Harleen Singh Rawal, Director, Food & Beverage, Le Meridien Gurgaon
Food and Beverage professionals must realise that champagne and sparkling wines can never be cash cows on a wine list, so pricing them sensitively on the volume module will lead to greater results in terms of higher sales, says Harleen Singh Rawal, F&B Director, Le Meridien Gurgaon. To these words of wisdom, Rawal adds a caveat: There’s going to be no let-up in the rising landing prices of champagne and the stereotype of it being a “celebration drink” is yet to be broken!
On the pricing of champagne and sparkling wines, Rawal points out that the cost of a pour of sparkling wine is usually 1.5 times that of still wine (and most beginners usually start with a glass of bubbly, not a bottle) because of the low shelf life of each opened “We have observed that it has become a fashion statement among our guests to order a glass of ‘bubbly’ and then
“The cost of a pour of sparkling wine is 1.5 times that of still wine because of the low shelf life of each opened bottle, so for bars, the profit margins from sparkling wines is lower than those of still wines.”
bottle, so for bars, the profit margins from sparkling wines is lower than those of still wines. It is particularly true for sparkling wines by the glass, for you can get at most four glasses, compared with 4.5 of a still wine, because of the shelf life differential.
At all Le Meridien hotels, the Bar, which is at the reception area, focuses on a brand programme named ‘Sparkling’, which is an opportunity to display prominently the champagnes and sparkling wines in stock, and serve aperitif-style sparkling drinks in the evening hours. As a result, says Rawal, move to the drink of their choice. At social functions, where predominantly brown spirits used to be favoured, the hosts are now keen on serving still and sparkling wines of a good quality. At quite a few corporate events at our hotel, the guests raise a toast with sparkling wine before the start of dinner.” Clearly, hotels can make a difference to the demand for champagnes and sparkling wines by “increasing their visibility”.
Rawal says hotel guests today do know the difference between champagne and sparkling wines. “People are well-travelled, which helps, as do effective marketing campaigns by beverage brands and staff awareness. And of course, no one is unaware of the price differential,” says Rawal. At Le Meridien Gurgaon, he adds, Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial NV and Tattinger Brut are most-in-demand champagnes. Their equivalents among sparkling wines are Danzante Prosecco and Chandon Brut.
On the inroads made by cava and prosecco, Rawal says: “We were among the first hotels in the city to have cava on our menu, but somehow, prosecco has stolen the show.” Prosecco is more popular, according to Rawal, because, compared to cava, there are more brands in the market across all price segments and many more Italian restaurants than Spanish ones. Champagne, on the other hand, is still reserved for special or celebratory occasions. Guests like to splurge on a bottle on their birthdays or anniversaries, or at special events.
He then goes on to list the factors, in the order of salience, in his view, that determine the sales of champagne and other sparkling wines:
- Brand: A classic example would be a guest preferring a Moet
& Chandon or Dom Perignon, both synonymous with special celebrations, rather than a less popular brand.
- Price: It is a key factor for guests who have newly acquired a taste for sparkling wine.
- Region: A French cremant or a Californian sparkling wine has a less chance of selling compared to a Prosecco.
- Taste and Quality: The more people get exposed to champagnes and sparkling wine, the more demanding they’ll get, and expect better quality.
On domestic sparkling wines, Rawal says expats love to try these out as the category is not available in their parts of the world. The price sensitivity of local sparkling wines also makes them a hit among guests. Most restaurants and bars sell domestic sparkling wines by the glass and as a pour for cocktails, so naturally the demand and consumption are more.
More players in the domestic segment has meant fierce competition and greater incentives for hotels to push their sales, which, in turn, lead to their prices coming down and domestic sparkling wines becoming the favoured pre-dinner drinks.