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Restaurant 42, X20, etc.. At $15 to $20+, Is a Glass of Wine Really so Expensive?

billyparsons Nov 8, 2008 11:16 AM

This post is really in response to many of the reviews some of the new restaurants have been getting regarding the more expensive wine selections.

I recently made my way down to Westchester and met a few friends at a fun place called Mickey Spillanes in Eastchester. One of my old buddies (also a chef) had mentioned that he and his wife had gone to 42 in White Plains and had been “taken to the cleaners”. He especially was taken back by the exorbitant wine prices that 42 was getting at the bar. I asked him what he drank and whether or not he made a note of the selection; he didn’t.

Now one of the gang works for Empire who’s father works for Southern (both big reps for the alcohol industry). He knew the wine captain (Ernani) very well and was very familiar with their “wine by the glass” selections. Before we dove deeper in to the issue of 42 taking them to the cleaners, we decided to agree on a standard for being “ripped off”. Would it be the restaurants price for the wine, or the “mark-up” we would concern ourselves with? We all agreed that markup would be the way to go.

Before we even delve in to 42, let’s talk about what we in the industry consider to be a respectable liquor cost. Most restaurant and bar owners would agree that under 30% would be a great target. A place like Cheesecake Factory, for example, tries to shoot for 23 or so percent.

Now when we pulled up 42’s wine list on the Internet, my Southern Wine buddy had a hard time finding the selections on the bevmedia list (the industry bible for pricing) because most of the wine came from small producers. So when we finally got the bottom of the pricing structure, we found that 42’s wines where all in the 20%+ cost range (I agreed not to post the wholesale in order to get the information). This usually means that the first glass pays for the bottle (assuming a 5oz. pour hereinafter). Most of the wines were higher, which equates to a better deal for the consumer. So after all was said and done, 42 came out to be a better “value” than even the Cheesecake Factory or the Outback. Surprised? I wasn’t.

Then all this math got me to thinking. What about the glasses of wine on the bar here at Spillanes? One of the women in the group mentioned she “came here all the time because the wines were such a great value”. But were they?

My Southern buddy has the bevmedia guide built in to his phone and can check 80% of the wines sold by the glass in New York restaurants. Just so happens that Spillanes buys most of their wines from Southern. So here were the 4 wines on the bar at the time. Spillane owns more than one place, so we assume they get top discounts from Southern. You’ll see the menu price, the single bottle wholesale price and the qty. price a bar like Spillane’s gets:

Pinot Grigio, Folonari 5.00 (menu price)
1.5L / 6 Folonari Pinot Grigio; Southern Wine & Spirits SKU: 081357
SINGLE MAGNUM BOTTLE: 12.00 Best Price ($44@25cs): $7.33 = .73 per glass cost

Cabernet Sauvignon, Falling Star 5.00
1.5L / 6 Falling Star Cabernet Sauvignon; Southern Wine & Spirits SKU: 116988
SINGLE MAGNUM BOTTLE: 6.67 Best Price ($32@8cs): $5.33 = .53 per glass cost

Merlot, Falling Star 5.00
1.5L / 6 Falling Star Merlot Malbec; Southern Wine & Spirits SKU: 010285
SINGLE MAGNUM BOTTLE: 6.67 Best Price ($32@8cs): $5.33 = .53 per glass cost

White Zinfandel, Vendange 5.00
1.5L / 6 Vendange White Zinfandel; Southern Wine & Spirits SKU: 014756
SINGLE MAGNUM BOTTLE: 6.67 Best Price ($28@8cs): $4.66 = .46 per glass cost

Now when you buy a glass of wine for $5, your natural instinct is to say “holy grapes batman! What a great deal!”. And surely the rest of the group will say the same. But how does it feel when the cost of that glass is sometimes as low as 46 cents? That’s under 10% liquor cost. Do you shunt it off because the $5 is such a great perceived value?

With the pricing structure at Spillanes, the wines at 42 would be well over DOUBLE what 42 currently charges. Double! So who’s really overcharging here? Is it the local watering hole in Eastchester that marks up their wine over 1000% or the fancy sit down restaurant 42 flights up that has half the mark up. You figure it out.

I think I’d rather stay at home with my girlfriend and drink my own homemade stuff. My Cabernet/Malbec blend from 2006 is so good I wanna cry! Now that I know that I was drinking 50-cents a glass wine, I’m crying cause I picked up the check that day too.

