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Overpriced wine in Toronto (moved from Ontario board)

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I haven't done a scientific survey, but my impression is that wine in Toronto restos is really overpriced, relative to what you find just about anywhere else in North America (let alone wine-producing countries in Europe). A lot of bistro-type places with reasonable food prices have little or nothing under $40, and what you get for $45 would go at the LCBO for $12. Anybody else fed up with this, or is it just me? And what are your nominations for worst offenders/bright lights? Places I get annoyed at include: Tati, Delux and Bar Mercurio. Surprisingly good: Cava, where we had a nice albarino that couldn't have been much over 2x list price.

1560 Yonge St., Toronto, ON M4T 2S9, CA

Bar Mercurio
270 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S1V8, CA

92 Ossington Ave, Toronto, ON M6J2Z4, CA

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  1. If you really want to get indignant, go to Morton's or a McEwen restaurant. Even with the 30$ (last time I went a couple of years ago) corkage at Morton's, bringing in a bottle that already cost 30$ at the lcbo will still save you over 60$.

    You might try doing a search here for corkage specials and prices. Many places will have nights when they have nominal or waived corkage fees to bring in traffic.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Snarf

      +1 on that answer. if you just have to have wine with your meal, only give your business to restaurants that offer reasonable corkage... and bring wine you bought in the U.S. of course. LCBO does not deserve your money.

      1. re: TexSquared

        "if you just have to have wine with your meal"

        My god, as a chowhound, is this even an option?! Le vin est un aliment!

        1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

          Bring your own and pay the corkage, or only pay for wine with a meal when outside Ontario.

    2. Problem is the LCBO itself. 200-400% markup is typical, but the problem is the LCBO (nor Brewer's Retail) does not offer volume discounts/wholesale pricing. The restaurants are paying them the same price we would, and have to markup from there.

      Our strategy, to spite both the restaurateurs and the LCBO, is that we do not buy alcohol in this province, either at restaurants or at retail. We'll just get the tap water with ice and lemon with our meals. We'll have our wine waiting for us at home in the fridge if needed; only bought in the U.S. usually at Supermarket Liquors and Wines in Niagara Falls, NY, or Sam's Club (if we're not in NY state).

      They may have lowered their prices in response to customer outrage, but as a matter of principle I will NEVER set foot in Harbour 60 after they got away with 500% markups for over ten years. They lost me for life with that stunt which they seemed to be all too proud of.

      2 Replies
      1. re: TexSquared

        I think the Ontario’s Liquor Licence Act prohibits volume discounting. Some crap about Social Responsibility.

        Unfortunately, your strategy to not buy alcholol in Ontario is not pratical for most of us unless we're going out of country practically every week or else drink very little. What we generally try to do is dine at restaurants that allow BYOW but many restaurants don't do this and have no incentive since most patrons don't care about this.

        1. re: TexSquared

          I also go to supermarket liquors, but the Premier group in Niagara falls has superior selection.

        2. Yes, true in general, except once in a while, you can find some wine that is cheaper than getting it at LCBO.

          1. What about the markup on Liquor? Tea, Coffee, pop,food... in most all restaurants markups are 30-40% on everything.. they have to pay staff, taxes, insurance, rent, waste, garbage ... if you do not want to pay stay home.. cook your own food.. I know of one restaurant on King West that pays $35,000 per month in rent (including Tax) and this is not one of those huge clubs it only has about 80 seats.. try making that amount without a 40% markup...

            USA has it lucky they have very little taxes on Alcohol. When youship a bottle of Rye from Windsor to the US the manufacturer gets the Tax back. That is why you can buy Canadian rye in the us for 1/3 what we pay.. but when you go to a good restaurant a rye and coke is still 6$ they markup has to be 300% on spirits...

            7 Replies
            1. re: RogerDoger

              "in most all restaurants markups are 30-40% on everything"

              Which is perfectly fair. They mark up the food like that; obviously I could go to the supermarket and buy the ingredients and make the same food for 30-40% less. You pay a premium for the convenience of not having to shop for the ingredients, prep them, cook them, and plate them. If the prices are fair to me for what I'm getting and I like the food of course I'll give them my business. That wasn't the problem.

