Wine & Food

Snooth User: EMark

Why do not more restaurants offer half-bottles of wine?

Posted by EMark, Apr 9, 2012.

This is, probably, not the most compelling wine issue of the day, but it has long bothered me that restaurants might offer wines by the glass or wines by the bottle, but very rarely do they offer wines by the half-bottle.  To me half-bottles offer elegant solutions to two different dining scenarios:

  • I’m dining alone.  I definitely want wine with my dinner, but I certainly do not want a whole bottle (more money that I want to spend and more wine than I want to drink), and I don’t particularly want to buy by the glass (questionable quality and, once the first glass is finished we’re back to being gouged in the wallet).
     
  • I’m dining with my wife, and she has a white wine craving while I have a red wine craving.  Either one of us has to compromise (not  necessarily a bad thing) or we are looking at buying by the glass,

In answer to my question, I am proposing a few posible reasons why restaurants do not see things my way.

First, there might be an issue with profit margins.  If a restaurant is charging $45 for a bottle of something, then the customer is going to expect that the price for a half-bottle of the same wine will be $22.50.  For argument’s sake let’s assume that the restaurants markup policy is 3 X cost.  So, the wine they are selling for $45 cost them $15.  More than likely, the half-bottle cost more than $7.50—probably, more like $9.  So, if they charge $27 for the half-bottle, they have to hope that the diner is sophisticated enough to know that the per unit price rises as the quantity purchased decreases.   That is probably not a bad assumption.  I suspect that most people who would consider a half-bottle know that if they bought it in a retail store, their cost would be more than half the cost of a 75cl bottle.

Second, offering half bottles complicates your inventory control—one more thing that has to be tracked and reordered-- and your storage requirements—one more thing that has to be stored someplace.  So, the restaurants costs will rise.

Third, this is a problem that really does not exist.  It may be that I am the only person who likes half-bottles.  OK, I suspect that I am not the only person, because I am aware of restaurants that do offer half-bottles, but it may be that sufficien customer demand just is not there.

Is there anybody else out there that would like to see more half-bottles on restaurant wine lists?

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Replies

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Reply by gregt, Apr 9, 2012.

Rule of thumb is that a restaurant sells the glass for their bottle price.  Varies depending on the inventory they keep in stock, how many age of the wines , etc. They'd rather sell you a couple glasses than a half bottle.

Then there's the storage issue.  Halfs complicate their work because you have a given space and if it's racks, it's usually made for full bottles.  When you use it for halfs your racks aren't able to store the proper amount of inventory. And distributors hate halfs too, for similar reasons.  Most people don't take them, most retailers don't have shelving for them, so you end up sitting with cases in the warehouse. Thus, suppliers and sellers don't like half bottles.

From the customer side, they're great and I'm with you completely. There are a few restaurants in town that do halfs. Nothing by the glass, so their wine is never stale.  I was told by one that if we offered a wine in 1/2s, he'd take it.  We had a few pallets made, showed them and he never took them. So I won't recommend them, but I like the policy. You never have a glass from a bottle that's been opened too long.

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Reply by outthere, Apr 9, 2012.

Then there is the fact that many wineries do not do 375's because of the expense. different glass, different corks, different capsules, different labels. All expenses for a product with little throughput. 

Solution: Stop eating alone at restaurants. ;-)

 

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Reply by JonDerry, Apr 9, 2012.

Yup, you'll see some restaurants that make an effort to carry some 375's, but as mentioned above there are so many factors playing against the occasional wish for a party of two to enjoy a glass each.

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Reply by gregt, Apr 9, 2012.

You can actually have the same size corks and capsules on your wine.  In fact, we had some bottles made just that way and everyone thought they were "cute". The same size capsule made them seem like children dressed up as grown ups.  Was actually really nice. But overall, it was hard to sell the halfs. Too bad too - I think they're perfect for a single person.

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Reply by EMark, Apr 10, 2012.

Thanks to everybody for your ideas.  Pretty consistent with what I though.  I don't know why, but I had not considered the problems (expenses) incurred by the wine producers.

OT, I don't have the problem of dining alone anymore.  Dining alone was one of the side effects of buiness travel, and I don't do that anymore. 

Peggy and I have had a lot of practice with compromises.  So, we will continue along that route.

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Reply by duncan 906, Apr 10, 2012.

If you go to France many of the restaurants have at least one or two half bottles on the wine list for the benefit of the solitary diner but most also serve their house wine by the 'picher' which is a ceramic jug of either 375 or 500cc capacity

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Reply by teddz, Apr 10, 2012.

