wine rep turned fortune-teller

December 29, 2011 · 9 comments

Today I met with a new account opening this week. I’m constantly amazed by how many people wake up one morning and think, “I know! I’ll open a restaurant!” with no other background in the industry. Some have never even waited a table in their life. And yes, I suppose there has to be a first step in every successful journey… and please forgive me for my jaded outlook… but I’ve seen so many of these come and go, even in much better economic times.

There hasn’t been a single instance where I’ve been wrong here. Every account I’ve had doubts about has eventually closed, sold, or filed for bankruptcy whether it be a few months or a few years down the line. I wish that wasn’t the case… I grew to like the buyers/chefs/owners/servers at so many of those ill-fated accounts. Of course, there are accounts that I feel are no-brainers that bite the dust as well, so I’m not always on par with my predictions. Still, I sometimes wish I could just lay it all out on the table at our first meeting… “Look, trust me on this one. Save your money. Get out if you still can. You’re not going to make it.”


Selected excerpts from today’s meeting with New Restaurant Account opening this week:

“Wait, but this bottle has been opened already. Do you have any fresh ones?” I probably should have headed for the door as soon as I heard this one, but I was already in too deep.

“Do you have any good Champagne in your portfolio?” I open my mouth to mention a few of my go-to Champagnes and begin leafing through my price book to the section dedicated to the region, but I’m cut off… “Like Laetitia? That shit blows any other Champagne out of the water…” I quickly close my mouth. And my price book. Simply shake my head. No words. I have no words.

“So what should I charge for this?” I hate this question so much. I speak Wholesale. I don’t know what your desired margins are. I outline a few restaurant price mark-up options, and quickly move on to the next wine.

“This one smells… acidy.” Again, no comment here. Just smile and nod. And silently promise myself a good strong drink at the end of the work day.

“Can I keep the bottles?” This after you’ve ordered a total of 18 bottles from me. Order 18 cases and I’ll consider it.


Normally I discourage bottle-buying. My company adds on a pretty hefty charge… but in this case, I suggested it. I don’t want to get stuck trying desperately to collect as you are preparing to file for bankruptcy.

And opening in the first quarter, when the biggest day they’ve got ahead of them for 4 months is Valentine’s Day? I give this account 6 months, tops.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Tony the Wine Guy December 29, 2011 at 5:09 pm

How many of those dubious new restaurants used my favorite line: “I’m opening a restaurant because I LOVE to cook!” Use that line with me, and your terms are COD. Forever.


Matt December 29, 2011 at 6:21 pm

The more frequent answer to “why did you open a restaurant?” is “because I love to EAT!” I actually had one guy say to me something like “I eat out almost every night, so I’ve got a pretty good idea about how to handle this business.” Follow of course by many of winerep’s example questions, proving that he had no idea.


Erin December 29, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Oh my God. Thank you so much for this post. I feel like such a dream-killer, but whenever someone not in the industry tells me that their “dream” is to open a restaurant, it is all I can do to not launch into a rant about why it’s such a bad idea. I get that this is a passion-fueled industry, and it’s great for people to follow their dreams, but what these people don’t seem to get is that they’ll be running a BUSINESS here, and opening a business in a field where you have no experience is unwise, at best.

Also, I always point out that it would be a supremely bad idea if, after ten years in the wine industry, and having never done anything else, I suddenly decided to sink my life savings into opening a software company. What is the difference in these two scenarios??


Johnelle January 14, 2012 at 1:11 am

It’s always a plseuare to hear from someone with expertise.


Rich December 30, 2011 at 1:54 am

I’ve seen it dozens of times, both restaurant and retail. When the new owners think it would be “fun” to open one and believe “if I build it, they will come”. They think that they should get full samples and that they are free, ugh, then the first time you mention something like a Cahors or Grower Producer, they have no clue what you’re talking about! I just shake my head. There’s a lot that I don’t know, but come on people, you want to make a living at this, but you don’t know some basics?


Elton December 30, 2011 at 7:03 am

For a second there I thought your wine buyer was referring to Billiot’s CuvĂ©e Laetitia and was preparing to be blown away, then realized just what serious plonk they really meant!


winerep December 30, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Elton, funny you should mention that! A friend and I were discussing the incident yesterday and he pointed out the same. If only I represented the Theise portfolio, I could have simply taken the order… “Yes, I do represent Laetitia… how many cases would you like…?”


Jeff Z January 5, 2012 at 7:52 pm

The other classic quote on why I opened a restaurant: “we throw great dinner parties!”

So, you want to then exponentially increase your daily cooking output with no training, and manage a completely foreign-to-you business, and deal with the health department, and ungrateful customers, and respond to terrible “Yelp” reviews and hire and fire a competent staff and deal with the whims of food trends and sink your own cash into it… hey, what’s not to like?


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