep in mind the reality of working in a low-profit-margin, fickle industry.

                                        10 Replies
                                        1. re: foodforthought.m

                                          I understand that the restaurant business is really, really hard to make money at, and that cost bases and buying power (the ability to wreak discounts from suppliers) vary greatly among various operations (small vs. big, budget vs. luxury, chain vs. independent, etc.). I have plenty of empathy for folks in the business, having spent a fair number of years in the industry myself. I don't think they're all "out to get me".

                                          But the idea that this somehow makes Boston restaurant wine pricing analysis-proof, I don't buy at all. That's like saying that if you don't work in retail and understand the intricacies of modern supply chain management, you have no business price-shopping for a pair of pants. Part of the Chowhound ethos is about being a smart consumer and assessor of value.

                                          The fact remains: Silvertone sells Veuve Clicquot NV for $44, Les Zygomates sells it for $40, OM sells it for $85, and most retailers sell it for $35. Some part of that variance is not accounted for by all the cost variables you note, even granting that the experience of drinking Veueve in Silvertone's basement bar is not the same as drinking it in front of one of OM's Hindu temple carvings.

                                          I remain convinced that some Boston restaurants build excessive margins into their wine pricing, and that reasonable Chowhounds can factor variables like the presumed higher costs of better service and atmosphere into their assessment of who's delivering good value on wine. You can have sympathy for the restaurant industry and still recognize that, despite its presumed buying power, Fleming's is still swindling you on most of its wines.

                                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                                            I do not think Silvertones is a fair place to compare other restaurant wine pricing to. It is general knowledge that the owner has a great deal worked out on his pricing and therefore silvertones is known for inexpensive great bottles as well as les zygomats. All people in the industry know that these are the places to go for a awesome price. The general rule of thunb is to mark up bottles 3 times, so OM is actually pretty fair. I do know OM has the price in the city for KRUG by the glass and bottle; they sell it at cost.

                                            1. re: admiralackbar

                                              What's unfair about it. the thread is to find Boston restaurants that have low wine markups..and if Silvertones and Les Zyg are it..that's good info..and it really makes no difference to the customer if the restaurants have a "special deal."

                                              1. re: admiralackbar

                                                I'm not sure I understand your point, admiralackbar. Is it that Silvertone has some unfair advantage over other restaurants? I kind of doubt that: it's just that they, along with a very few other restaurants in town, have decided that they want to encourage their customers to enjoy wine with their food, to make relatively affordable wines a competitive differentiator, and so sell wines closer to their own cost.

                                                Anyone could do that; most choose not to. They've got a different business plan and value proposition. My question remains: who do you think fits into this category of pricing their wines more aggressively?

                                                That Krug by the glass may be one bargain at Om, but most of their wines aren't very competitively priced, at least based on my dinner there of a couple of weekends back. (My bigger issue with Om is its service: after twenty minutes of meaningful glances and waving, I practically had to tackle a server to place an order for a second bottle.)

                                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                  *Anyone could do that; most choose not to. They've got a different business plan and value proposition. *

                                                  first, rents at silvertone or franklin are dramatically lower than at some of their neighbors. bottom line, alcohol floats restaurants' bottom lines. secondly, a place like om (for better or worse) is also working on creating a certain profile and bargain drinks ain't it. they might be using krug as a loss-leader, but not many people in cambridge are ponying up that much for a glass of champagne. they pour glasses out of half-bottles, and the glass pays for the bottle. break even if they only sell one a night. they're making their money elsewhere and offering a marquee name btg.

                                                  as mentioned above, silvertone (et al.) gets no special pricing unavailable to other places. it's more taking advantage of sales, close-outs and making copious dough on cocktails. :) and having signed a very smart lease back in the day.

