A Restaurant’s Guide to Offering Wine on Self-pour taps
Self-Pour Wine 101
According to National Restaurant News, the top three challenges restauranteurs currently face are inflation, labor, and increased customer demand. With inflation rates skyrocketing and labor becoming more difficult to find and maintain, restauranteurs must adapt by adjusting menu prices to accommodate higher food and labor costs and turn toward automated solutions to reduce labor needs.
These are industry-wide issues that won’t be solved overnight for restaurants. However, there is a creative way to address both issues at once and give your establishment a unique value proposition for customers. Assuming you read the title, you probably have a pretty good guess as to what that solution is: wine on tap.
The most common venue types that use wine on tap are bars, fast-casual restaurants, nightclubs, and casual dining venues. But self-pour dispensers can be suitable for almost any setting if the vendor is willing to try something different in terms of the presentation of wine to their customer.
If you’re interested in learning more about executing wine on tap, check out our webinar on How to Execute Wine on Tap & Its Benefits. In this webinar, we partnered with Free Flow Wines and spoke with experienced operators who discussed how self-pour wine can benefit your business. To watch the recording of the webinar, click the button below!
How Do Self-Pour Wine Taps Work?
Self-pour wine taps work similarly to beer on tap. Anything that can be kegged can be served on self-pour taps, and wine is no exception. 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 into the tap. It’s easy to pour wine correctly with self-pour taps. In the case of self-pour systems, customers will use an RFID card linked to their payment method to dispense their wine and pay by the ounce.
Why Wine on Self-Pour Taps?
The self-pour beverage wall isn’t just innovative for the sake of being so; wine tap dispensers can bring significant benefits for your overall sustainability of service, revenue-cost structure, service efficiency, and environmental impact as a food/beverage establishment. While many self-pour walls have beer on tap, many customers love its use for wine too!
When you get a group of ten in your establishment, you want to make sure you can satisfy all of them, including wine drinkers. You don’t want to lose out on your sales just because some people prefer wine over beer.
Owner of Auggie's Taproom
It is important to consider a wine bottle’s social and environmental impact. Like any other human activity, viticulture has an impact on nature. Unfortunately, the massive use of industrial biocides in vineyards harms the environment by reducing the soil’s ability to isolate greenhouse gasses. Many wine producers are slowly adopting eco-friendly sustainable viticulture practices, and many even seek certifications for these practices. These sustainable vineyard and winery practices conserve water and energy, maintain healthy soil, protect air and water quality, enhance relations with employees and communities, preserve local ecosystems and wildlife habitat and improve the economic vitality of vineyards and wineries. But there is no reason that sustainable wine production should stop with producers. Surveys show that consumers favor companies that follow environmentally and socially responsible practices, meaning that your current (and future) customers will appreciate and support any effort you make.
Before considering kegged wine as a sustainable solution to your problem, you first have to understand why bottled wine isn’t. Some of the main challenges wineries face when serving wine from bottles include overpouring, spoilage, bottle waste (recycling issues), storage (proper serving temperatures), and even ergonomics (staff members having to spend time & energy opening the bottles). No matter how you spin it, the number one source of carbon emissions within the wine process comes from glass bottles.
That said, adopting sustainable marketing is equally as important as adopting sustainable practices. In the business world, companies are assessing their progress by using the triple bottom line. This practice focuses on positively impacting the environment and society as much as shareholders. This measurement of sustainability is divided into three sections: people, profit, and the planet. Adopting a sustainability focus will benefit your business in several ways. For one, it will attract customers. Customers support and appreciate sustainability efforts, and it’s been proven that certain generations are increasingly swapping their services and habits for eco-friendly ones.
Let’s look at how this sustainability comes about and how it can help your business.
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 you open a bottle of wine, it oxidizes, degrading the flavor and aroma and introducing the risk of an opened bottle of wine losing its quality before enough orders finish it. Kegged wine is pressurized, preventing passive oxidation in the keg. As it gets dispensed, a blend of nitrogen and CO2 (AKA blended beverage gas or “Guinness Gas”) pushes the wine from the keg into the glass, blanketing and cooling the beverage and preventing oxidation from occurring each time the tap opens.
With traditional by-the-glass programs, you’re often looking at somewhere between 5-15% oxidized wine waste that you have to pour out because the bottle’s been open too long. This can make it difficult when you are trying to forecast your profits and cash flow.
VP of Business Development at Free Flow Wines
Because they are so well-insulated, kegged wines are guaranteed to remain fresh for three months once tapped, meaning a glass on Day 90 will taste as fresh as a glass on Day 1. Think about it this way: A 19.5-liter stainless steel reusable keg holds about 26 bottles of wine that never come in contact with the air because the kegs are vacuum-sealed. In addition, the thick steel keeps light out, which can damage the wine. When using reusable steel kegs, tapped wine stays fresh for as long as 3 months, and if untapped, it stays fresh for up to 12 months.
All this means that restaurant servers can pour a glass on tap today, close the faucet, open it three months later, and have guests enjoy the same wine. The steel kegs are reusable, recyclable, last longer, and lead to better quality beverages allowing you to serve wine at the quality the winemaker intended.
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 5.16 gallons, which equates to about 26 bottles of wine, or about 132, 5oz glasses. The amount of storage space you’ll use for one keg is a fraction of what you would use for 26 bottles, meaning you can take up much less space at your establishment for the same amount of wine.
Serving out of kegs significantly reduces the number of operational tasks between a customer’s order and the service of their wine. With a keg set up, servers can instantaneously pour from the keg rather than finding and opening a new bottle and correctly disposing of empty ones. This gives your restaurant or bar staff more room to breathe so they can focus on providing more attentive service to customers. This can become a profit driver, as customers are likely to stay longer when their server is more present.
