Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Retail wine pricing

It's been a pretty good day. I woke up on time, did the stuff I needed to do around the house, ate a healthy breakfast, and headed out the door to a reasonably productive day at work. Toward the end of the day, I got an email regarding an issue that pisses me off. Retail pricing of wine and how the winery gets involved.

Now, most of the rants online about wine pricing I have ever seen is in regards to restaurants. "They charge too much."  "How come I can buy a bottle at Shop-n-Save for $8 and it's $6 per glass at Applebee's?". "I saw this online for x and they charge 4x for it at Caustalauta Bistro Cafe Wine Bar." You get my point, however this isn't what I'm talking about.

The little glimpse I want to give you is in the scenario that a retail shop buys a case of wine, and puts it online for sale for a profit, but the winery doesn't think they are charging enough.

Yes, you read that correctly.

There are wineries that call me if one of my retail customers is advertising a wine on a nationally-known wine price database at too low of a price. Keep in mind these retailers aren't putting the wine at $0.01 over cost. They are making a modest profit. Sure, it's a bit lower than most of the rest of their wines, but they are still making money.

This issue is that the winery thinks that the price in question "devalues" the wine, and causes them sales problems nation-wide.


What is most likely is that someone at the winery in question has a big ego, and can't handle the fact that a business might use their popular product to draw customers into their store or webspace. This, in turn, elicits the situation where I have to call the store, asking them to raise the price.

This, I assure you my friends, is an uncomfortable call to make. They bought the product. They own it. They are within the boundaries of what the State of Missouri has deemed legitimate pricing. They are making a profit. They are using a popular product to draw attention to other products in their mix (a normal business practice). However, someone in California/France/Italy/Australia/Wherever thinks that they should charge more.

I guess what makes me angry is that the last time I checked, this is America, a free economy. I have also heard over and over again that something "is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it."

What gives these suppliers the right to price-fix the cost of your enjoyment at home of a nice bottle of wine?

Before you ask, no, I'm not going to name the winery or the retailer in question. Just realize that there is more going on behind the scenes than you realize when you swipe your debit card for a glass of fermented produce.

((Stepping down from soapbox))

Cheers y'all.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Kyle Diaries Continued- My Second Restaurant Job

As I said in my last post, I need some practice. Truthfully, I also want to put some of my memories from the early years in the restaurant industry in print for the simple fact that I am hoping it will jog more memories that time or red wine have hidden in my conscious.

The second restaurant job that I was able to acquire while still in high school was across the street from TGI Friday's in the slightly more upscale Houlihan's. Instead of being a host, this time I got hired as a waiter. Now the big bucks were going to roll in. Never mind the fact that I had never in my life waited tables. How hard could it be? I would just take the customer orders, punch them into the computer, deliver the food, and rake in the tips. Evidently Houlihan's wasn't very worried about my development as a waiter either. My training consisted of memorizing the menu items, taking a test over them, and following one of the more senior waiters for a couple of shifts.

There I was- like a spotted fawn staring right into the headlights of an oncoming freighter. I could look down into the "pit" at my 5-table section, as it was a lowered section of the restaurant that was 4 stairs below me. The guys on 65 had just been sat, the ladies on 66 needed lemons for their Iced Teas, Dammit, what did the couple at 67 need? The 5 top of businessmen at 68 had been waiting for their steaks for more than the 17 minute standard that had been on my test, Oh good, another table sat. I was, as industry terms go, "in the weeds".

The first physical sensation that I felt was that my head started to feel a little funky. I never knew that I could actually feel the earth spin, but there it was. My heart started beating at an incredible rate, and my palms were instantly beyond sweaty.  Fries! That's what the couple needed- I had forgotten their fries! I walked thought the door into the kitchen to grab a couple plates of the seasoned fries that were under the heat lamp. Vision- blurry. Heart- about to pound out of my chest. Pits- even sweatier than my palms.  I heard the expo say something like "The new kid doesn't look so hot" as I leaned backward into the wall and slumped down.

I don't think I was out for very long, but it was certainly long enough for a small crowd to gather around me. Joe, the hot-shot Assistant GM got me a paper bag, told me to breathe into it, commanded someone to go look after my section, then suggested I take the evening off.

Great- I was a week into my first waiting tables gig and already being handed my pink slip.

Nope, Joe assured me. I just needed some training. He had me come in the next day early, took me under his proverbial wing, and taught me properly how to wait tables.

I always wonder what happened to Joe. He just wasn't there anymore one day. As waitstaff rumors often go, there was speak of money missing from a safe, cocaine addictions, and sleeping with the 17 year old hostess, none of which had anything even approaching confirmation.

Houlihan's had lots of great stories involved with it- more to come soon.

