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Picking on wine mark-ups a ‘cheap shot’

Criticising restaurants for the amount they charge for wine is a “cheap shot” according to one leading London restaurateur.

Will Smith of Wild Honey and Arbutus

Speaking at a seminar during the London Wine Fair last week, Will Smith, co-owner of the Michelin-starred Wild Honey in Mayfair and Arbutus in Soho said: “It’s easy to pick on restaurants about the price they charge for wine – I think it’s a cheap shot.

“There’s a high closure rate in the industry due to tight margins as people can’t make a buck. Restaurants are businesses and should be trying to make a profit.

“People must accept that central London restaurants have to charge a certain amount for wine as the rent rates are extortionate.

“The only way to increase customer spend is on wine so we’re trying to get people to open their wallets with a smile.

“Selling well is about empathising with the customer and making them feel good – you don’t want them to leave with a bad taste in their mouths.”

Smith is bullish about the state of play of the London on-trade today. “Business is strong for us. People are feeling good at the moment and have a decent amount of disposable income, so they are dining out more frequently.

“In Wild Honey in Mayfair we get more hedge fund managers and people from the art world, while Arbutus in Soho draws more marketing and media types,” he said.

Wild Honey in Mayfair

“Dining is becoming more casual by the minute. There are less suit and tie places in Mayfair now. What people are after is an experience. They aren’t actually spending less money in casual dining venues, they’re just eating in a more relaxed environment,” he added.

Regarding changing attitudes towards wine in the on-trade, Smith stressed need to diversify offerings and encouraged the use of both Coravin and carafes.

“Arubutus takes the bistro model and is all about value so we offer our entire wine list by the carafe to encourage people to try different styles of wine.

“I love Coravin, it’s a fantastic way to introduce customers to wine and make it more approachable,” he said.

“A lot of diners aren’t bothered about the history of the winery or where the grapes were grown, they just want to drink an affordable bottle of wine that tastes good,” he added.

While Smith is pro the casual dining model many new openings have adopted, he isn’t convinced that the sharing plates concept offers diners value for money.

“A lot of new openings have gone down the small plates route and only a few, like José and Barrafina, have done it well. Tapas is not always as affordable as it seems – there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors,” he warned.

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