Income Tax, a 55-seat neighborhood bistro in Chicago, has found a way to draw diners past the by-the-glass wine menu for a look at the extensive full-bottle list. The secret is letting them share the bottle with other customers.
The restaurant, which opened late last year, doesn’t call out the bottle-sharing program on the menu. But servers tell each table about it, and a growing number of customers are taking advantage of it. Essentially, they pay for half the bottle, and the rest is up for sale by the glass.
“You’re not forcing people to commit,” says Income Tax general manager Collin Moody. “It allows them to take a test run and we can be trusted in our recommendations, which builds trust.”
Here’s a look at how Income Tax’s program works.
How it works
Virtually every bottle on Income Tax’s list is available for purchase as a half bottle, at 55% of the full-bottle price. The rest of the bottle is sold by-the-glass. For example, a $50 bottle of wine gets sold as a $28 carafe and two $14 glasses. Income Tax typically marks up wine at 33% of cost. “When we sell the whole thing, we end up making a touch more than we normally would (on a bottle),” says Moody.
Once a table orders a half bottle, it’s presented to them in the traditional manner. The server pours it into a carafe and places the remainder in the wine refrigerator. A chalk pen is used to note, on the bottle, how many glasses remain. The wine’s type, quantity and price is also written on the outside of the wine fridge so servers have up-to-date information about what’s available. “It’s primarily viewable by staff, but also at the bar and at a large communal table in the back,” Moody says.
All reds are kept refrigerated just below 60 F and whites are kept below 45 F, Moody says. Opened bottles typically turn over in a day, so they are not vacuum-sealed or treated with preservative gasses. If an opened bottle has not fully sold, the remainder is often shared among the staff for training purposes. “We have far less waste than we would’ve expected,” Moody says.
To make a bottle-sharing program like this work, staff training is essential. Income Tax is closed Sundays and Mondays, so its staff during the week is a consistent crew. Most staff members have tasted every bottle on the 80-wine list, Moody says. This knowledge helps servers steer consumers toward wines they might not typically order. Wine trainings occur nearly daily and focus on wine regions, producers and pairings. For example, Moody has seen consumers opt to try naturally sparkling or Pet-Nat wines they wouldn’t typically order, based on server recommendations.
Anecdotally, Moody has seen customers who order a half bottle switch gears and order the whole thing because they liked it so much. He’s seen diners order a half bottle on a Tuesday night and come in over the weekend to order a full bottle.
He’s talked to many consumers who say they rarely veer from the by-the-glass list, but that the bottle-sharing program has given them more freedom. Income Tax’s revenues from the by-the-glass and the bottle list are roughly equal each month, he says.
Some of the more senior members of the team smile at the junior staff who are excited to uncover an interesting trend in “eatertainment” or the latest single-ingredient concept. We try not to be condescending when we suggest they do some research by looking at past issues of Restaurant Business or old Technomic top chain reports before calling it the next big thing.