How To Stock Your Bar


For restaurant operators, what comes out of the bottle may be almost as important as what comes out of the kitchen.

When selecting beverages for Vancouver’s Uva Wine Bar, Steve Edwards, GM and sommelier, considers whether the product “delivers style and quality, along with a good price point.”

Previously at Barefoot Bistro in Whistler, B.C., Edwards is an industry veteran, so his contacts have been painstakingly developed over many years. “I’m willing to meet new suppliers, but relationships mean a lot in this business,” he says. “They know my restaurant. The wines they bring me to taste fit my needs.”

Getting to know the customer and their needs is the primary focus of suppliers such as Ontario-based Hobbs & Co., Wine Merchants. There are many advantages to working through such agencies, says Margaret Hobbs, president of Hobbs & Co. “Wine is a significant revenue stream for restaurants and helping them find exactly the right wines is an important part of our job,” she explains. “Serving unique wines, unobtainable elsewhere, certainly gives your restaurant cachet. Another advantage is customers don’t know the retail price, so they can’t question the markup.”

Recognizing the need for uniqueness, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) has developed licensee-exclusive  products. “The Specialty Services Department assists in obtaining products from around the world not currently available in our retail network,” explains Heather MacGregor, communications coordinator with the LCBO. “More than 13,000 SKUs were ordered through the department in the last 12 months.” And, this year,
the LCBO unveiled its enhanced ‘Licensee-Only’ portfolio of wines, a collection created in response to requests, only available to licensees.

Meanwhile, forming relationships is valuable to both producer and operator, says Evelyn Campbell, co-owner of Blasted Church Winery in B.C.’s Okanagan. Unlike most wineries who work through an agent, Blasted Church has its own sales staff for lower mainland sales. “Not only can we keep our customers up to date on what’s happening at the winery, but we get to know their needs,” she explains. “It enables us to plan ahead to meet those needs.” For example, a longstanding relationship with Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has, at times, necessitated purchasing Pinot Gris grapes to fill the required bottles. “It’s an honour to be chosen year after year and one we take seriously. So we always meet the demand,” says Campbell.

The biggest problem for operators is sourcing from smaller producers, and, here agents can help. Restaurants can only purchase directly from a winery in their own province. And many smaller wineries simply don’t produce enough wine to qualify for inclusion in provincial liquor board listings. Their product, then, is effectively excluded from other provinces unless they have an agent. Hobbs, for example, has several B.C. wines on her list.

But while liquor boards and agents can assist with sourcing, Edwards adds, “Volume is another issue. I have to buy 12 bottles at a time of specialty products. So I’m sitting on 10 bottles of Chartreuse Yellow.” Some problems just can’t be solved.

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