One of the side effects of the recession, I’ve noticed, is that more restaurants are introducing an element of food and wine pairing into their menus. It may be simply a question of suggesting a wine that is available by the glass to go with a dish or a more ambitious food pairing experience - the key thing is that both the front of house and the kitchen can pull it off.
The other night I went to a tapas bar which had introduced two menus paired with wines. They’d really got behind the idea, found a sponsor for the promotion and the manager was enthusiastic about the concept but it didn’t quite work and this I think is why:
* The formula is not ideally suited to tapas which is a casual, pic’n’mix way of eating. It’s based on a selection of dishes rather than a succession of courses which can be carefully matched to a wine.
* The wine wasn’t sufficiently interesting to carry the pairings (or encourage the customer to trade up - the point of the whole exercise for the restaurant, presumably). Being tied to a single supplier also limited the pairings that could be offered.
* The kitchen didn’t have the skill to pull off the complex dishes they were creating. (Or the time, with a busy restaurant, come to that.) To be fair that’s actually very hard to achieve. I’ve only ever come across one restaurant that could create perfect dishes to match specific wines on demand and that was run by France's top sommelier
So how might they have done it? Well, presumably from their point of view the object was to create a point of difference from other neighbouring restaurants, and give their customers confidence to experiment. All customers also like deals so here’s what they could have done.
* Offer a deal of the week - one glass of wine with three complementary (not complimentary!) tapas
* Offer a carefully chosen selection of tapas with a matching bottle of wine - for example a seafood selection with a Rueda or an Albarino. Or, for a bigger party, a ‘surf’n’turf experience: a bottle of white with seafood tapas, a red with meat-based ones.
* Gradually wean the customer onto the idea of food and wine matching by offering one or two sweet tapas or a cheese course with a matching glass of wine - encouraging them to order an extra course.
In other types of restaurant where dishes are served individually there’s no reason why you shouldn’t offer a specific wine - or beer - suggestion with each dish, depending on how many items you have on the menu. (A long menu means having a lot of bottles open which makes it harder to keep them in good condition. You could get round this by limiting the pairings to a number of daily ‘specials’
What the restaurant I visited did right was to offer great value for money (£20 for four samples of wine and matching tapas, £30 for 8 wines and tapas tasters) and sell the idea enthusiastically to the customer. Food and wine matching can be a great marketing tool.
Risking a spam attack do you have a view on the best way to sell food and wine pairing. Restaurateurs, what’s worked for you?