- Posted by Danielle Gillespie
Last week I was talking with a colleague and we stumbled upon the topic of wine lockers. What are wine lockers, he asked. My wine-encouraged, flippant response: wine lockers are magical cubes, obtained by subscription or lease at the coolest restaurants, wine bars and private clubs.
All joking aside, these temperature-controlled cubbies are used to store a guest or member’s personal wines that can be uncorked, at the establishment, on any occasion. Some of my friends have wine lockers and it is always a treat to be at their table during mealtime…looking at the list of wines stored in a friend’s locker is liking taking a peak into their wine psyche. And, of course, there is the thrill of never knowing what kind of wine gem will appear at our table!
There is certain panache to having a wine locker; engraved nameplates on the lockers and personal wine menus at the table are both notable demonstrations of a guest’s elevated status. But there are also practical reasons for your guest or member to enroll in a locker program. Having a locker provides a natural wine “comfort zone”, because the locker is always stocked with wines that your customers know they will enjoy, there is less risk for them to serve wine to clients and friends. Armed with the confidence resulting from a comfort zone, guests will more often choose a wine locker equipped restaurant for entertaining.
But while lockers are a fun benefit for the wine locker member (and their friends!), they also provide a restaurant or club with a novel avenue for engaging customers.
Just Do It
Does your restaurant or club have extra bin storage or an unused area in your restaurant? If so, you might want to consider installing some wine lockers. A locker “cellar” could be as simple as installing wine racks in a temperature-controlled room or as elaborate as custom-built wood and mesh lockers complete with a dining/tasting area. Customers usually assume an enrollment fee and can pay up to $1000 annually to lease on-site locker storage. While some locker programs do not necessarily turn a profit on annual dues, the resulting increase in customer interaction yields a valuable relationship.
Here are some tips for kicking off your wine locker program.
Provide access to hard to find wines. Search for wines that are hard to find, wines with low production, wines with a great vintner or vineyard story. Find some highly rated wines that are affordable. And, if you have an audience of serious wine drinkers, include some highly rated wines suitable for event dining. Offer these wines for sale to your locker members.
Help your client build a locker of wines. A simple service you can provide is to offer to help your customers build an inventory of wine. Wines should range from serious to fun, heavy to light. You are the wine expert and your experience will help your locker clients build a perfect inventory of wine suited to their tastes.
Reach out to locker owners and prompt them to visit. Use your knowledge of locker inventories to track expiring vintages and suggest menu pairings. If a customer has a bottle of wine that would work nicely with one of your featured menu items, why not invite them to enjoy a custom wine and dine experience? Likewise, customers with expiring vintages might appreciate a nudge to drink a special wine while at its peak.
Introduce customers to new wines. People with wine lockers are usually interested in learning more about wine and being introduced to new wines. Use the personal wine locker program to guide and educate your customers. Encourage them to extend their usual taste preferences and enjoy different varietals or even somewhat exotic wines by first having them try the wines as possible selections for their personal wine lockers.
Host private events. Who doesn’t enjoy a private or limited-access event? Use these private events to create a sense of community for your guests. Wine locker owners will enjoy the ability to reserve space for limited tastings and vintner dinners.
Buff up your locker menu presentation. Provide your customer with a personal iPad-based wine menu that displays the list of wines in a specific locker. Imagine bringing an iPad-based menu to your wine locker client. The menu will show only that client’s wines in an intuitive format and will display quantities, wine labels and wine descriptions along with the standard vintage and region information. Your locker clients and their guests will be delighted by this new level of personalize service.
Wine Lockers are a great differentiator for your restaurant, bar or club and can be fun for both the guest and the sommelier or wine program manager. They are a true win-win (or wine-wine!) that are easy to implement. What’s stopping you?