How to Be a Restaurant Spy
How do you know if a restaurant is overcharging, really inflating their prices?
Easy. Check the wine list.
A few months ago at our Breaking Into Food Writing workshop in Denver, former food critic and current travel editor to the Denver Post, Kyle Wagner, explained that restaurants mark up their wine prices anywhere from 50% to 400% over the retail price. But you don’t have to be an aficionado to know how much you’re being overcharged.
Here’s Kyle’s advice: Go on a wine-price reconnaissance mission. Spend some time in your local retail wine store and get to know the prices of a few “middle of the road” wines… popular, moderately-priced wines that show up on most menus in nice restaurants.
You can even write down a few prices on a note card, if you want to. That way, you don’t have to know all the retail prices — just those for a few of the more popular wines. Kyle says that, in general, the mark-up will be consistent across the whole wine list.
So if the middle-of-the-road wines are marked up by 200%, then the cheaper and more expensive ones probably are, too.
And that mark-up is likely to be reflective of the markup on food as well, which can give you some indication as to the value you’re getting in the restaurant as a whole.
Wines marked up by 50% to 100% — that’s not unreasonable. Beyond that and you’re getting into territory where you should question whether diners are being taken advantage of.
Insights like this one — and many others Kyle shared — can give you a real edge over other writers when you’re crafting your stories.
Because all of a sudden you’re noticing more and bringing more experience and judgment to your coverage. And, without question: Editors will notice… and that’ll help you sell more.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]