We are an importer, exporter & wholesaler of alcoholic beverages & food with type 14 public warehouse & fulfillment service

The Blind Pricing Problem at Wine Bars Without Menus

There’s a general consensus among those in the industry that wine is struggling with younger drinkers. General consumption is down, especially among millennials and Gen Z, though one look inside Sauced or Anfora — two of New York City’s trendiest wine bars — and that reality can be questioned.

Any day of the week, both bars teem with 20- and 30-somethings all looking to try new wine in low-key, welcoming atmospheres. The two establishments share something else in common: Neither wine bar has a menu.

By operating without a written list, these spaces open the door for exploration, encouraging drinkers to try something out of their comfort zones they might never have ordered. The style of service is more conversational, and guests get to try small samples before selecting a wine, ensuring they’re poured something they’ll thoroughly enjoy.

It’s always thrilling when a staff member is able to gauge a palate just right and present a customer with the perfect pour. But often, in the no-menu model, guests have no idea how much their bill will be until it arrives at the end of the evening. And that can be a problem. Blind pricing has the potential to be these bars’ achilles heel, increasing their vulnerability to flying arrows in the form of disgruntled guests who feel they’ve been short changed. That reality has prompted upgraded pricing models and service considerations that make drinking at a no-menu wine bar a truly unique experience.

No Menu, No Problem

Both Sauced and Anfora favor a conversation-based service style that’s entirely guided by each guest’s palate. By asking questions like “What are you in the mood for?” or “What flavors do you like in wine?” a degree of pretentiousness is removed from interactions, allowing even novices to find new favorite glasses, and learn why they like them in the process.

“Once we hear what flavors [guests have] been loving, we’re really able to stretch our wings to find them something new they like.”

As Sauced manager Ariane Benichou explains, a number of guests come into the bar and order wines they think they like, but may have heard others order previously, like Sancerre or Pinot Noir. However, when actually conversing with these guests, Benichou often discovers that their palates are not aligned with those wines and a different wine is more suited to their desires. “The whole point, though, is to not make fun of them,” she says.

At the Williamsburg wine bar, the small staff chooses about a dozen bottles from the cellar every night to pour by the glass with the goal of having multiple varieties, regions, and price ranges. The team aims to have as many options available to ensure they will have something for anyone who walks through the door.

It’s a similar situation at the West Village natural wine bar Anfora, which ditched a printed glass list when it reopened following Covid-19 lockdowns. (The bar continues to offer a bottle list.) It’s also shaken up the by-the-glass program, reducing options from 28 to 35 glasses (pre-pandemic) to a rotating selection of natural wines that changes on a nightly basis — all with the aim of minimizing waste and enhancing the guest experience.

Cody Pruitt, Anfora’s general manager and beverage director, estimates that around 65 percent of guests don’t have a wealth of wine knowledge, though they’re thirsty to learn. Given that Anfora specializes in natural wines, Pruitt is often able to pour them a wine they enjoy but with a flavor profile they haven’t experienced before. “I’m really eager to find out what people are excited about because we have so many good bottles,” he says. “Once we hear what flavors they’ve been loving, we’re really able to stretch our wings to find them something new they like.”

Blind Tasting Blind Pricing

While it’s all well and good that customers consistently encounter glasses they love, these positive experiences can easily turn sour when a check arrives at the end of the evening, and the guest learns that a newly beloved wine stacked up at $25 per glass. This is the major sticking point with this style of service.

One Yelp user found themselves in this exact situation after a visit to Sauced, claiming in their review that a lack of price transparency left them feeling like the lack of a menu was nothing more than a ploy.

“Because we weren’t given a menu, we had to go off the waiter’s recommendation and before we could ask about the price he had come back with an open bottle and started serving us,” Charles L. says in a March 2022 review. “It was only when I settled the bill that I realized I had been given one of the most expensive bottles.”

Upcharging and overselling, of course, are not the main aims of a bar operating without a menu, but rather an unfortunate consequence of not having printed prices — not to mention the general discomfort most people feel around raising the topic.

Since March 2022, Sauced has changed its pricing structures, and the majority of by-the-glass pours now come in between $12 and $15. The bar also implemented an “Always Ask” policy that all staff members must follow. In fact, questions regarding a guest’s preferred price range are the first asked once Sauced’s staff has determined what kinds of wines guests enjoy.

“As a manager, I really saw an issue in the past with a colleague overbidding and trying to oversell without taking care of price sensitivity,” Benichou says. “That’s why we really implemented in the team the practice of asking for a price range. We don’t try and guess for people. We don’t want to make them uncomfortable. We want it to be as clear as possible.”

“Wine is expensive and I feel like the price has gone up even more proportionately than rent.”

Even so, slip-ups can still happen. If and when they do, Benichou urges patrons to let staff know so they can supplement the cost either by offering a discount or by pouring an extra glass free of charge. “We will do something to make it better,” she says. “The last thing we want is for guests to be frustrated.”

Similarly, Anfora also had to implement a more explicit pricing strategy for its by-the-glass pours after first launching the no-menu operation with no set price range. Now, every glass is priced between $17 and $20, which is outlined on a small card on each table, and if the wine happens to fall out of that price range, it is always articulated to guests prior to pouring.

To ensure guests never feel disgruntled when their bill arrives, Pruitt explains that servers directly convey how much a glass costs after they’ve served a sample pour. Occasional complaints still arise, but because guests are unhappy with how much they’re paying for wine in general, rather than not knowing what that price is.

“Wine is expensive and I feel like the price has gone up even more proportionately than rent,” Pruitt says. “But I do feel strongly that in terms of the quality of wine that we’re pouring, $17 to $20 is a fairly conservative price range that offers incredible value.”

The article The Blind Pricing Problem at Wine Bars Without Menus appeared first on VinePair.

Leave a Comment

Resize text-+=