An increasing number of restaurants are using technology to meet evolving guest expectations, stand out in a crowded market, and overcome top operational obstacles, like mounting food costs. In a 2019 survey conducted by Toast, 52% of restaurateurs responded that managing operational costs and food costs tops the list of challenges they’re facing this year.
Reducing operational overhead takes time, in-depth analysis, and a willingness to test new things, including technological advances. Behind the bar, wine on tap has emerged as an effective alternative that allows restaurants and bars to reduce waste and inventory costs while increasing their wine inventory’s life cycle.
How Does Wine on Tap Work?
Wine on tap is incredibly similar to having beer on tap: Anything that can be kegged can be served on tap, and wine is no exception. When a server or bartender pulls the tap handle, gas pressure pushes wine out of the keg through a glycol-cooled tube into the tap where it dispenses wine into your glass.
Wine on tap used with self-pouring technology.
Most restaurants have 8-10 wines on tap, but it's possible to have anywhere from 2 to over 100 taps depending on your business goals and customer needs. Thirsty Donkey, a bar and restaurant in Casa Grande, AZ, offers 8 wines on tap that guests can pour themselves. This system enables the Thirsty Donkey team to offer an easy, innovative way for guests looking to try a wide variety of beverages at a low cost to the restaurant.
Is Wine on Tap Right for Your Restaurant or Bar?
The most common types of restaurants that offer wine on tap are bars, fast casual, and casual restaurants, but deciding whether to add wine on tap depends a lot more on your guests’ preferences rather than your concept type. Let’s walk through the questions to consider before adding wine on tap.
1. Do you have taps?
Whether you’re an existing restaurant with draft lines behind the bar or a new restaurant still in the designing process, incorporating wine on tap requires the presence of taps and draft lines. As such, incorporating wine on tap is much easier for restaurants with draft lines already in place or establishments for which the draft lines were taken into consideration during the designing process.
2. Do you have an existing beverage program?
If you have an existing beverage program, adding wine can complement a beer- or cider-heavy beverage program. Expanding your beverage program can widen your appeal to potential guests who prefer wine and expand your fandom within a broader market.
3. Do your customers order a lot of wine?
Is that a yay or Cabernet? If your guests drink wine a-plenty, you could see high returns from implementing a wine on tap system. Using the sales reports available from your restaurant point of sale system, determine whether your wine sales warrant having wine on tap.
If your customer base does not drink wine and your bartenders and waitresses are never asked the question about your wine offering, then offering wine on tap won’t really make sense as a part of your beverage program.
6 Benefits of Adding Wine on Tap
Incorporating wine on tap at your restaurant or bar has many benefits, including reducing operating costs and waste, creating efficiencies for your team, and improving the guest experience.
John Felico, Owner of Auggie’s Taproom in St. Augustine, FL, says that having wine on tap has made his team able to accommodate guests with more diverse palates. "When I have, say, a group of 10 guests at Auggie's, I want to make sure I can satisfy all of them, including the wine drinkers,” says John. "I don’t want to lose on sales just because some people prefer wine over beer.”
However, John is aware that offering wines in bottles can be costly to the business, which is why he prefers using wine on tap: A more efficient and economic way to serve wine to guest.
Though they will vary from restaurant to restaurant, here are a few of the benefits of incorporating wine on tap into your restaurant's beverage program.
1. Wine on Tap Reduces Inventory Costs
Buying wine in kegs is cheaper than individual bottles, meaning you spend less to gain the same amount of wine. The average keg of wine ranges depending on the quality of the wine but by volume, it should be slightly less to the bottle cost ~$120-$400/keg. Kegs also simply inventory management: Rather than keeping track of hundreds of bottles as they go in and out of your bar, you'd only have to handle a few kegs-worth of wine.
2. Wine on Tap Increases Wine Inventory Life Cycle & Efficient Storage with Kegs
One keg can hold 24 bottles of wine. Once your wine kegs are delivered to your doorstep, it is much easier and less risky to store one keg compared to 24 bottles.
Kegs are specifically built to maintain cool temperatures efficiently for extended periods of time and you use a fraction of the space with one keg compared to wine bottles, meaning you can save on space or have more wines in your inventory.
3. Wine on Tap Reduces Waste
It's a struggle to consistently deliver a fresh product to your guests when you use bottled wine. When you open a bottle of wine it begins to oxidize, which degrades the wine's flavor and aroma. The wine often loses its quality – or worse, spoils – before guests order enough of one wine to empty the bottle.
Kegs constantly pressurize your wine, preventing passive oxidation. When you pull on the tap, nitrogen pushes the wine from the keg into the glass, preventing oxidation from occurring each time the tap is opened. Kegged wines are guaranteed to be fresh for a full six weeks. You're able to reduce waste at your restaurant since kegs will likely empty before those six full weeks have passed.
4. Wine on Tap is Sustainable
Over the course of a year, a single wine keg can eliminate the need for thousands of wine bottles, which drastically reduces your use of glass, cork, and all the packing material that comes with bottles of wine. You won't be throwing away empty (or partially full) wine bottles at closing because many types of kegs are reusable.
As a result, having wine on tap reduces your restaurant or bar’s carbon footprint. An added benefit: If you market the availability of wine on tap in your restaurant, you’ll likely attract customers who want to support a business that values sustainability.
5. Wine on Tap Frees up Staff to Focus on The Guest Experience
Having wine on tap reduces the number of tasks involved in serving wine. Instead of having to find the bottle, open it, pour the wine, and then correctly dispose of the empty bottles, servers can pour wine instantly from the keg to fulfill a customer's order. Servers also don’t need to be trained in how to properly cork, pour, and present wine, saving management time to devote to other pressing tasks or connecting with guests out on the floor.
6. Wine on Tap Expands Your Menu Offerings
Having wine on tap can increase the speed and efficiency of offering flights of wine. Without having to worry about spoilage, you'd be able to increase the number of flights you offer and market them more to customers. For restaurants known for their flights, having wine on tap can be a solid return on investment.
5 Best Practices When Offering Wine on Tap
Once you have wine on tap set up in your restaurant, you’re ready to let the good times pour! Here are a few best practices and things to keep in mind.
Get wine in bulk. Most commonly you will get wine in your keg ready to go right from your distributors, however, some companies also partner with wineries who generate enough wine to be packaged in large quantities in bag-in-box containers that can carry up to 1,000 liters of wine and then refill their kegs themselves.
If sustainability is a priority for your restaurant, reusable kegs are the best option. it is possible to fill up a corny keg – commonly used for kegged spirits and wines that restaurants are not able to obtain in a refilled keg – but keep in mind that corny kegs would need to be hooked up to a 100% nitrogen line.
If you are using reusable kegs, make sure to clean your keg properly before refilling with a new wine. Any unwanted bacteria or foreign agents can contaminate and degrade the taste of your kegged wine.
Most of the time you will receive the keg already filled up with wine from your distributor, but if you are filling out the keg yourself, you may wish to consider aging processes for certain wines, as different wines may be optimally served after a certain aging period.
If you're filling up the keg yourself, make sure to eliminate any excess of oxygen. You need to quite literally “push out” the air that’s in the keg with the wine because it'll start to oxidize and degrade your wine if not done. Read this for in-depth instructions about how to keg wine.
With significant operating and staff costs as well as evolving consumer expectations to contend with, having wine on tap can help your restaurant stand out from the crowd. Offering wine this way can reduce costs and increase profit all while providing a unique experience for your guests.