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Hi John!

Can you please tell my husband and me why restaurants in Santa Barbara do not offer a sensibly priced wine by the glass?

The last place where we ate had great food, but the least expensive glass of wine was $9.00 at lunch time. That would be $18.00 for the two of us and we’ve frequently found that the amount poured is on the stingy side. So, we did without wine for our lunch, although begrudgingly.

Can you enlighten us on this seemingly short-sighted approach by restaurants to the dining out experience?  Thanks.


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30 Responses to QUESTION OF THE DAY

  1. David says:

    I think the reason might have to do with wanting to make money.

  2. Krista and Tony says:

    Well, sarcasm aside, I’d say because they can! But really there’s a lot of waste in opening bottles of wine, you can only keep an open bottle for so long and if you don’t sell it all well then that’s a loss.

    • lemonjelly says:

      I second this. It’s economies of scale. I’ve found that buying 2-3 glasses of wine will be the equivalent of buying the whole bottle. That makes sense since the probability of selling all the remaining wine a la carte is low. I don’t recall this being a localized issue either.

  3. Charlotte says:

    Are you serious? We don’t live in a ghost town!

  4. Scott says:

    The obvious answer is to get drunk in the parking lot before dinner.

  5. Hikmer says:

    Sorry to say but most the time its cheaper and way better to pull a good local SB wine off the shelf @ Von’s Montecito and just cough up the corkage fee…I moved to OC and a few restaurants here have SB wines and half the price that downtown SB restaurants offer…and better labels/vineyards.

  6. Bob says:

    Pretty disappointing, but they charge exorbitantly because they can and some of them probably need to. Booze is a huge moneymaker for restaurants trying to cover their monthly nut and this town is pretty difficult to survive in. If people would only stop paying these ridiculous amounts…I virtually never order wine anymore unless I feel like fully splurging.

    In France or Italy you can pull off at a roadside cafe and get a glass of wine for 2 and a half or 3 euro (4 bucks), almost always poured from a carafe from a local winery. Unfortunately, Santa Barbara culture/economics doesn’t subscribe to that. I remember a thread on Edhat (or maybe it was here??) a while back that had a pretty good listing of who in town charges what for a simple glass of house. Might be a good idea to run with that idea on this site.

  7. Suzie Q says:

    1. Thanks to the movie Sideways, SB believes people will flock here and be willing to spend any amount of money for “the best wine in the world”!
    2. Because rents are so expensive in SB, one of the best (and sometimes only) way to make any money at all is to do it through the sale of beer, wine and alcohol. Often times, it is the ONLY way some restaurants stay afloat

  8. Art says:

    Try Cafe Stella
    many glasses for $6 and and at happy hour $3.50

  9. I am happy to say that Fresco Cafe offers wine by the 3oz, 6 oz. glass and bottles. We have a very nice selection and all our wines range in price from 3.00 for a 3 oz. and 6.00 for a 6 oz. and up, most under 8.00. We have California and Italian wines to offer, all very reasonable.
    Jill Brouillard

  10. Doug says:

    $9 isn’t really very much for a glass of wine. Everyone wants to talk about how much more a glass is than when they buy a bottle, I’m fighting a losing battle but here goes anyway: Most high end restaurants use premium glassware, $14 each, and every time they go to a table there I the potential to break one or more which means the restaurant loses money on that transaction. I assume you want someone to open your wine? Pour your wine? Come back and offer you another when you are finished? This person is not working for free. I assume you would like a clean glass? Water to wash the glass, and paying someone to wash it cost money. Flowers on the table? Lights? A building to sit in? All I these things cost a restaurant money, and they have two ways to recoup this money selling food and selling alcohol. That’s it, no other source of income. So maybe stay at home with your Vons bottle and pour it yourself

  11. Andi Garcia says:

    Hi Sharron,
    I love going to Roy and getting a great dinner under $20 and sharing a half bottle of Castoro Bros for about $15 .. its the best .. I love it.. and Hope you give them a try 🙂

  12. TPizzle says:

    The mark-up on wine is the same as everything else in a restaurant. It’s that simple. Even good beer, especially in a keg – or if it’s made on premises – is cheap. Good wine is not cheap. Until wineries start to sell their wine for less, restaurants in general can’t lower their prices. If you’ve found a $9 glass of wine you like, stick with it. I think that’s a nice price to pay to enjoy a glass of wine in a restaurant.

  13. Ken Boxer says:

    At Palazzio our House Wine is always 5.00 a glass and during our Happy Hour it’s 3.95 a glass. Currently, we are serving Hardy’s (Austrailan) Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon and Frontera Pinot Grigio. We pour a 7oz glass. Just a side note, during our Happy Hour we serve the largest 48oz (four drinks in one) cocktail in SB. The price: 10.00

  14. Doug says:

    Obviously we have different opinions of “drinkable wine”

  15. Les Clark says:

    What a great topic. Good read!