In the meantime, have a great day and drink something good.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Kyle Diaries- My first restaurant job

So, the reality of the situation is that I want to someday get paid to write. Sure, I have gotten paid for an article here and there, but it would be really cool to pursue my food and wine passions without hustling every single day for sales.

That being said, I need to practice more. A lot more.

That being said again (I guess I need to find another way to start a paragraph), I shall tell you about my first ever job in the restaurant industry.

When I was a sophomore in High School, my best friend Spencer got a job at TGI Fridays in Overland Park, KS in the shadow of the Oak Park Mall. From what he said about the job, it was the greatest thing ever. He could wear goofy clothes (those hats...ugh), made tons of money, and the hottie post-college waitresses would sneak shots of Malibu into his shift cola. He suggested that my friend Brody and I apply for jobs there as well.

I remember very little about the interview process except that I wore a dress shirt, tie, and pants that were likely a little too short at the ankle and snug in the waist. The lady that interviewed me seemed too old to work in a restaurant, and reeked of Parliament Cigarettes. Even though I thought I was interviewing for a bus boy position, she offered me a job as a front-door "host". I said sure to the $5.25/hour position and asked my parents to buy me a couple new shirts and pants.

Most of the memories that I have of my tenure at TGIF are more like Polaroids than actual memories. I do remember thinking that the ability to tell future-paying customers that they will need to wait an hour and a half to be able to sit down to their grilled chicken and free piece of birthday cake was an awful lot of power for a 16 year old kid.

The following are other snapshots that I have in my mind:

There was a head bus boy nick-named "Crash"  because he once knocked over an entire cart of racks of glasses, breaking them all. We thought he was cool.

There was a poser-type host named Ryan that had frat boy hair, and drove a white mercedes that his parents gave him. He once lost the car for a couple days because he let some girl at a bar take it for a spin. The cops called him two days later when they found it abandoned in the parking lot of a K-Mart.

I watched the OJ white-bronco chase on one of the overhead TVs during a shift.

That restaurant was the first time I ever got hit on by a guy. I was so incensed (he worked there) that a manager told me not to hit him, otherwise he would have to fire me.

There was this stacked dude named Reggie that got me to come out and play softball with the restaurant team one time. I struck out all three times up at bat, and a waitress slid me a Cape Cod at the ensuing lunch.

There was this petite little waitress there- I'm not kidding, she was like 4'2" and must have weighed 87 lbs- that was always getting sent home for wearing too short of a skirt. When I came back from college and was drinking some sort of frozen peppermint schnapps drink at the bar, she ran up and hugged me like we were long-lost best friends. That made me feel special.

I once got a phone number from a lady that wanted "one last fling" before she got married. I didn't follow up on that opportunity- probably for the best.

I saw Expos in the kitchen drop food on the floor, pick it up, plate it, and serve it. I saw waitstaff box up pieces of cake that were left on the table with two bites taken out of it, take them home, and eat them.

There was a girl named Heather that got fired because she dropped a GI Joe toy tent on a table that had been "camping" too long.

I used to tell girls that I went to UMKC so they would talk to me. I was in high school.

I'm sure there are more memories that will pop into my bewildered mind. Hang tight- more to come.


Friday, January 11, 2013

The Champagne Conundrum

Happy New Year. How far into the year can one get away with saying that without sounding weird? My opinion is that the end of the first full week in January is it, no later. Or (assuming you still write the date on anything) as soon as you stop having to think about writing the 3 in 2013.

I digress.

Something I have started to notice over the last couple of years, and confirmed this week by a visit to one of the great restaurants that I sell wine to, is that for New Years Eve a lot of people talk about champagne, but very few people actually drink it.
Now, I'm not talking about sparkling wine in general. Plenty of people drink Cava, Prosecco, Sparkling from California/New Mexico, etc. I'm talking about actual Champagne from France. It curious to me that whenever you see images of NYE, or hear people talk about midnight on that particular occasion, Champagne is always mentioned. However, nobody drinks it.

On the 31st this year, I did a wine tasting at a retail store- in the entire time I was there, not a single person bought a bottle of Champagne. Later, I was at a party with about 30 people this year, most of whom are beyond wine fans and more on the level of aficionados, yet there was only one bottle of actual Champagne on hand. I talked to the GM of a really nice restaurant and he told me that, at midnight on that day, they had about half of the restaurant full, yet not a single bottle of Champagne was on any of the tables.

I wonder why this is. Is it cost prohibitive? I wouldn't think so- you can get into decent Champagne for $40 per bottle. Are people intimidated by it? Possibly.

My best guess is that a lot of people like the idea of Champagne but in reality consider it only a special occasion drink, so they actually know very little about it. That's a post for a different time- you can drink Champagne year-round.

What are your thoughts- did you drink "real" champagne at the stroke of Midnight, January 1, 2013?