Canadian Pizza Magazine

Marketing Insights: Wining and Dining

Michelle Brisebois   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

Wining & Dining

Wine drinkers tend to eat out more often, leave more satisfied and spend 10 per cent more than other customers.

Wine drinkers tend to eat out more often, leave more satisfied and spend 10 per cent more than other customers.

Wine drinkers tend to eat out more often, leave more satisfied and spend 10 per cent more than other customers.

This is good news because Canadians are apparently turning in their six packs of beer for luscious wines. Wine is the new beer – or so it’s being whispered around the water cooler. Wine has traditionally been intimidating, mysterious and reserved for high-end meals on special occasions.

Beer on the other hand went well with everyday life and everyday foods and has enjoyed a long run as Canada’s number one alcoholic beverage. Europeans had a more relaxed approach to wine drinking – they saw wine as something to enjoy with all meals and not just for special occasions. It turns out Europeans were also enjoying other benefits from their wine consumption and this revelation has changed the way Canadians interact with wine.


Most people attribute the turning point for wine consumption in North America to a 60 Minutes episode aired in 1991 about the French Paradox. The segment revealed that researchers were attributing the low incidence of heart disease in France to regular consumption of wine – especially red wine.

A North American Population entering their 30s and 40s took note and wine sales have increased ever since. Recent headlines trumpeted the fact that for the first time in Canada, 2005 wine sales growing at 6.5 per cent overtook sales of spirits growing at 2.3 per cent (Statistics Canada). The beer category grew at a pace of 3.3 per cent in 2005 over 2004.

As information about wine infiltrates the popular press, consumers become more knowledgeable and comfortable with the category. Older consumers also have more disposable income and as such, sales of premium wines have increased. Red wine represents 54 per cent of wine sales – driven by the perceived health benefits of red wine and by an aging population developing a more sophisticated palate.

The increase in wines sales are not only driven by a higher price point – Stats Canada also reports that volume sales per capita have increased annually at about a 4.5 per cent rate. On a per capita basis – every Canadian aged 15 and older spends $161.10 per year on wine.

The fact that wine consumption is on the upswing is good for foodservice because a strong wine list can be a reason for people to try your restaurant and a reason for them to come back. It’s also a very profitable menu item and therefore worth making a priority. The tricky thing about selling wine is that it involves a more complex skill set than other menu items do and therefore, operators need to think about their strategy and execution of a solid wine offering.

The first step is to build your wine list around your menu. When your menu changes, make sure that you have wines complementing the flavour profiles of your dishes. Merlots and Gamays typically pair beautifully with tomato sauces and a nice buttery Chardonnay can be great with a creamy Alfredo pasta sauce.

The more you can take the angst out of the wine selection process for both the patron and the server, the better it will be for everyone. Make wine recommendations next to the menu items and explain why the “berry notes of the Merlot complement the fresh garden tomato taste of the sauce.”

Wine is romantic – work this into your marketing strategy. Consider a “fixed-price tasting menu” where a small pour of select wines is paired with an appetizer, entrée and dessert. Of course, your staff will be key to the success of your wine program and so you’ll need to look at ways to give them wine support and education. 

The more effectively your staff can employ a consultative sales process, the better your sales will be of wine and other key menu items. It can be a challenge to engage young wait staff in wine education. Turnover may be high and at a young age, natural interest in the wine category may not be very developed yet.

Some operations have found that creating “wine advocates” on staff works well. It starts by nurturing those long-standing employees to support new servers in their wine training. It will be easy to identify those who have a natural passion for wine and who want to share it.

According to Mike Kaburis, vice-president of operations for Boston Pizza in Quebec, a successful wine program starts with giving staff opportunities to make wine less complicated and pleasant for guests.

“At Boston Pizza, we work with wine suppliers to implement product training for front line staff.  We show them where the wine comes from, how it works with the menu items and even bring in bottles for them to practise removing the cork. Removing a wine cork in front of a guest can be a stressful moment for a server so; allowing them to get comfortable with this in training can help develop their confidence. It’s clear that today’s guest is more informed about wine and wants to order better quality wines than ever before.”

If your operation isn’t licensed, you can still benefit from wine pairings with your menu items by focusing on the take-out menu. Create Post-it notes to stick on take out containers that suggest a delicious wine pairing with your food. The customer can then pick up a bottle at the LCBO or a wine retail store.

Check out Topper’s Pizza website ( to see a wonderful example of this strategy being executed. Toppers has partnered with the Ontario Wine Council to pair VQA wines with their pizzas.

Customers will enjoy your entrée more with a lovely wine and they’ll be appreciative that you recommended it. If you don’t feel that you have the expertise to recommend wines with specific entrees, consider hiring a sommelier or wine consultant to help you select the best pairings.

Wine is almost human in the way it changes from year to year, from bottle to bottle and from day to day. It’s thought to have health benefits, it helps your guests enjoy their experience more, it’s very profitable for your business and consumption is growing. If you give this area some focus, support and a bit of passion – it will turn out to be a very good year indeed.•

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