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 are reusable. Over a year, a single keg can eliminate the need for thousands of wine bottles, drastically reducing 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 can even benefit your business’s public image by positioning yourself as eco-friendly. This is an 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. The increased versatility and service efficiency achieved by selling via tap can increase your revenue potential, 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. Premium Wine options are not just packaged in bottles. They are also available in reusable stainless steel kegs – the same quality steel many winemakers use to store their finished wines in before bottling. This gives guests the freedom to order the wines they want without committing to an entire bottle.
Avid wine taster and owner of Wanderlust Wine Co., Sammy Lam, says that he has “always enjoyed visiting establishments with wine but wished for a tool that would allow him to taste wine at his own pace and on his budget.” Wine on tap is a perfect solution to this problem. That increased sense of freedom for the customer is likely to inspire some experimentation with various wines on tap, and quicker service may reduce hesitation to having more than one glass in a night, which translates to more frequent purchases and a higher revenue stream.
Reduced Operating Costs
The increase in service efficiency does more than encourage more frequent purchases. By serving wine on tap, you eliminate a significant number of your operating costs and reduce your costs for materials (namely the wine itself).
- Buying wine in kegs vs. bottles often yields a discounted pour cost per ounce, meaning you’re spending less to gain the same volume of inventory.
- The costs of cooling hundreds of bottles at once are reduced to a fraction of that cost. Kegs maintain cool temperatures efficiently and for an extended time.
- With traditional bottle service, wines are frequently opened and spoiled before guests can place orders 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, kegged wine is protected from passive oxidation and can stay fresh for months tapped. When using reusable steel kegs, tapped wine stays fresh for as long as 3 months, and if untapped, it stays fresh for up to 12 months. This means your opportunity costs from lost wine will 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 allows your typical server to have more time to handle tasks more efficiently. This means that your overall staffing needs will reduce, decreasing your expenditure on wages.
Is Wine on Tap Right for You?
We mentioned earlier that the most common types of establishments offering wine on tap are bars or fast-casual restaurants. It is not limited to those alone, but certain factors 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 wine, can be attractive to customers looking to experiment. Serving them on tap is a great way to increase the speed and efficiency of offering them. Without worrying 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 tap technology. Just look at what Wanderlust Wine Company accomplished by building their business around a self-pour experience. In the Summer of 2021, Wanderlust Wine Co. received an award at the 2021 People’s Choice KEGGY Award by Free Flow Wines for its sustainable practices that reduced 24,000 bottles of wine (and counting) from going into landfills and overall reducing the carbon footprint of wine!
Self-Pour Taproom: If you have an existing taproom, adding wine to a primary beer or cider-heavy set of offerings is a great idea to serve the needs of a broader market. Now, patrons that are more interested in wine will have purchasing options. There are also wine-focused taprooms. You can take a look at one of them here.
Roman Maliszewski, owner of two self-pour taprooms in Chicago and one in Seattle with a variety of wines on tap, explains his reasons for offering wine on tap:
Tapster focuses on creating an inclusive atmosphere, so offering wine is very important to us as a brand. Seasonally, it is very valuable to include different varietals for our customers. Lastly, utilizing kegged wine fits into our mission of creating a very low carbon footprint. We do not sell bottles of wine, so we create much less waste (each keg is reused).
Owner of Tapster
Self-Pour Is Faster More Fun 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 serving beer on self-pour taps is the way to go, but many of the same benefits can easily apply to wine. Here are some things to consider when 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 customers because they can avoid spending significant amounts of money on wines they don’t like. Even beyond saving money, sampling is just plain fun. 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 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 customers’ hands. 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.
Self-Pour Do’s & Dont’s
If you are curious about the basic “do’s” and “dont’s” when opening up a self-pour taproom, download our guide by clicking the button below!
How To Execute Wine on Tap
Where to Get Wines In Keg
There is a wide range of premium wines currently available in a keg. These wines come from around the world and in different styles and price points. You can view a list of wine brands available in kegs here.
With the many options available, you can create a wine program that’s reflective of your business’s mission and model. You can find a list of kegs available in your area by contacting your local wine distributor. If you don’t already have a distributor who sells wine in steel kegs, you can find one here.
Your distributor will deliver fresh kegs and pick up the empty ones. There’s no need to clean the empty kegs or coordinate their return logistics.
Purchasing Wine in Bulk
Acquiring wine to fill kegs requires that you buy it in bulk, but thankfully that doesn’t mean buying several separate bottles. Several companies partner with wineries to generate enough wine to be packaged in large quantities at once. The kegs are usually transported overseas in large bag-in-box containers that carry up to 1000 liters of wine. These containers are cooled and preserved, so they do not suffer any quality issues when 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 get 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 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, consider the 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 at the right temperature, depending on the type of wine it contains. For more information on creating a wine-on-tap program and the best practices, you can find an assortment of resources at TryWineOnTap.com.
ROI of Self-Pour Wine System
Your return on investment will vary significantly based on your establishment type and the amount of wine you sell over a given period. The 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 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 to expect, check out the wine-on-tap ROI calculators below. They account for 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.
Wine on Tap ROI Calculators
serving guidance 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 eliminate the use of glass bottles which significantly cuts down on your cost of goods sold and reduces your carbon footprint.
Improve Customer Experience
The user experience also gets an upgrade, as customers can enjoy a steady taste for a better price. In the case of self-pour wine, this gets even better by eliminating the usual restrictions. Wait times are eliminated, and there’s no need to buy a full glass or bottle of 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!
We hope we gave 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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