Go For the Bottle?

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: Daniel Hamermesh

In American restaurants, I have always seen a glass of wine (perhaps 6 to 7.5 ounces) sold for at least 1/3 of the price of a bottle of wine (750 milliliters=29.6 ounces), so that the per-unit price of a glass is typically at least 1/3 more than a bottle. In the U.S., it’s always cheaper to buy a bottle of wine than buy glasses if you are having 3 glasses or more. In the Parisian restaurant we visited, the per-ounce price was the same whether you bought a glass (150 milliliters) or a bottle (750 milliliters). Indeed, even a carafe (pichet) of 500 milliters was sold at the same per-unit price. Why did the restaurant do this, given the costs of fetching the bottle each time and pouring glasses (as opposed to uncorking once and leaving the bottle on the table)? Also, given the mark-up on wines at restaurants, the owner should have an incentive to get customers to buy more wine-to buy a full bottle. I don’t understand what seems to be a pricing anomaly.

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  1. Tim Harford says:

    Perhaps the Parisiens hope that you will buy a bottle AND an extra glass or two of wine? A very European perspective, I know, but still…. cheers!

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  2. Jean-François says:

    Because the French relate differently to food, and especially wine. Wine is a staple, not a luxury. It is part of the culture. Many restaurants also have sophisticated “by the glass” dispensing systems.
    Even better, in most restaurants a quarter litre of wine is cheaper than a Coca-Light (diet Coke) ;-)

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  3. Eric Wallace says:

    I really think its because the Europeans do not understand capitalism at its purest form and that is too make money.

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  4. Daniel B. Fukuhara says:

    I’m perplexed as well,…..I was under the assumption that EVERYONE was motivated by competition through capitalism and not competition through quality of craft. Agreed, someone not possessing an inflated Western style of thought is quite the “anomaly”, if not an all out faux pas. Keep the reasonable prices for the serfs.

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  5. Sam says:

    You’re correct that from a purely economical perspective, it makes sense for restaurant-goers to buy a whole bottle when drinking three or more glasses. However, this doesn’t take into account what each person is ordering. If members of a particular dinner party are eating different plates, this might influence the type of wine they’d like to accompany their meal. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if in a country like France, which takes such pride in its culinary tradition, restaurateurs wouldn’t want to penalize their patrons for ordering different glasses of wine to appropriately complement their meals. This is just my theory.

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  6. Mark Prevoo says:

    The American pricing scheme only promotes more wine consumption if the average consumption with a constant per-ounce price is less than a bottle. When Frenchmen drink more, relatively cheap bottles could prevent them from drinking an extra glass above 75 cl.

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  7. Béranger says:

    Apparently, the wine consumption in France has declined, it is not what it used to be decades ago.

    Simply put, they sell less bottles of wine. So they decided to design an incentive in order to turn people from beer, Coke, whatever, to wine: make the glass of wine more affordable!

    Hence, having a “fair” price of a glass of wine would make people more attracted to the wine consumption.

    After all, when you buy per glass, you can drink a different wine with each course, so with a lunch or dinner you could “discover” a wide assortment of wine, possibly making you a wine aficionado in the end.

    See these articles (in French):
    http://www.sommelier-vins.com/article-2743074.html
    http://www.sommelier-vins.com/article-2278687.html

    They seem to advocate the need for a promotion of drinking per glass, not per bottle.

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  8. Robin says:

    Maybe they think the pricing will entice more people to come in and have a meal.

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