Ouch.  That would be pichet and they are usually half liter (500 ml) or quarter liter (250 ml), not   bottle equivalents.  But yes, indeed, the European serving system is quite different.  Not sure the size of typical glass in a US restaurant, but I am guessing it's 5 to 6 oz, so the liter fractions don't work out  compared to what folks are used to.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Apr 11, 2012.

Tra Vigne has a decent selection, if memory serves, but, yes, they are underrepresented.  There's also the labor cost--my somm or waiter is less effectively used if I encourage a portion of my clients to order halves. 

We really like them even when my wife and I go out and want the same thing if 1) we want to have a cocktail before dinner, or a glass of sparkling with something like an appetizer/oysters and we have a significant drive after dinner--a bottle and cocktails is just too much-- or 2) we want to pair wines with courses and it's just two of us .  I also used to keep a few at the house for an adult who babysat our kids and would often have dinner with them. 

Some restaurants offer some of  their regular bottled wines in 500 ml. carafes, figuring it's better for them to sell 2/3 of a bottle than a glass.  After 3 customers order that wine, that's 2 bottles, and they can also offer it by the glass.  But this is less common than I wish, because it's really a good amount when my wife and I don't have cocktails but have to drive home. 

 

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Reply by frantik, Apr 14, 2012.

The place I work Rene restaurant in Sedona has a wonderful selection of half bottles, with 28 on the list. A great way to offer wine other than by the glass.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, May 30, 2012.

Hey, EMark, I am boosting this thread up the list again because Invino has half bottles of Barolo and Syrah on offer today.  Since you like red and Mrs. Emark likes white, this could help you out.  (She's on her own here, my apologies to Mrs. Emark.)

Someday I will rewrite the post about online wine buying that the editing function swallowed (couldn't be my fault), but what I can say about Invino is: double check the prices (i suspect these halves are just plain hard to find); shipping was $10 for all orders over $75 but check the specials because they often run free or discounted shipping deals; they will hold wines when the weather is hot (and you can pick them up at Invino HQ  if you care to, but they are in Sonoma or Santa Rosa); I have only bought wines from them that I was already familiar with--they did some Talty and Maclaren deals, among others; their "Insider Points" are always higher than any reputable rating (big surprise, eh?).  Never had any problems with them and always enjoyed the wine, but I haven't taken any big chances, either, have I?

"Joining" Invino is free--say I sent you so I get $25 credit, eh?--but you will get a couple emails a day.  I'm thinking of setting up a "wine email" only account.

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Reply by JonDerry, May 30, 2012.

Not sure I mentioned this before but my neighbor turned me on to this old italian joint (deli, sandwiches, + italian market) in culver city called sorrento's. They had $4 splits of 2002 chianti classico, could've been the best $4 wine purchase ever.

They had a secret sort of reserve cellar space (not for sale unfortunately) filled with old CC's and Barolo's I'm sure, among other italian classics. The first few bottles I saw were 1983 Coltibouno Chianti Classico's. 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, May 30, 2012.

Jon, you should ask them if they have something from your birthyear... that's already pretty close. 

There's nothing better than getting a supremely tasty wine for very little money.  Especially when your expectations are not already jacked up by labels, or how much you paid.  I got some Keller La Cruz Vineyard PNs a while back for about $5, which were good and that's a serious discount for the wine.  Not as mindblowing as your split, though. I've also had a pretty good half of PN from Dashwood (NZ) but stopped buying them because there was a lot of bottle variation.  Could have been storage or shipping issues.  Halves with a screw top are perfect for picnic lunches for two--less weight to carry, not so much to drink that you want to fall asleep after.

We drank a half bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve this weekend for brunch--just enough that we could enjoy without needing to take the rest of the day off.

There's also this retailer that specializes in half bottles.  Prices aren't exceptional, but it's the biggest collection of halves I've seen.  In Oakland, Paul Marcus Wines has a decent selection of halves up by their register and WineMine has a few well selected half bottles as well.

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Reply by Giacomo Pevere, May 30, 2012.

Nice question Emark.

In Italy is pretty rare to find half bottles in restaurant and shops. Mostly are the same reasons that you mentioned and I think, here, the real alternative to the full bottle is the increasing service by the glass. Restaurants with many clients have no problems to create a large selection of wines (types and prices), i've see little restaurants with more than 20 different wines served by glass, a nice way to try something new without pay a full bottle, or to try wines you can't afford as full bottle. New technologies help in this sense, restaurants and wine bars with less clients, machines that serve wine and filling the bottle with inert gases are increasingly common and that expand the choise.

Personally i love to drink by glasses but with my girlfriend a full bottle isn't a problem... ;)

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Reply by dmcker, May 30, 2012.

