Admit it. Are you guilty of having ordered the second cheapest wine in a restaurant, because you didn’t quite want to be seen going for the cheapest, but didn’t really want to spend any more than that?
If this is something you have done, fear not, you are NOT ALONE, as is evident from this popular YouTube video which takes a humorous look at this widespread tendency:
Joking aside (!), plumping for the second cheapest wine may not always work in your favour. Let’s not forget that restaurants are businesses and need to make money to survive. The savvier amongst them are not immune to the psychology of their customers, and like many businesses will tune in to that psychology in order to maximise their profits. So it is not uncommon for them to increase the margin they make on a wine which holds this position in the list. As a restaurant wine buyer myself, I can confirm that this trick is not just an urban myth.
Even if you know about the second cheapest trick and have always prided yourself on avoiding ordering that wine, what you may not know is that the same trick often applies to any wine on the list which is sold in high volumes. These tend to be wines made from the most fashionable grape varieties or those with very recognisable names. So if you want the very best value for money, then AVOID trendy or well-known wines. So no more Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, Rioja, Chablis or Sancerre…sorry if one of these is your favourite! Again, restaurants have tuned in to customer psychology here. They know that people feel bewildered by wine lists and that they want to get the experience over with as quickly as possible by picking something they recognise.
Of course I’m not saying that you can’t order any of the above if you love drinking them. I’m just saying that you may not necessarily be getting the best value for money. Other, lesser-known wines on the list will likely have smaller margins applied in order to encourage sales. How do you know which of these to select? Refer back to my guide, ‘Seven Top Tips to Navigating a Restaurant Wine List‘, engage with the sommelier, ask to taste, know the language around the styles you enjoy, and be brave!