Sunday, 5 June 2011

Stuart's Moans: Wine Prices

We all have our personal moans when we eat out and Stuart Clark who hosted For Food’s Sake last May in The Sugar Club is no different. One of Stuart’s several moans of the evening was the price of wine in restaurants and he shared his frustrations with the panellists. It turned out that Caroline Byrne, Dublin editor of the Bridgestone Guide felt the same way:

“This is one of my moans as well, not just because of the price but the range is so limited and uninteresting. I know it’s not worth the money that I am paying. An alternative could be bringing in your own wine and paying a corkage fee, this could create a better value of wine in restaurants. However saying that there is only a handful of restaurants doing it now.”

The introduction of BYOB is not as simple as it sounds according to Paul Cadden, owner of Saba and former President of the Restaurant’s Association of Ireland: “If customers want really cheap wine we can get really cheap wine but they are not going to like it. There is another side to wine prices and it is in regards to the supermarkets. They sell alcohol so cheaply that most people are used to it and it’s tough to compete. The BYOB concept is coming into restaurants but it will take time to come in.”

Joe Macken from Jo’ Burgers agreed with Paul and explained that restaurants are not trying to rip-off customers but they are experiencing a side-effect of supermarket’s race to the bottom. “Supermarkets are annihilating what restaurants can do because they buy vast amounts of wine at incredibly cheap prices. If you walk into a supermarket off-licence the beer and wine is cheaper than what restaurants buy it. It’s really hard for us to compete. We are not trying to screw the customer by jacking the price. We are getting screwed by the government, we can’t compete.”

Stuart’s moan had hit a chord with the audience as the microphone was passed around the crowd to add another voice to the debate. One man strongly disagreed with Paul and Joe about restaurants’ stance on wine prices. “Don’t you think people can budget to eat out if there was a corkage fee? It’s got nothing to do with wine producers in Ireland.  It’s only to do with price and cost, simple as that.”

The topic had begun to show its complexities and Caroline Byrne was quick to bring her insight and understanding to the debate. “We are not a wine producing country, we are importing our wine and there is huge tax on wine.  It costs a lot less in places like Australia and South Africa. I do think it is a good way to go but I don’t think it will be decided tomorrow, it will take time.”

The discussion was finally concluded not by the panellists but by a woman from the audience who was met with applause for her wisdom. “I’m Australian and I have worked in hospitality in Ireland and Australia. With a BYOB policy the restaurants in Australia are cheaper to run. Restaurants here rely on marketing wine, for restaurants to make any money they need to do this. If you bring people in and charge two quid corkage the restaurants will not make any money. It may feel like a better deal to a consumer but it is counterproductive.”

That ended a good session of debate that went back and forth between the panellists and the audience. It was time to move on as there was plenty more issues that deserved similar attention while Stuart also had more moans to moan about. Keep checking back for more detailed discussion from the second For Food’s Sake evening.

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