                                              2. re: MC Slim JB

                                                oh! i nearly missed this:
                                                *Fleming's is still swindling you on most of its wines.*

                                                i went ONCE. the wine prices were so egregiously high we left (on top of impossibly lazy service). our group was some servers, a wine salesperson, and me a buyer. even the servers, who are pretty oblivious to that sort of thing, were shocked. steakhouse mark-ups are usually high but this was off-the-charts. that was maybe 6 months after the opening and i have never been back.

                                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                  Good steak though. The bone in strip goes great with a Bass Ale ($5). No wine necessary.

                                                2. re: MC Slim JB

                                                  i think that rialto and upstairs on the square both sell veuve for the same price, so I believe OM is not alone on that one. I just had an $8 gruner veltliner there that was phenomenal. i've seen a few values on their list. silvertone is a rare restaurant that wine lovers like myself are blessed to have in the city.

                                                3. re: foodforthought.m

                                                  Technically being part of a group does you no good in the state of Ma.By law the wholesalers are only allowed to deliver an order that is printed on an invoice to a single address. The restaurants are unable to negotiate a price any lower than what is published in the beverage journal on a monthly basis and those prices are available to all.
                                                  The ABCC audit the big wholesalers all the time about this and have busted them many times for playing games in the past so there is little incentive for them to bend this law.
                                                  The Berkowitz of legal Seafood fame tried to bypass this law some years back by starting their own Ma. wholesaler called MRR Traders. The State successfully forced them to sell it through a lengthy court battle.
                                                  No restaurant really has an advantage in buying power in this state.

                                                  1. re: foodforthought.m

                                                    foodforthought, i don't see what the problem is here. the behind the scenes at a restaurant is really not my concern or my business. if i like what they serve and think the prices are good, i will eat there. just as someone might post about where one can get a great steak for a budget price, we are talking here about good deals on wine at boston restaurants.

                                                    no one is suggesting restaurants not make a profit on alcohol, but some places do seem to really try to rake it in here. i wont name names, but recently at a place where i like the food a great deal, i paid $8 for a mediocre glass for rose (from jean luc colombo) that retails for maybe $10. saw another bottle of french sauvignon blanc going for over $40, i had the same bottle in my fridge and had bought it for $6 at trader joes.

                                                    some places work hard to bring in good wines at good prices - those places deserve recognition and praise for this work. what's wrong with people talking about it here?

                                                  2. I have found a good wine deal at No.9 Park. They had the Domaine Tempier Bandol for around $52 or so when I know that retail it runs around $37.

                                                    1. Just a reminder, folks. Please keep the discussion local to the Boston area. More general discussion can take place on the Wine board, here:http://www.chowhound.com/boards/34

                                                      1. I can't beleive no one mentioned Central Kitchen in this dicussion. Consistently great food and ridiculously low wine prices. With the exception of Silvertones and Legal's, he is probably working on the lowest wine margins in the city. Which translates in to great deals on superb wines.
                                                        He doesn't get any special treatment or deals, he just wants to sell more wine and keep the list evolving, not a bad strategy. I don't care how much you mark up your wine but if you never sell a bottle, you aren't making any money, more sales volume is key.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: somervilleGM

                                                          i mentioned central kitchen in the very start of this thread. i love the place.

                                                        2. Some time ago at Scollay Square the bartender urged us to look at the wine prices there, citing bargains for the high-end wines in particular. This information was wasted on me, though, as comparing prices on high-end wines is beyond my ken.

                                                          But I wonder if, in general, 'bargains' are more likely at the high end? I'm thinking of caviar and other luxuries that often have the slimmest margins of all items on the menu. Perhaps proprietors consider them loss leaders.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Niblet

                                                            typically mark-ups on less on the more expensive bottles, yes. but not everywhere. steakhouses still mark up quite high on premium napa cabs, etc.

                                                          2. Firefly American Bistro in Copley has a uniform $10 mark-up on all their wine, so the value for the better wines is pretty good. I don't remember the list too well, though. We had breakfast there a couple of weeks ago, (decent but not amazing) but haven't been for dinner so I can't really comment on the food.