Self-Pour Wine 101
According to Toast’s 2019 Restaurant Success Report, managing operation costs is a top challenge for the majority of restaurateurs, with 52% of respondents citing it as their number one concern. Not too far behind it is hiring staff, which is a challenge stemming from a rapidly expanding industry and a supply of potential staff that simply isn’t growing quickly enough to keep up. This issue is only exacerbated by the fact that employee turnover rates are now at an all-time high at 75%, which increases labor costs.
These are industry-wide issues that won’t be solved overnight. However, there is a creative way to address both at once, and give your establishment a unique value proposition for customers in the process. Assuming you read the title, you probably have a pretty good guess as to what that solution is: wine on tap.
Currently, the most common venue types that use wine on tap are bars, fast/casual restaurants, nightclubs, and casual dining. But self-pour dispensers can be suitable for almost any setting if the vendor is willing to try something a bit different in terms of presentation of wine to their customer.
So How Does Work?
Very much the same as beer on tap, as it turns out. Anything that can be kegged can be served on self-pour taps, and wine is no exception. And the principle is always the same throughout: when the customer or server pulls the tap handle, gas pressure pushes the kegged wine out of the keg and through a glycol-cooled tube and into the tap. In the case of self-pour systems, customers will use an RFID card linked to their payment method in order to dispense their wine and pay by the ounce.
Wine on Self-Pour Taps?
The self-pour beverage wall isn’t just innovative for the sake of being so; it can bring about significant benefits for your overall sustainability of service, revenue-cost structure, service efficiency, and environmental impact as a food/beverage establishment. And while many of them are geared towards beer, there are plenty of customers who love its use for wine as well.
A lot of the benefits of wine on self-pour taps, including its role in profit optimization, stem from its inherently superior sustainability relative to a traditional bottle dispensing format. Let’s take a look at how this sustainability comes about and how it can help your business.
No oxidation: Any restaurant or bar serving wine will strive to deliver a consistently fresh taste to its customers, but that proves difficult when serving only bottled wines. As soon as a bottle of wine is opened, it begins to oxidize, which degrades the flavor and aroma of the wine. This introduces the risk of an opened bottle of wine losing its quality before enough orders are made to finish it completely. When wine is kegged, it is constantly pressurized, preventing passive oxidation in the keg. As it gets dispensed, argon and nitrogen push the wine from the keg into the glass, blanketing and cooling the beverage and preventing oxidation from occurring each time the tap is opened. Because they are so well-insulated, kegged wines are guaranteed six full weeks of freshness, meaning a glass on Day 40 will taste as fresh as a glass on Day 1.
Efficient storage: Rather than having hundreds of bottles to keep track of as they go in and out of your bar, keep track of just a few kegs. It’s also much easier to maintain the right temperature for your wines using kegs. A standard keg of wine has a capacity of 5 gallons, which equates to about 24 bottles of wine, or about 120 glasses. The amount of storage space you’ll use for one keg is a fraction of what you would use for 24 bottles, meaning you can take up much less space at your establishment for the same amount of wine.
Serving out of kegs is going to significantly reduce the number of operational tasks between a customer’s order and the service of their wine. With a keg set up, a customer’s order can be practically instantaneously poured from the keg, as opposed to having to find and open a new bottle, and correctly dispose of empty ones. This gives your restaurant or bar staff some more room to breathe so they can focus on delivering more attentive service to customers. This itself can become a profit driver, as customers may be more motivated to make additional drink orders when their server is more present and engaging directly with them.
The increased sustainability and efficiency of wine on tap also translates to a massive reduction in your establishment’s carbon footprint. No more throwing away empty (or partially full) bottles at closing, because the kegs you’ll be using are reusable. Over the course of a year, a single keg can eliminate the need for thousands of wine bottles which drastically reduce glass and cork waste. Also, the large amounts of packaging material you would usually need to throw away when buying bottles in bulk will no longer be an issue. This all amounts to a more environmentally friendly service structure, and this can even benefit your business’s public image by positioning yourself as eco-friendly can be a very attractive value proposition for customers. Yet another driver for potential profit.
