Increasing spend on wine reflects creeping confidence

By William Drew

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Peach pub company Restaurant Glass

Diners are opting for marginally more expensive wines, as well as proving more open to suggestive upselling, according to operators who spoke to Restaurant magazine
Diners are opting for marginally more expensive wines, as well as proving more open to suggestive upselling, according to operators who spoke to Restaurant magazine
Wine spend in restaurants – long seen as a barometer for the premium hospitality sector and key indicator of wider consumer confidence – has stepped up a level in recent months across the UK.

Diners are opting for marginally more expensive wines, as well as proving more open to suggestive upselling, according to an informal survey of upper mid-market restaurant operators polled by Restaurant.

However, the recession has ensured that perceived value remains vitally important with the days of unfettered consumption not only long gone, but deemed unlikely to return.

Regional mid-market operator Loungers, Midlands-based Peach Pub Company and London bar-restaurant business Drake & Morgan are among those reporting a steady climb in price point, averaging a few pounds per bottle. They are also witnessing a distinct but tempered surge in overall confidence among their customers.

“We’re seeing a definite increase in average spend on wine,” confirms Foni Tsouvallas, group wine buyer at the six-strong Drake & Morgan. “And it’s much easier to upsell by a few pounds than it was two years ago. There’s confidence out there, but you still have to offer good value.”

Fellow London operators, including wine specialist Vinoteca and top-end D&D Restaurants, are similarly reporting that diners are slowly shifting up the wine-list ladder.

Bristol-based group Loungers, which has expanded rapidly to 40 sites across its Lounge and Cosy Club formats, operates entirely outside the capital. Managing director Alex Reilley says trading is benefiting from the belief that the UK economy is now in recovery mode.

 “People haven’t stopped looking [at the price], but they are happy to spend £3 to £4 more on a bottle of wine than they were a couple of years ago. It’s a tempered confidence, but it is there,” he says.

Regional food-led pub groups Peach Pub Company, with 16 mostly rural sites, and Whiting & Hammond (seven pubs across Kent and Sussex) also report a creeping upward trend. “Eighty-five per cent of wine we sell is by the glass,” says Peach director and wine buyer Jo Eames. “I’m putting wines that are higher and higher [in price] on by the glass and they are selling, which leads to average spend rising.”

However, for some outside the central London ‘bubble’, early-week trading remains particularly challenging. “Everyone is talking about being more confident, but in the provinces we haven’t seen a big change in behaviour yet. Early weekday evenings are still very tough,” confirms Eames

Restaurateur Sam Harrison, who runs Sam’s Brasserie in Chiswick and Harrison’s in Balham – both neighbourhood restaurants in London suburbs – believes the eating-out market in the capital has changed subtly. “There are so many great offerings in the centre of town that in the week people now tend to go out to eat straight from work, rather than locally to where they live. So we’re doing very well at weekends, but less business early in the week,” he says.

This article appears in the December issue of Restaurant magazine, out today. Subscribe here​ or read the digital edition here​.

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