Bargain Hunting

The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
April/May 2001
Page 30

Bargain Hunting

I feel a little like the restaurant reviewer starting a column with “there’s this great little hole-in-the-wall that I probably shouldn’t say anything about, because it’ll become something that isn’t a great little hole-in-the-wall.” So how do you go about telling other wine buyers about wine bargains without writing yourself out of the bargain-hunting game?

The easy answer is that there are a whole lot more bargains out there than there are great little holes-in-the-wall, and bargain hunting takes more work than hopping in a cab to a back street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.


From my perspective, the key to good deals lies in my connection with suppliers and their suppliers. The process of building a good relationship is a lot like dating. There are boundaries to be worked out, phone calls to make, liaisons to keep and parents to please (i.e., restaurant owners and the owners of the distribution companies).

I learned long ago that the relationship cannot be one-sided if I want the really good deals. Wine buyers who think that they hold all the cards are sadly mistaken. Refusing to make appointments (“just drop bottles off”), blowing off appointments (“my time is more important than yours”) and similar moves just don’t work. Sooner or later, your suppliers will forget to mention a bargain that they know you would want. They will sell to someone more appreciative.

By the same token, you should understand that suppliers don’t hold all the cards either. Such supplier attitudes as “you can only have this if you buy that” and “if you don’t buy this, my boss is going to remember that when you ask for…” are equally counterproductive. There is no wine or spirit out there that you really have to have. You always can buy something else from another supplier.

Sometimes we dance the dance. A sales rep calls at the last minute and asks for a quick meeting with an importer rep who suddenly showed up at his/her door. We take ten minutes out of our lives and make him/her look good. Invest a little time with that importer rep or winery owner too – don’t forget who controls the flow of wine one link back on the chain. Sometimes the importer or the winery has something in stock that just might be made available to the right person.

The supplier tango usually doesn’t pay off overnight. Just like dating, we might only make it to first base for a while, then second, then third. Then one day we show up at work and find ourselves at home plate.


What are the bargains to jump on, and what are the bargains to avoid?

Post-offs and closeouts. These are usually deals to help move stock that is not moving or to clear a line that is being dropped. They might look attractive, but look carefully; these wines aren’t moving for a reason. I always like to know the exact nature of the offer: Is the wine too old? Bad? Was it far overpriced and is now being offered at what it should have been?

Direct imports and direct offers. These deals are a method that suppliers use to sell something that they do not have yet so that they can judge how much to buy. Here is a nice way to pick up something at a slight discount. Saving that ten percent is attractive, but choose carefully; remember, if customers love the wine, there will be no more of it at the same rate. Will they still love it when the price goes up?

Vintage clearances. These deals are easy to like and to execute, but they do require a sizable up-front investment. Suppliers discount to clear space in a warehouse for a new vintage. They want the wine out of there – not just two cases, all of it. Make them an offer. Yes, it is an investment in cash and storage space, but you’d be surprised how much discounting room there is in the price.

Gems. These are my favorites and are what make the whole dance and dating ritual with your supplier worthwhile. These are the deals that are handed to us because of the relationships that we have built. Sometimes these gems come from your carefully nurtured sales reps, sometimes from their boss or from the winery or importer behind the scenes.

Gems are the “we’ll reserve all of this for you, at a reduced price, if you’ll feature it” deals. An exclusive with a discount – you can’t beat that.

Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.


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