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Dec 15, 2008 02:21 PM


I recently went to a function at The Blue Heron in Sunderland. As always, the food was just fine. It was served buffet style and everyone enjoyed the meal. BUT..when I saddled up to the bar to order a glass of wine (cash bar at this event) and ordered a glass of Cab I was charged $14. Not great Cab either, but just OK. It was Dynamite Cabernet from Lake County California. Go to the store its $13-15 RETAIL for the bottle (I'm sure much less wholesale to the restaurant). I can understand $7 glass max on for this, but $14?? I was utterly leveled and mentioned it to the bartender who just nodded politely.
Has anyone else run across this at Blue Heron? This was wine gouging of the first order and totally out of line. I have supported this restaurant over the years (I was there the opening night) but this left such a bad taste in my mouth that I don't think I'll return anytime soon.

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  1. I've seen that retail for as high as $20 in MA, so they could feasibly be paying $14ish for the bottle. I'm sure you know the wholesale cost usually equals the cost of one glass.

    I do agree it's on the high side, for sure.

    5 Replies
    1. re: invinotheresverde

      Where does the cost of a glass equal the cost of a bottle????? That is totally ridiculous. The cost of a bottle in a restaurant should be no more than 100% mark up on the retail cost of the bottle. Pay $20 in a store for a bottle. Pay no more than $40 for the same bottle in a restaurant. Anything more is not reasonable. $14 for a glass of wine that is even $20/bottle retail in a store is GOUGING. High side, indeed!

        1. re: hollerhither

          From friends I have spoke to in the restaurant and wine business the usual markup is 3x . ex. buy for $6 sell for $18

        2. re: Big Fat Moe

          Restaurant charge the cost of the wholesale bottle per glass to make sure they break at least even even if only one glass out of the bottle is usable.

          It works that way at every restaurant I've ever worked at, and is probably the case in at least 95% of restaurants in general.

          1. re: invinotheresverde

            Absolutely correct, especially if its a generous pour of 7-8 ounces. The poster seems to think the wholesale cost is half of retail, and that's not the case either. Any restaurant charging 2x retail for bottle on their list is doing the consumer a huge favor. The norm is 3x and alas, some get 4x (which is what I'd expect to pay by the glass, not by the bottle).

      1. The wine by the glass list is probably a bit pricier than most spots in this area. I was a little surprised at the final tab for a few glasses + burgers and salads the last time I went. But I'm not sure if it (or what exactly) constitutes gouging -- I do know that right now we can't afford to go as often as we'd like to, or used to.

        2 Replies
        1. re: hollerhither

          Hey hollerhither, ever make it to Frigo's?

          1. re: Big Fat Moe

            No, not yet, and thank you for reminding me! The business lunches have been at the Fort and the non-business lunches have involved a microwave and a pathetic frozen entree. I WILL get there.

        2. I know this is an old thread, but it's appropos of a recent dining experience my husband and I had at the Blue Heron. We've eaten there on a few special occasions and love the food. Our most recent dinner there was delicious--duck and turbot. But do we plan to go there again? Not if they don't offer more wine selections under $30. The wine list is fabulous at the high end, but would it kill them to offer a few creative selections around $20-$25? Even in the under $40 range, the selections are sparse. They do offer their burger and had some belly Ipswich clams on the menu for a reasonable price. But if you're a wine lover, you're gonna pay! I think we're done with the Blue Heron, sad to say.

          6 Replies
          1. re: scribos

            Good for you scribos! Any wine expert (Parker, Dias-Blue, MacNeil) I've ever read says 2 to 2.5 times the retail price is fair. Even today. By definition, anything else is gouging, no matter what people in "the trade" may say. What is more confounding is the disparity in markup, which I can never figure out. One of our local (central Ct) places charges around 20 bucks for Citra (a really fine 6 dollar bottle), but also offers Ruffino Reserve Ducale (around 25 locally) for 30. Go figure. Guess which one we order.

            360 Franklin Ave Ste A, Hartford, CT 06114

            1. re: thos

              I price wine lists for a living and most places (in my area and where I've travelled) use about 3X retail. Some restaurants use lower, some higher.

              1. re: invinotheresverde

                That's my experience as well. 3x retail is not CHEAP, mind you, nor even a good value, but it's hardly unusual and not really gouging, especially by the glass which is the OP's point.

                Do I more readily frequent establishments that offer glasses or even bottles at 2x mark-up? You betchya! (And nothing beats a byob joint that does awesome food!)

                1. re: CapeCodGuy

                  I suppose it's no different than the $15.00 martini but still ridiculous. Let 'em pay.

                  1. re: thos

                    Here's an quote from a blog that puts things in perspective and better explains the US' 3-tier wine distribution system and who makes what......

                    While both restaurant/retailers and wineries struggle, the system is set up such that wholesalers are guaranteed to make healthy money off of wine. For example: a typical wine that retails for $25/bottle ($300/case) a retailer would expect to buy for $200/case. The distributor who sells it for $200/case would expect to buy it for $150/case. An agent who sells to distributors for $150/case would expect to buy it for somewhere around $120/case. So, a winery starts off with $10 of the eventual price of $25, and bears most the real costs of the wine (including, but not limited to, land, winery building, farming, harvest labor, winery labor, barrels, bottles, corks, and marketing). Nearly every wholesaler and many retailers pay their sales force on commission, so if they sell less, they're paid less. It's a great way to make sure that whatever sales are, the business ends up in the black.

                    The world of restaurants has even more dramatic markups on wine (which go to subsidize food and labor costs). That same wine which the retailer sold for $25/bottle would normally sell on a restaurant list for triple the restaurant's cost, or $50. If the restaurant were to pour it by the glass, the typical markup is to charge bottle cost for each glass of wine. So, a glass of the wine would be $16. I wonder if most people realize what a small percentage of the price that they are paying for wine at the retail shop or restaurant goes back to the producer.

                    It's worth mentioning that I am not particularly complaining about restaurant markups, at least not wine list markups. Restaurants typically use the margins they make on wine to help subsidize the rest of the astronomical costs of building out and running their operations, and given that 60% of restaurants close or change ownership in the first three years, most restaurateurs are not in the business getting rich. I do think, though, that the standard 400% by-the-glass markup and the resulting $12 bottle cost limit for by-the-glass wines, is often self-defeating for restaurants, as most restaurants therefore can't offer great wines for their by-the-glass selections.