This is the big one, and we’ve been alluding to it for a while. Better sustainability can significantly decrease your operating costs, and the increased versatility and service efficiency achieved by selling via tap can increase your revenue potential, thereby boosting your profit margin from both ends.
More options, more revenue: For the customer, wine on tap means more versatility in the way they can purchase, relative to a typical bottle service format. Restrictions for premium wines to be only by the bottle don’t need to exist. This enables customers to feel more free to order the wines they want without committing to an entire bottle. That increased sense of freedom for the customer is likely to inspire some experimentation with various wines on tap and the quicker service may reduce hesitation to having more than one glass in a night. For the vendor, this translates to more frequent purchases, and thus more revenue stream.
Reduced operating costs: The increase in service efficiency does more than encourage more frequent purchases. By serving wine on tap, you end up eliminating a significant number of your operating costs and reducing your costs for materials (namely the wine itself).
- Buying wine in bulk amounts directly, as opposed to in bottles, is cheaper per unit volume, meaning you’re spending less to gain the same volume of inventory
- Costs associated with cooling hundreds of bottles at once are reduced to a fraction of that cost, as kegs are specifically built to maintain cool temperatures efficiently and for extended periods of time.
- With traditional bottle service, wines are frequently opened and spoiled before enough orders can be made to empty the bottle. This means that your establishment is incurring significant opportunity costs from that wasted wine, simply because it couldn’t be kept fresh. As mentioned before, kegged wine is protected from passive oxidation and can stay fresh for 6 weeks. This means your opportunity costs from lost wine are going to be much lower, as kegs will likely empty before that period is over (if that does not happen, you may want to reevaluate the popularity of that particular offering).
- Finally, the ease of access that comes with tapped wine, meaning that your typical server will have more time to handle tasks more efficiently. This means that your overall staffing needs will likely reduce, and this will very likely decrease your expenditure on wages as well.
Is Wine on Tap
We mentioned earlier that the most common types of establishments offering wine on tap are bars or fast/casual restaurants. It certainly does not have to be limited to those alone, but there are certain factors that are more conducive to making it work best.
New Restaurants: If you’re a new restaurant still in the process of being set up, integrating wine on tap can become a seamless part of that process. If you decide to move forward with it, you might find that your restaurant naturally begins to build its personality around this unique and distinctive feature.
Restaurants/Bars that offer flights: A particular selection, or flight, of wines can be attractive to customers looking to experiment. Offering them on tap is a great way to increase the speed and efficiency of offering them. Without having to worry about spoilage, restaurants can increase the number of flights offered and market them more to customers. For restaurants known for their flights, it can represent a solid return on investment for the expenditure on the tap technology.
Self-Pour Taproom: If you have an existing taproom, adding wine to a primarily beer or cider-heavy set of offerings is a great idea to better serve the needs of a broader market. Now, patrons more interested in wine than beer who come with their friends or families to primarily focused craft beer taprooms will have purchasing options as well. There are also wine-focused taprooms. You can take a look at one of them here.
Roman Maliszewski, an owner of two self-pour taprooms in Chicago and a self-pour taproom in Seattle with a variety of wines on taps explains his reasons for offering wine on taps:
Self-Pour Is Than Staff-Pour
So we’ve made a case for selling wine on tap, but we’ve also mentioned self-pour taps. We’ll always be the first to tell you that selling beer on self-pour taps is the way to go, but many of the same benefits can easily apply to wine as well. Here are some things to keep in mind about offering wine via self-pour taps.
Sampling is a win-win: For customers, self-pour wine makes sampling quick and easy, arguably more so than with staff pouring. Tasting by the ounce is attractive to the customer because they can avoid spending significant amounts of money on wines they don’t like. For you as a vendor, it means you are capturing revenue more precisely relative to volume, as payment is measured by ounce. This is particularly helpful for wine, as it can be difficult to standardize drink volume for staff serving wine. Self-pour completely eliminates free samples, which are surprisingly costly to bars and restaurants that offer them.
