By Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P. Eng. (www.hotelmogel.com)
How often have you heard this term? A bottle is jammy, tight or otherwise barely palatable and the excuse – nay, the explanation – is that it’s a ‘great food wine’.
I’ve seen this witty marketing retort creep into our collective dining culture over the past decade, and now I fear that it has run its course lest it do damage to your restaurant. My issue is that this two-word buzz phrase has now become the de rigueur excuse for allowing any piece of plonk on the wine list – promotional puffery at its finest.
Think about it for a moment: name one wine that doesn’t pair well with food? In fact, an argument could be made that wine was first invented then regionally perfected to work in harmony with a given area’s produce. So, in essence, when someone says that a certain label is a ‘food wine’, what they are really saying is that it’s garbage otherwise because you need to shove some snacks down your throat just to wash out its asphyxiating aftertaste.
And don’t get me started on food wines being good palate cleansers. Any beverage from carbonated water to black coffee can be categorized as that. The fact remains that a vintage should stand on its own and shouldn’t have to rely on any complements for its enjoyment.
As part of my responsibilities as an asset manager for a resort, we had to relaunch the signature dining outlet. Therein, I arranged for many meetings with wine vendors to restock our cellar, and an immediate red flag was the use of this ‘food wine’ terminology. Fellow hoteliers take heed!
Luckily, the average customer hasn’t yet caught on to the gilded blunder. But just like how we now sneer at receiving ‘jug wine’ or ‘table wine’, this titular phrase will quickly start to garner the proper amount of scorn it deserves. Ergo, you had best make your sommelier and your servers aware that ‘food wine’ will soon be verbum non gratum (Latin for ‘a word not welcome’).
My diatribe aside, the point remains that for your drink menu to truly shine all of your beverages must be able to hold their own. True, there are places where volume is the game of the name, but in most cases we are all trying to deliver an elevated product that the entire team is proud to work for while every customer goes home feeling fulfilled.
For this end, you simply must take meticulous care in curating the best possible wine list. If a certain selection isn’t working, let your inventory of that bottle run out and don’t restock, lest you are left with a bunch of forgettable food wines that won’t serve your brand.
And this way of thinking applies to every other alcoholic offering. Money is tight these days and your customers are smarter in their spending. They want products that add to their experiences, and not consumption for consumption’s sake. Don’t let your wine list impede the overall success of your restaurant because you were afraid to charge the extra few dollars by the glass for what good wines taste like.