Billy Parsons - out of here...

  1. l
    laylag Nov 11, 2008 02:52 PM

    Vendange? Folinari? Falling Star? C'mon compare mark-ups apples to apples - higher end restaurants to other higher end restaurants with equivalent quality wines. I think then you will probably find that 42 and BLT and several others mark their wines up beyond reason.

    Anyone willing to drink Spillane's wines would probably be better of with your homemade stuff - or at least certainly no worse for it.

    1 Reply
    1. re: laylag
      billyparsons Nov 11, 2008 06:50 PM


      It's funny you say that because I have a friend in the Bronx that makes their own wine by buying all the "goodies" from Prospero in Pleasantville. After all is said and done with the grapes, bottle, label, cork, etc., his cost to produce a bottle is over $8. The killer is that it doesn't even taste as good as some of the stuff from Spillanes. I guess it's just the thrill of the process.

      By the way though, after the first magnum, it all tastes the same... :)

    2. billyparsons Nov 10, 2008 05:19 AM

      This post had nothing to do with "wine" but rather the pricing structure of restaurants in Westchester. It was moved by the Chowhound Team to "Wine" (a topic I have very little interest in). I'm going to re-write the post to include food so we can keep it close to home (for me that would be Rockland & Westchester).

      Hunt, you brought up good points though. Please post to the new topic I'll throw up this week if you can. I have no real business posting in the Wine category.

      J Food, see you back in Tri-State... :)

      3 Replies
      1. re: billyparsons
        The Chowhound Team Nov 10, 2008 07:26 AM

        We've moved this back to Tristate, although these discussions are generally more free-ranging and interesting on the Wine board. We'd ask that people keep the focus on the Tristate board on discussing local options and which places in the Tristate area offer good or bad value on markup to the consumer.

        General discussion of what factors go into determining wine prices, and broader discussion of wine pricing should take place on the Wine board, and we'd ask people to start a thread on Wine rather than taking this thread off topic if that's the focus of their reply.

        1. re: The Chowhound Team
          stevel Nov 10, 2008 08:53 AM

          This is why I BYO to restaurants.

          1. re: The Chowhound Team
            billyparsons Nov 11, 2008 06:46 PM

            Uh oh. Looks like the post got moved back out of Tristate. Remember to keep responses limited to Westchester & Rockland trends on menu pricing and mark ups. Not to exclude anyone, but I'd like to limit this to what would be the "local" community. Hoping the right people still find the post although it's not in the right category.

        2. Bill Hunt Nov 9, 2008 05:06 PM

          Billy Parsons,

          One thing that seems missing from the layout above is the overhead for any b-t-g selections. Some considerations should also be factored in, though exactly how will be something for someone actually in the business.

          To illustrate, with a b-t-g offering, a clean glass will be offered with each order. If b-t-b, one glass will suffice for that bottle per diner. May be equal, but possibly not. Also, with the b-t-b order, a party might also purchase an additional bottle.

          Depending on the restaurant, it might take more staff time to pour b-t-g offerings, though a good server should be pouring the b-t-b wines for the table. Possibly a total wash on this one.

          Then, there is the loss of some of the remainder of a bottle with b-t-g. Now, if a bottle is corked, or otherwise tainted, the distributor will usually replace it for no cost. If an opened bottle goes flat, that is part of the overhead. To get around this, many spots put in some rather expensive equipment. Some just stick the cork back in, and place the whites back in the 'fridge - should do this for reds, but too many do not bother, as they have to let these come back up in temp.

          I also think that the restaurant's *guess* on what their patron traffic will bear is also a factor, but could be off base on this.

          There is a recent thread on b-t-g wines on this board. You might want to give it a read, as a lot of thoughts were written - some of which I agree with, and some of which I do not.

          All that said, I am a big fan of b-t-g selections, when dining, as it offers a smaller party the opportunity to have a different wine for each course. Half-bottles come close, but only 0.75s can get tough, for a party of two, especially if one is not taking a limo to the restaruant.

          Personally, I gladly pay more for a b-t-g of interesting wines (that go with the kitchen's efforts), than the division of the price of a bottle by the glasses served.

