A few years ago, many Americans were caught up in the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” phenomenon: we know somebody who knows somebody…who knows Kevin Bacon. Well, the fact of the matter is not that we know Kevin Bacon, it is that we ARE Kevin Bacon. Specifically, the Kevin Bacon character named Chip that we see in “Animal House,” clad only in his boxers, on all fours, taking the hardwood paddle from his frat brother right in the ass.
We are that character, more appropriately dressed perhaps, every time we enter a restaurant and think about ordering wine. As soon as that thought enters our mind, we might as well drop trou and hit the deck, because we’re about to take one for the team, right in the back pocket. Back pocket? Yeah, like where lots of folks carry their wallets.
Most American restaurants mark-up their wine prices in ways that should make the victim’s, er, diner’s head spin. Increases can range from the almost acceptable 100%, meaning double the retail price, to three or four times the retail price. What most folks don’t know is that the restaurant is already buying their wine at wholesale prices, nearly 30% BELOW retail. If they sold the bottle just a bit above retail, say just a bit more than what’s needed to cover their costs of labor and materials (waiters and glasses), they would turn a profit. But no, that’s not good enough. Restaurants see diners as cash machines, ones that don’t need a secret PIN code. Just push the buttons and watch the dollars fly!
Folks, protect yourselves. Learn what various wines sell for at retail. Check out the corkage fees at your favorite restaurants. If they’re semi-reasonable, bring your own bottle. (It shouldn’t be something on the restaurant’s list, and it shouldn’t be a grotesquely low-priced “value” bottle, say, something from our friend Mr. Shaw.) Some restaurants play dirty pool and jack up their corkage so high that bringing your own becomes prohibitive, so watch out for that. If you’re feeling brave, buttonhole the manager and ask how the restaurant justifies its gouging. Let’s stop this abuse. In many places in Europe, restaurants sell wine at or close to retail. They sell, per capita, way more wine than their American counterparts. Go figure.
Do you have any stories about outrageous restaurant prices? Of letting the management know just what you think of their usury? Send them along. Maybe we can start a revolution. Or, maybe, just maybe, we can stop looking so much like Kevin Bacon.