Why the Price of Your Wine-By-The-Glass Might Be Going Up

Bars and restaurants across the country are hunting for creative ways to ease the impact of inflation.

a.kitchen + a.bar
a.kitchen + a.bar | Photo courtesy of High Street Hospitality Group
a.kitchen + a.bar | Photo courtesy of High Street Hospitality Group

If you thought your wine was safe from rising prices, guess again. Inflation and its related side effects are spilling into the glass, and you may see its impacts at your favorite restaurants and bars.

“Inflation really hit us hard this year. We held off as long as we could, but about four months or so ago, I realized that, if I wanted to keep pouring the caliber of wines that we were known for pouring, I just had to charge another dollar or two,” says Frank Kinyon, beverage and service director at Philadelphia’s a.kitchen + a.bar. “There just wasn’t any way around it.”

A local wine-by-the-glass favorite since its 2014 opening, a.kitchen + a.bar was a 2022 semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Wine Program award. The menu features a plethora of natural, traditional, and rare wines. These days, most of what’s listed by the glass will run you upward of $18.

Though the inflation rate eased to 7.7% in October, that hasn’t changed the fact that it’s harshly influenced the costs of rent, groceries, and every other commodity humans hold dear.

“Food prices are really affecting wine bars and restaurants, and fuel costs, too. In some instances, these establishments pass those additional costs onto the customer,” says Liz Young, head of investment strategy at personal finance company SoFi.

a.kitchen + a.bar
a.kitchen + a.bar | Photo courtesy of High Street Hospitality Group

Inflation doesn’t affect the general price of alcohol and wine like other consumer products, according to a recent WineSearcher.com report. Rather, it’s bars and restaurants specifically where costs have ballooned due to inflation as sort of a trickle-down effect of the rising prices of nearly everything else.

Think of it like this: When fuel prices went through the roof due earlier in the year, the increase also impacted various corners of the supply chain. Glass bottle production prices were higher, as were the costs for shipping and transporting those heavy glass bottles. That’s resulted in some winemakers raising their prices, so some bars and restaurants have had to raise their by-the-glass or bottle prices in order to be profitable—or even solvent.

Some establishments are finding creative ways to keep their wine list and menu prices down. “Supporting local and domestic producers is one work around inflation and keeping prices down, and it keeps customers engaged. They get excited to find these gems from their own backyard. And as buyers, it’s our job to find these amazing wines and bring them to the people who want them,” says Zack Eastman, co-owner of Chicago wine bar and bottle shop Easy Does It.

There’s not much Erin Riley can do to keep the price of Champagne down at her Napa Valley sparkling wine bar, Be Bubbly. However, “looking for local and other global bubbles allows me to offer a more economical experience for people, even in today’s climate,” she says.

Easy Does It
Easy Does It bottle shop | Photo by Clayton Hauck

Riley has a few other hacks for keeping general operational costs low. “We’re still mom and pop, so I can do things like go to Walmart and buy my supplies. I don’t have to go through a big buy-rite business. If you have access to do things like that, I think you can manage your costs well and prevent raising the prices on your menu,” she says.

A strong spirits and cocktail program is also a big help in maintaining wine-by-the-glass prices.

“You generally make a better margin on liquor, spirits, and cocktails,” says Kinyon. “Honestly, if a.bar’s drink program wasn’t so popular, we wouldn’t be able to do the wine-by-the-glass menu that we do. The spirits are really the buoy that supports the wine.”

Eastman, who also keeps a few craft cocktails on his menu, agrees. “Don’t solely depend on wine. Having a business so specific can make it very difficult to get through harder times like these.”

Lessons learned during the harshest days of pandemic shutdowns remain prudent, he says. “Try to add retail in addition to your bar license. Who knows when another pandemic will hit? That’s another way to keep your cash flow going by selling to-go and doing it legally. Having that other source of revenue can really come in handy, and it just gives you another opportunity to really engage with customers and your community.”

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Janice Williams is a contributor to Thrillist.