  16. Lily says:

    I am under the the impression that for many fancy high end restaurants, they turn very little profit from food and get most of the money from serving wine. This explains why wine seems to have the highest mark up. The small ethnic restaurants on the other hand are already self sufficient on serving food alone, so the wine is just something extra on the side. They may not sell as much wine, but they also don’t have to serve it in expensive glasses in a good locale with view of the beach.

    I personally never get wine in a restaurant. I think the bitter hoppy taste of a good locally brewed beer is much better accompaniment for food.

  17. Sharron says:

    Bob, thanks for your reply. We’ve lived in Europe and have enjoyed many a glass of reasonably priced house wines. Roy sounds like a place we should try. Doug, the restaurant that pays $14 for a glass in which to pour wine needs to shop elsewhere. We care much more about the wine in the glass than the glass itsself. We always thought that restaurants were in the business of selling FOOD. That’s why we go to them. But, wine is something that compliments the food. It doesn’t make sense to spend more on wine than on food, especially at lunch!! What happened to the house wine; i. e., vin de table. Let’s get back to the bistro idea where you get the food of the day and the house wine which used to be called “loose wine.” No one worried about opening a specific bottle. Charlotte, you’ve got the right idea about nice wines being overpriced and underpoured. This is a great thread! Keep it going! We may start a wine wake-up call among the restauranteurs in Santa Barbara.

  18. Silvergreens Downtown location offers 6 types of local wines, all from Kalyra or Oreana and charge $6.50/glass (generous pours) plus often have specials for less than that. All premium beers at Silvergreens are $3.50/bottle and often have specials as well.

  19. Krista and Tony says:

    I assume you mean “gouge” and the mark up is pretty similar. Beer in a keg doesn’t go bad after a day or two like a bottle of wine does. On top of that a place that has 6-7 beers on tap is OK but having that many wines by the glass is really weak. You need a lot more selection for wine because there is so much varietal difference. By th e by, since when is a pint of beer “the biggest ever” perhaps your perception of size is … er skewed?

    • Charlotte says:

      Since you are splitting every hair in my post…yes, I did mean gouge! Thank you sooo much for catching that. I never said my husband’s beer was a pint, it was more than that, the exact measure, I couldn’t tell you. And by the way, there are only four glasses of wine in one bottle of wine. I would think there would be no problem selling four glasses of wine for lunch and or dinner service! So I think the excuse of wasting unsold wine is ridiculous just as the excuse of having to open so many different varietals! Who says you have to offer every wine by the glass?

  20. Michael says:

    One of my favorite restaurants in the world is called Passion Fish in Monterey. Check out their wine program. They have obviously found a formula that works as they only mark up their wines a small amount. They sell a bottle of Brewer Clifton 08 Mt. Carmel for $65 – the same bottle being sold at Olio Limone, Bouchon, etc. for $110+ They are packed every night, are in a high rent district and serve amazing food paired with a wine list far more interesting than anything i’ve ever seen in Santa Barbara. No one in Santa Barbara is doing anything close to this with a wine program. It’s a shame because if they did, and they served good local healthy sustainable food, they would make up for the lost wine margins with a packed house, not just weekends – but everyday.

  21. Barclay says:

    Yes, it’s true that when you eat out at a nice restaurant, you should expect to pay close to what the bottle costs for the restaurant to purchase it for a glass of wine. Being in the industry it’s infuriating when people think that they know what they are talking about that a restaurant is just marking up their wine to gouge customers. It is the way that they stay in business. If you want to have beer at a local pub, go and do that. But fine dining is a different story altogether, whether it be lunch or dinner. When I order a nice glass of local wine, I expect for it to be served in nice stemware, I expect for the person serving me the wine to be knowledgeable, and know how to pour, know some facts about what they are pouring – do you think these things come free? If you don’t want to eat out and you want to buy your wine at Vons, what’s stopping you? This is the economy of the wine and restaurant business. You should think about these same sorts of questions for whatever industry you are in in regards to the economics of your business. Vintners work day in and day out to ensure that they are delivering a quality product, I won’t even go into the costs and investments that go into producing a bottle of wine. Restaurants and chefs work in the same way. Delivering quality is not $3 a glass. Good luck.

  22. Charlotte says:

    Who is expecting $3.00 a glass of premium wine in a “fine dining” restaurant? Nobody! We are talkIng about offering a decent pour and a lower priced option! Yikes!

  23. Jess says:

    I just saw that Metropulos has red/white glass of wine for $4/each…

  24. JR says:

    The markup in restaurants is always the highest on alcohol, often 300%. Meal prices need to stay appropriate to get people in the door. Also, most non-chain restaurants don’t typically have more buying power than a consumer and don’t have the room to store multiple cases of their entire wine list.

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