We've discussed this subject several times over the past couple years, but for me, personally, half bottles are of little or no use. Going over some usage cases, this is why:

  • Wine laid down for storage and aging does better in larger volumes--at least 750ml and preferably even larger formats (magnums and above). I would never choose formats smaller than 500ml for my cellar.
  • Wine that's been laid down and aged elsewhere in this format before it gets to me will not show as well as the same wine stored in 750s, magnums or larger. This is something that was emprically proven by myself and a group of industry pros back in the '80s and '90s over here in Tokyo. So I always look for alternatives to 375 options that may appear, not just for home consumption but also when eating and drinking out.
  • At home if I don't finish a 750 in one sitting, it'll almost always be gone within a day, even if not infrequently I'll have multiple bottles open at the same time to deal with. Usually finishing bottles is no problem when I have company (friends or family), so I'm mainly talking about when alone.
  • I rarely eat out alone. Even if it's just two of us, we usually have no trouble going through a couple of 750s at dinner on weekdays, or any meal on the weekends. Maybe a single bottle at lunch on weekdays if we're having wine, with a by-the-glass of something else before the bottle. If I do eat out alone and have the time for a leisurely meal I can handle the volume at night that a couple of us might take on a weekday lunch. If I'm more rushed or have serious business to handle during the night (I try to avoid having to do that in the evenings!), then I'll purchase wines by the glass or carafe, depending on what's available. But then, even though I find I have to take into consideration my aging process, I'm 190cm tall (6'3") and weigh in the 100 to 110kg range  (220-240lbs). Although it was more often a curse than a blessing, back when I was younger and even more foolish (and weighed a little less), I was always the last one standing on crazy drinking nights out.

So though I understand desires for halves or even splits by some people, and can even imagine times when they'd earn more money for retail joints (bars, clubs and maybe even restaurants), they generally seem about as useful as tits on a boar hog to me...  ;-)

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Reply by outthere, May 30, 2012.

Eating alone tonight. Found a 1-1/4lb rib eye at the market...

...so I searched the cellar for a cab. Got a 375 of '06 pillar rock that I picked up from Last Bottle a few months back so I am set for the evening.

A 375 on a work night is more than enough and I'm not a two night in a row Cab drinker so this fits my bill just fine. So see D, there is a reason for these things. A small window of opportunity but a reason nonetheless. ;-)

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Reply by dmcker, May 30, 2012.

So no equal opportunity, you Cab discriminator, you!  ;-)

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Reply by outthere, May 30, 2012.

Not really. It's just that Cab calls out for red meat and I can't indulge like that every night and keep my girlish figure, lest my blood pressure, in check. ROFL!

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Reply by JonDerry, May 31, 2012.

Nice repartee gents!

Understandable why you don't care for splits D, you've got one heck of a thirst to quench. Drinking with friends can sometimes get me around a full 750 of consumption, but it rarely gets much beyond that. Somehow, my 5'10 frame has grown to around 180lbs these days, really must do some more running.  

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Reply by EMark, May 31, 2012.

I've been out of pocket for a few days, but I wanted to respond specifically to Foxall.  I have a couple local resources for 375s.  Perhaps not a terribly grand selection, but reputable wineries that produce good wines.  The fact of the matter, though, is that I rarely buy 375s for our in-house consumption.  Like some other posters above we don't seem to have any problem finishing 750s withing 2-3 days.  The fall-off in that time period is usually negligible to me, and, ocassionally, one will taste better on the second day.

Our #1 at home use of 375s is for picnics.  Yes, if I'm drinking a red and Peggy is drinking a white, we want to polish them off in one setting, and the half-bottles work well for that.

The #1A at home use of 375s is for dessert wines.  Generally, by the end of the meal, a taste is all you need, and with the richness of dessert wines, a taste is all I need.

 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, May 31, 2012.

Good point about dessert wines, Emark, and reflected in the fact that many great dessert wines, including Yquem, are available in 375s.

outthere: Funny thing, as I was walking back to my office this morning from my usual appointed duties, I was thinking that cab really isn't my first choice for daily drinking.  Good cab is a little too dramatic, requires a little too much attention, and is something I like to save for longer meals.  It also does pair best with the kind of rich red meat that I can no longer consume every day.  In the years when I could have, I was a vegetarian, having lost my appetite for factory-raised flesh, but I probably drank more cab then just out of ignorance or lack of curiosity.  Now I drink less of it, but usually better bottles.  (And I eat meat because we have Prather Ranch, Marin Sun, Rosie and Rocky chickens, humanely raised veal/vitello... all pastured very nearby.)

If I were dmcker's size, a whole bottle wouldn't be a problem, but at 5'11" and my current 174 pounds, I want to watch it just a little, from the caloric and functional points of view.  Plus it leaves a little capacity for an after-dinner bourbon.

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