Dispensing Profits

Countertop wine storage and dispensing systems deliver extended wine life and more accurate pours. But those benefits can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000 or more. To recoup that investment, some restaurants are aggressively marketing and expanding wine-by-the-glass options.

High lines. At the 23-unit, Dallas-based Fogo de Chao Brazilian steakhouse chain, wine dispensers are being used in novel territory for them: high-end wines. In a four-store test, Fogo is using four-bottle dispensers to pour wine with a higher price point than their regular list—$23 to $28 for a six-ounce pour, $11 to $15 for three ounces and a flight of three two-ounce pours for $24. That compares with a per glass range of $8 to $17 for wine from their regular list. The chain has made the wine dispensers part of the front-of-house decor, displaying them along the walkway leading into the restaurant. Eric Brown, corporate director of beverage operations, says that they try to get the machines “in front of guests, because we would like them to think about it. It’s a talking point. People see it and they get curious about it.”

Fogo is using is one of the more sophisticated systems, costing around $6,000 for each machine. The units provide up to 60-day preservation, which is a must, Brown says, when serving wine of this caliber. All the systems use argon or nitrogen gas to preserve the wine, but the higher-end units have more precise temperature controls and dispensing heads that don’t let in air as the lower-priced dispensers do. While the test is still ongoing, Brown claims initial feedback from both guests and staff has been highly positive. “As long as it is enhancing our guest experience, we see it as being profitable to us,” he says.

Going deep. At the 80-seat Tel’Veh Wine Bar in Washington, D.C., dispensers provide a depth of selection that the bar couldn’t duplicate with bottles. A row of 12 four-bottle dispensers runs the length of the back bar, allowing Tel’Veh to offer a wine-by-the-glass menu of anywhere from 40 to 48 wines, at prices ranging between $10 and $20 for a five-ounce pour. In an average week in January, the bar sold more than 330 five-ounce glasses from the dispensers.

“I can’t imagine having this many wines by the glass without the system,” says Daniel Divine, Tel’Veh’s general manager. His small restaurant couldn’t risk opening 40+ bottles in one night just to have the unused wine oxidize and spoil in a day or two.

The dispensers Tel’Veh selected are on the lower end of the price range, at about $1,100 each. They are similar to the ones designed for consumer usage and tend to let in more air, particularly when the spout is accessed frequently. Divine estimates that some whites will last two weeks and some reds four days” in the system. “It’s still better than corking a bottle. And we lose less wine,” he says, even though an ounce of wine has to be flushed out of the dispenser each day due to oxidation.

The depth of the by-the-glass menu is what appeals to customers, Divine says. An added benefit to the ease of pouring single glasses or one-ounce samples from the dispensers, he says, is that it encourages additional full-bottle sales. “Giving a taste from a bottle that is already open and won’t go bad as quickly is an easy way to inspire customers to buy more wine,” Divine adds.

by Tom O’Brien

Restaurant Business Newsletter