          Personally, on most wine lists (b-t-g, or b-t-b), the best "deals" are not on the cheapest wines. More often, I find better deals (against wholesale, or retail) in the mid to upper range of many lists. Also, remember that many restauranteurs mark up all of their wines by horrible amounts, because they belive that their traffic will cover it. Some restauranteurs feel that they will make up any deficiencies of the previous, by selling more wines at lower markups. Personally, I base my decision on the price above retail. I like +200% as a baseline, but have been known to quickly go higher and not complain. Depends on the wine, the stemware/service, the meal and the restaurant.


          PS I apologize if this post is disjointed and confusing, but my precious wife had 10 things that I just had to stop and take care of. Sorry.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Bill Hunt
            billyparsons Nov 11, 2008 02:35 PM

            Hey Hunt-

            You lost me on some of your points here though. At a fine dining restaurant, you’re most always assured of a clean glass for each new b-t-g order, even when the mark-up is not all that high. At Mickey Spillanes (or other local watering holes), where the mark up was 1000%, it was the same old Libby glass being re-filled, over and over again. So I’m not sure where you were going with that one. Matter-of-fact, when I was there my glass had someone else’s lipstick from the night before. No extra charge but that’s cause I was with someone that knew someone.

            With regard to your loss of wine with the bottles, what did you mean? At places like Spillanes, they use glasses that basically hold the amount of wine management decides will be the house pour. You now, the kind of glass that hits your nose when you sip it? I actually asked for a Stella beer glass to pour the wine in to (try it some time). So in this case, there’s never any over or under pouring equating to some easy accounting.

            In the fine dining atmosphere, many restaurants are now pouring the wine in to mini decanters that measure the perfect pour. Or, take the Tap House in Tuckahoe; they pour to the custom logo on the glass. Ahh… perfect pour each time. Maybe you can clear up what you were getting at with this one.

            With regard to your 750ml problem. Just buy the bottle and take the rest home. New York SLA law allows the patron to take the bottle as long as the restaurant puts it into a sealed bag. Use it for your bolognese style ragu the next night.

            Finally, just out of curiosity, can you name some selections you like and what you pay when you dine?

            1. re: billyparsons
              Bill Hunt Nov 11, 2008 05:31 PM

              The references to the "clean glasses" was to reflect on the extra overhead with any b-t-g selections. Sorry that I was not clear on that.

              Now, where I dine, the Libbys are usually not in evidence. If they are, the spot gets panned in my reviews.

              As an aside, I usually do not do the same b-t-g selection multiple times. If I'm looking at doing more than a couple of glasses of the same wine, I'll be looking at a full bottle.

              As to loss of wine, I am referring to the remainder of bottles, that are not sold and are discarded.

              I do like the mini-carafe on several levels. First, as you state, the pour is measured. Next, one gets to put the amount of wine into their glass, that they desire. When a server attempts to pour the entire mini-carafe into the glass, we always stop them. Most wines (even whites) can often use a bit of time open. I also do not like my glasses too full. For me, this means 1/4 to 1/3 of the glass with wine. There is little worse (OK, there is, but I'll not bore you here) than a glass that is too full. One swirl and you're wearing some of your wine.

              As for taking the wines home, that is becoming more of an option. In many states and counties, it is not possible though, due to the laws of that locale.

              Gosh, I don't think that the CH board would accommodate a list of just the wines I've had in the last 6 mos. that I really liked. If you click on my profile, you can get to a lot of my recent reviews. See especially the New Orleans, San Antonio and NOCA (Southwest) reviews. If you feel up to it, I've got several reviews from some months, to years back, on dining in Hawai`i.

              As far as the recent diining costs, they have ranged from about US$200 to US$1100 for two, but most of the uppers costs are for the wines.

              I'm not trying to put your question off, as it's a good one. However, if you are patient and read my reviews, you'll get a good picture of my general dining preferences and also my likes, and dislikes, regarding wines, wine service, prices and discussions on b-t-g, half-bottles and full bottles.

              Last, I apologize for corrupting your attempt at distilling costs in restaurants in a particular locale. I saw the branced-off topic and did not realize what had happened. I feel your pain, as it has happened to me on many occasions, however, it's at the discretion of the CH MODs, so I roll with the punches.

              If I have not been clear on anything, please don't hesitate to ask for clarifications. I'll either fill in the blanks, or get some links to CH reviews that might help. Also, if you do follow links from my profile, I'd look down the list and go for articles that were initiated by me, as I do tend to respond to a bunch of other topics. I wish that CH would do two lists: initiated articles and then replies.


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