Archive for the 'dining' Category

How will “service included” affect wine?

What is the average tip at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group? It is 21%.

This figure comes from John Ragan, who is the group’s Wine Director. It’s also the same amount that wine prices will be rising under the group’s “hospitality included” initiative, which eliminates tipping at the group’s 12 restaurants starting next month with The Modern. The impetus in moving to a “revenue sharing” model is that kitchen staff, in particular, will see a pay increase since they are often legally forbidden to share in tips.

john_raganRagan says that a diner today who buys a $60 bottle of wine actually pays $72, assuming an average tip. “It’s like paying in two installments,” he says. Under the “hospitality included” pricing, the bottle will simply be $72, service included.

“It’s so much cleaner and easier,” he says. “It’s like a European model for restaurant pricing.” He also compares it to Uber, which has service included, as opposed to a cab.

With total pre-tip bills expected go up about 23%, wine will have a slightly lower increase.

“We realized early on, that it would be easy Read more…

Will eliminating tipping crimp wine sales?

eliminating_tippingDanny Meyer’s restaurants will phase out tipping next year. Simultaneously, they will raise prices 25% and remove the tip line from diners’ checks.

“There will be one total, as if you were buying a sweater at Brooks Brothers,” Danny Meyer told the New York Times. No more tipping at the coat check or the bar either.

It’s part of a growing trend across the country at both high-end restaurants and low. The Times piece presents reasons to eliminate tipping include simplicity for the diner (Brooks Brothers sweater) as well as being able to better pay kitchen staff (federal labor laws prevent pooled tips from being shared with the kitchen staff). Union Square Hospitality Group, headed by Meyer, employs 1,800 people and serves about 50,000 meals a week.

What do you think? Many people find America’s tipping culture irksome while others say that it is the basis of superb service.

One thing is for sure: the already high prices of wine in restaurants is going up. If you order a $100 bottle of wine at a Danny Meyer restaurant today, you pay $115-$120 after tip. Post-reform, that wine will be $125. Is that going to prevent you from ordering that bottle of wine? Probably not. But it is more than you paid before.

Marvin Shanken probably does not like this news. The publisher of Wine Spectator set off a firestorm in 2006 when he tackled the subject. In discussing a wine-drenched meal in which there was $300 of food ordered and $1,200 of wine, he suggested tipping 20% on the food portion and 7.5% on the wine for a total tip of $150. Under the new USHG policy of including a service fee, the bill for that meal would be $375 higher.

Whether eliminating tipping and raising prices will crimp high-end wine sales remains to be seen. I doubt that the total spend will be that different, frankly. But there may be some “trading down” in some categories, especially as diners adjust to the higher sticker prices. And it would be interesting to know how this will affect sommelier compensation; perhaps this will remove a (perceived?) incentive to steer diners toward higher priced wines and foster greater trust between sommelier and diner.

The world’s most confusing wine list?

confusing_wine_listHave you ever sat down at at wine bar and thought, “Man, I’d really love a glass of vieilles vignes ’13!” Never mind what grape variety the vieilles vignes are yielding. Nor where they are grown. Nor who presided over that growth and subsequent fermentation and maturation. Just a straight up “vieilles vignes ’13”? Frankly, it sounds like an outdated campaign bumper sticker from France. Outtakes from the full campaign posters: “Victoire aux vieilles vignes! Contre la discrimination des vignes agées! On y go les vieilles en 2013!”

Anyhoo, if this sort of ordering sounds like what you’d like to do, then sidle up to the bar at Hatchet Hall in LA. The sommelier has put together a fiendishly minimalistic wine list that was first called out for its absurdity by Besha Rodell of LA Weekly and then retweeted by, well, everybody in the food and wine TwittoFacebookoblogoshpere. Rodell describes the list broken down into categories not of your quotidian color, variety, or regions but rather by categories like “Heather,” “James,” and “Michael.” Upon request for clarification, Rodell was told these were the names of the “portfolio managers,” whatever that means (distributor sales reps?). Then there are the woefully insufficient wine terms including the “vielles vignes ’13” as well as “Teleki ’13” and “Bela Jufahrk ’11”

Apparently, the list tries to emulate George Saintsbury’s 1915 “Notes on a Cellar Book” in it’s minimalism. But is woefully insufficient in providing actionable information for the diner. While I haven’t seen the whole wine list (it is not available online), the photos of it posted in Rodell’s thorough dismantling of the list make it make it worthy of including in a seminar of how NOT to write a wine list. Sure, some bistro wine lists in France only include the region and the price but those are not particularly informative either.

Wine is complicated. But there are ways of making it easier to navigate a wine list. This, however, is not one of them.