              The OP's complaint is on wine and liquor, where the markup is in the 200-400% range (500% at Harbour 60). That's a huge profit margin for minimal effort (go to cellar, get wine, extract cork, pour), compared to the effort needed to prepare the meal.

              1. re: TexSquared

                I'm not challenging if a 200-400% mark is fair or not, but you there are some potential things missing from your minimal effort list. Some restaurants train staff, provide glasswear and cover breakage, provide decanters, have a sommelier on staff, and have large amounts of inventory sitting in a cellar potentially going bad. I wonder how much the inventory at Barberians is worth and how much that could be generating for them if it was invested elsewhere.
                As Far as the LCBO, I'm under the impression people are actually happy with the shopping experience and being taxed in this manner. We could always do away with the LCBO and have the government just increase our taxes in some other way.

                7 Elm St, Toronto, ON M5G1H1, CA

                1. re: dubchild

                  Getting OT here but here's my opinion. Nobody is forced to shop at the LCBO just as nobody is forced to gamble at a government casino. To me, giving either of them your business is like voluntarily paying more taxes. So I refuse to do so. Simple as that. In the same way I try to avoid purchasing dairy and poultry in this province since I do not want to support the food cartels which keep those things priced artificially high.

                  The only thing I get from the LCBO is their catalogs in the mail, which I bring with me to the U.S. to compare prices and see how much you get ripped off at home. I see a lot of others at Supermarket Liquors in Niagara Falls carrying those Vintages lists with them....

                  1. re: TexSquared

                    My guess, not that I'm judging, is that for this to worth your while, you don't pay duties when you bring wine across the border. I once went a little crazy with beer purchases at Premier Gourmet and was a little shocked by the amount I had to pay in duties.

                    1. re: dubchild

                      I only bring in liquor if I'm out of the country more than 48 hours... 1.5 litres per person, two people in the car, that's 4 bottles of wine. We've often stretched it to 6 bottles total, declare it all, and still get waved on since it's not worth it for them to pull us over just to tax 1 additional bottle each.

                    2. re: TexSquared

                      I've also seen fraudulent looking bottles (misspelled French labels on supposedly first, second, third growth Bordeaux) at several privately owned liquor stores across New York, New Jersey and California. Of course the LCBO is a rip off, but it does have it's advantages. Things are not always the bargain they seem...

                      1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                        OK, have to ask, did you see counterfeit Bordeaux at Premier Gourmet or Supermarket Liquors? I doubt Sam's Club would sell counterfeit wines since Walmart would be a very attractive lawsuit target if they tried....

              2. Yeah, I know they have to recoup their costs somehow, but I'd much rather it was evened out, or mostly on the food. The wine isn't where the labour costs are, or the skill, and it isn't what I choose restaurants for. On the other hand it would really take away from the enjoyment, for me, to have just a glass of water with a nice bistro meal. So I end up feeling suckered in and ripped off just about every time....

                1 Reply
                1. re: edina

                  Snarf has the best solution, give your business to places that let you bring your own and charge a fair price for corkage.

                2. I need a glass of wine with my meals but at home I drink the personally made wine from The Wine Butler on Avenue Rd. They have a free wine and cheese this weekend and I am not in cahoots with the owners FYI. Make your own wine. it is fun and way cheaper than buying at the LCBO. I am from America and am still shocked at the 40% tax on wine in this country but free health care does come at a price I am afraid:(

                  1. Since we seem to have the good old makings of a barnstorming rant of momentum building, let me add another pitchfork. There seems to be a huge difference between the price of a bar shot and a dry martini. If I were truly honest, I would rather the mixologist nod in the direction of France than charge me an additional 6 bucks to turn a 5$ bar shot into a martini by dribbling a drop of vermouth into it. That's not to take anything away from the bartistes (my word, copyrighted now) at the Park Hyatt who do the whole show and respect the beverage.

                    Park Hyatt
                    Toronto, ON, Toronto, ON , CA

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Snarf

                      A martini is usually 2 shots plus a (very small) dribble of vermouth.

                    2. I haven't done a survey either, but I suspect the nike running shoes you just paid $150 for really only cost $10 to make.