Self-pour wine is efficient: The primary value proposition for any self-pour technology is that it puts the power entirely in the hands of the customer. They can pour whatever they want, whenever they want. This can be extremely powerful as it eliminates opportunity costs from customers who might hesitate to order but not to pour. Still, self-pour for wine is not right for every restaurant or bar, which brings us to our next point.
If you are curious about basic “Do’s” and “Do Not’s” when opening up a self-pour taproom, download our guide below!
How To Wine on Tap
Getting Wine in Bulk
Acquiring wine to fill kegs understandably requires that you buy it in bulk; but thankfully that doesn’t mean buying several separate bottles. There are a number of companies who partner with wineries who are able to generate enough wine to be packaged in large quantities at once, usually transported overseas in large bag-in-box containers that can carry up to 1000 liters of wine. These containers are cooled and preserved so they do not suffer any quality issues by the time they get to your keg. An example of a company that does this is The Artisan’s Cellar.
Cleaning Your Keg
Any equipment you use in wine service needs to be cleaned, and the keg is absolutely no exception. Any unwanted bacteria or foreign agents can contaminate and degrade the taste of your kegged wine. Most kegs will have an access hatch on top, which, when opened, can be scrubbed and washed with an appropriate cleaning agent. The best methods may differ based on what your keg is made of, so talk to your keg provider about this in more detail.
Filling the Keg with Wine
Before doing this, you may wish to consider aging processes for certain wines, as different wines may be optimally served after certain aging periods. Once you’ve ensured a wine has aged appropriately, you’ll need to siphon from the transport container into your keg. This will be done using the same access hatch as before.
Eliminating Excess Oxygen
You’ll need to quite literally “push out” the air that’s in the keg with the wine, because it will start to oxidize and degrade your wine if not done. This process is done by connecting a gas disconnect to your keg and siphoning out any oxygen that may still be in the keg.
We recommend completing this process multiple times, as will your keg provider, in all likelihood. Listen to make sure there is no hissing as the siphon occurs to ensure your keg is fully de-oxidized.
Serving Your Wine
Once your keg is ready to go, make sure you keep it in the right temperature, depending on the type of wine it contains.
What Kind Of ROI Can You Expect on a Self-Pour Tap System?
Your return on investment will vary significantly based on the type of establishment that you are, and the amount of wine you sell over a given period of time. Installation will depend on which company you work with, and can range from high four to low five-figure amounts. But for a wine-heavy restaurant expecting to sell a few hundred bottles each month, the additional revenue gained from the decreased spoilage as a result of a tap system should net you a 100% return on investment in between 6 – 12 months.
Naturally, that figure can vary quite a bit depending on the size and overall traffic of your establishment, but regardless of those factors, the extra revenue gained from the comparatively non-existent wine spoilage will add up quite quickly. To get a better idea of what you can specifically expect, check out and test these wine on tap ROI calculators, which take into account your acquisition cost for wine, your selling price and quantity per glass, and your expected quantity sold per month to calculate a reasonably accurate estimate of your return on investment after installation.
For Self-Serve Wine
On the most basic level, offering wine via kegs and taps massively increases sustainability and reduces waste compared to bottles. This is because kegs prevent oxidation and allow wines to last for up to 6 weeks; they also completely eliminate the use of glass bottles which significantly cuts down on your cost of goods sold and also reduces your carbon footprint.
The user experience also gets a major upgrade, as customers can enjoy a steady taste for a better price and in the case of self-pour wine, this gets even better with eliminating the usual restrictions. Wait times are eliminated, and there’s no need to buy an entire glass or bottle of the wine to figure out a drink preference. This enables patrons to buy wine more freely and thus more frequently, and significantly reduces your need for staffing and overhead. After all, you don’t need to be their server if they can serve themselves and have fun while doing so.
We hope we were able to give you some helpful insights into the benefits of wine on tap! If you have any questions, or if you are interested in getting your own self-pour setup, don’t hesitate to reach out to us! Feel free to click the button below and someone from our team will be in touch shortly.
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