I’ve never been to The Federalist in Boston, but I’ve always wanted to go. According to an article in the latest issue of QRW (Winter 2005/2006, p 13), The Federalist has a unique and amazing selection of wines; however, many people seem to balk at the wine list prices. The restaurant’s general manager, William "Chip" Sander, defends their high prices by stating, "What’s forgotten in all this is that no serious restaurant can survive just on fine food. Preparing it costs a lot of money. Great food comes to them from sales of wine and spirits."
I hate this excuse.
Chip is admitting that wine prices are jacked up in order to cover the costs of preparing food, and that all serious restaurants must do this to survive. But here’s my question: Why must we, the wine drinkers, subsidize other customers who merely eat and not drink? If I have to pay $100 for a bottle of wine that cost the restaurant $25, then the guy at the next table who drinks only water and orders a $25 tuna steak should pay $100 for it too. Why am I paying more for my wine so he can have a better meal?
Surely a restaurant won’t last too long if they start charging $100 for entrees. But it doesn’t seem fair that wine drinkers have to support the restaurant’s overhead. Why not mark up the food a bit more, mark down the wines a bit more, and even it out? Charge more for food and less for wine. Maintain a standard profit margin across the menu, whether it’s for food or drink. There’s far less work involved in opening a bottle of cabernet than in creating a dish of Beef Wellington, so why put a higher markup on the item that’s actually easier for the restaurant to prepare?
Chip’s statement also irritates me because it implies that inflated wine prices equal great food. Well I’ve been to a number of restaurants with expensive wine lists, and the food has often been average at best. I’ve also been to a few restaurants with modestly priced wine lists, and the food has been outstanding. For example: New York City’s Landmarc (and no, I don’t secretly work for them, even though I rave about them all the time). Their wine markups are extremely low – probably not much higher than their markups on food. But the restaurant does extraordinary business, the meals are excellent, and I’m sure that chef owner Marc Murphy is surviving quite well, despite the fact that he isn’t gouging people on wine prices to cover his food costs.