                      Restaurants have rent to pay, hydro, gas, payroll, payroll taxes, WSIB, wine merchant markups, breakage, shrinkage and a whole host of other costs to put that meal/wine on your table. COGs for most profitable restaurants is 33%, meaning your food and wine is marked up 200%. That will usually net the owner a ridiculous 10% profit after factoring all their other costs in. The nerve of those thieving restaurants!

                      7 Replies
                        1. re: sloweater

                          The OP is correct: it's hard to find a decent bottle under $40 at most mid-priced Toronto restos, let alone the higher-priced restaurants. I suppose restaurants need their profit margins, but I prefer not to pay quadruple the LCBO price for a modest bottle at an average restaurant. Any resto whose wine prices I regard as exhorbitant is a resto I don't go back to. All I'm seeking is some reasonably-priced glass or two to wash down the food I've ordered. (I save the good bottles for drinking at home.) So I make do with: BYOB - there are quite a few around - never paying more than $10 corkage, and usually paying no corkage at all; and restos with easy-to-take prices, like Le Paradis or Cafe Pleiade. There seems to be no comparative rationale to many restaurant wine prices. The fancy Scaramouche, for example, with a vast, temperature-controlled wine cellar, on-staff sommelier, and first-rate wine service, charges a comparatively modest $40 for the respectable Spanish sparkler Segura Viudis (less than triple the LCBO price), while many lesser restos, without even decent wine glasses, charge substantially more for the very same bottle. Suffice to say, I blacklist any resto that charges more for a bottle than Scaramouche.

                          1. re: juno

                            Segura Viudas costs licensees $12.85 a bottle, as HST can be deducted, meaning Scaramouche is running that wine at exactly 33%, which is common practice in the industry. Some, like Le Paradis, charge a lower markup; others, like Harbour 60, charge a much higher markup.

                            1. re: sloweater

                              Yes, there is a point at which too much is too much. Generally, when you hit the 4 to 5 times mark, I start to think that there is abuse. When you look at what happens to old Californians at steakhouses, it gets compounded. I understand that there is risk in cellaring, but when I walk in with the same wine at one tenth the purchase price within five years of market, that irks me. It's not the whole market place, but it should be a reality check for the people that look at value.

                              1. re: Snarf

                                I never disagreed that 400% plus markups are outrageous. That is why I refuse to go to certain establishments as well.

                                What I resent is the implication that restaurateurs are thieves for marking their wines up, especially when it is the standard 33% cost. My original point was that there are a number of hidden costs that go into your meal that have to be paid for somehow by the operator. Do you want candles on your table? Those cost about $1 per table per night. Do you want a table cloth and cloth napkin? The table cloth for a table for two is about $.55 and the napkin, for cotton, is $.14. Bread and butter at the table costs another $1. Flowers? Do you get the point I am making?

                                If you were to factor all these costs in at home when you're having your $29.95/lb Cumbrae's striploin, plus a demiglace based sauce $1, with $3 worth of vegetables plus all the other accoutrements: candles, flowers, table linens, hydro, gas, mortgage, etc. All of a sudden the disparity isn't that much, particularly when you factor in that someone else is preparing all of this for you.

                          2. re: sloweater

                            Sounds like you're saying the food is sold at a loss and they are making it up on the wine.

                            1. re: Akitist

                              restaurants have to make it up somewhere....customer's want to pay less, waiters want to earn more, hydro bills go up not down....

                          3. I understand the frustration.. I used to get ripped off alot before I learned about wine. Now I only order wines that I cannot get from the LCBO, or I go to restaurants that have cheap/free corkage fee (nota bene after 9 for example).

                            or you can become a frequent diner, develop a good relationship with one restaurant. Tip the server well, and they'll remember you the 3rd or 4th time you visit. I've gotten corkage fee waived, discount on wine, even free sample in my local italian restaurant.

                            I usually buy $20 wines at LCBO so the price difference compared to US may only be a few dollars, and I took alot of their vintage magazines to offset for the extra cost, their paper bags are free too and they're good for scooping cat litter :) . At LCBO we may get hit on high tax, but at least their prices are honest. I once saw a Ravenswood zinfandel marked $35 in a supermarket in Washington, which only cost us $19 here.