Why you don’t find winery restaurants in the US

Last year, one of Australia’s leading wineries, Henschke Vineyards, branched out. The Henschkes opened Hill of Grace, a fine dining restaurant in downtown Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval, a place filled with tradition and lore as cricket test matches are played among various national teams. The restaurant’s wine list is centered on a Henschke wines but includes other Australian and imported wines. Wines from Henschke Hill of Grace, arguably Australia’s finest single-vineyard wine, are currently available back to 1990 and a glass of the 2010 can be yours for $125 US. When I spoke with Stephen Henschke recently in New York, he said the restaurant was doing very well and they were thrilled with the reception.

While that’s great for locals and tourists to Adelaide, it does leave the American wine mind wondering…why are there no winery restaurants away from wineries in America? Where’s the Screaming Eagle Nest at SF’s AT&T Park? Harlan Estates on Houston in Lower Manhattan? Franzia on Freeways?

The simple reason is that vertical integration is not allowed in the wine industry. In the aftermath of Prohibition, various state and federal authorities passed various regulations that split the industry into three tiers (producer, wholesaler, and retailer–or restaurant) and banned them from overlapping (with some exceptions that allow for one company to straddle two tiers). Tied-house laws, as they are called, go so far as prohibiting wineries from even providing incentives to retailers. On a related note, given that AB InBev seems intent on siphoning many beer brands–and even spirits with Diageo rumored as a target–into one giant keg, tied-house laws have thus far prevented the emergence of the Bud bar, Stella saloons, etc.

So, if you want a dine at a winery restaurant that’s not at a winery, you’re out of luck in America. Better hop on the plane(s) to Adelaide.

Eataly: a lot of pasta

Fast Company has a piece on Eataly, the enormous and enormously successful (grocery) store with restaurants inside it. For those who haven’t been, the stores have an innovative concept that harkens back to an olde tyme market with different vendors for fish, meat, and pasta, interspersed with fresh fruit and vegetables, dried pasta and olive oils, restaurants of various themes, a wine store (now back), a rooftop beergarden, a wine bar, an espresso bar, a gelateria, and a bookstore. My kids never want to leave when we’re there. Eataly NY is a collaboration with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s B&B Hospitality Group.

No surprise, but it turns out that they’ve been doing very well: Nicola Farinetti, the 30-year-old CEO, tells the magazine that the New York City location has $85 million in revenues; the Chicago location will hit $50 million in sales. New locations in LA, Boston and a second NYC location in the World Trade Center are forthcoming. Eataly started in Italy in 2007 and now has 15 locations there and has 11 in Japan. London, Hong Kong, Moscow, Munich, Paris, São Paulo, Sydney, and Toronto all are in line to get locations.

That is a lot of pasta. Surely, even though the Fast Company story doesn’t mention it, after Shake Shack’s recent IPO, they have to be thinking of a public offering somewhere, sometime.

The Grinch who stole wine from The French Laundry

“Wine thief with nose for the best reaps huge haul at The French Laundry” – SFGate

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a grouse;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While memories of chanterelles danced in the diners’ heads;
The shrine to fine dining was closed for a remodel
All the foie gras put away, corks firmly in bottles. Read more…

Quick takes: Questioning the IMW; rebuffing Resy


“The IMW is little more than an elitist club, accessible by invitation only, designed to keep the riff-raff and rabble out.”

Such is one nugget in a trenchant opinion column on the Institute of Masters of Wine that appears on Be sure to check out the comments.

* * * *

What to do when demand for restaurant reservations exceeds the supply? Some restaurants, such as the innovative Alinea and sister restaurant Next, adjust the menu prices higher to coincide with peak demand times (check out this Big Data blog from Nick Kakonas of Alinea). For others, there reservation scalpers have emerged, much to the disdain of restaurateurs. A third way of creating a secondary market for reservations has emerged where diners pay surcharges for peak dining times and start-ups share share those demand charges with restaurants.

One SF restaurant owner says he rebuffs all such approaches as “borderline offensive.” [SF Gate]

I am intrigued by these sites but, while they may work for certain people, if one restaurant were full, I’d simply try another. What do you think about the value of these apps/sites?

New York City has the world’s best wine lists: WFW


New York City has the most top wine lists in the world according to a new ranking from the World of Fine Wine. London is second, San Francisco third, and Chicago fourth according to the British publication, which rolled out the annual awards for best wine lists for the first time this year.

Instead of taking the measure of a wine list’s length, the panel of experts looked at quality. Here’s how Neil Beckett, the magazine’s editor put it in a press release, “As we were judging, we had in mind the wise words of our fellow judge Francis Percival about the difference between ‘a great wine list and a mere list with great wines on it’.” More about the wine list judging methods can be found on the WFW site. It is not immediately clear if the restaurants had to pay a fee in the nomination process. And it’s not clear if value/markups played a role in the deliberations.

In all, 224 restaurants achieved the top grade, a three-star rating. The list of New York’s 36 restaurants follows after the jump. Read more…


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