Big servings of wine cause alcohol abuse, says MP

According to an article in the Guardian Unlimited, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament Greg Mulholland wants to force pubs in England to sell smaller servings of wine.

Evidently, some pub chains in England used to offer three different sized pours: small (125 ml/4 oz), medium (175 ml/6 oz), and large (250 ml/8 oz). Mulholland himself used to work for a pub chain which did away with the 4 oz. pours, saying “bigger glasses equal higher prices and more profits.” So now most pubs only sell 6 and 8 oz. servings, forcing people to drink more wine than they normally would, to Mulholland’s mind.

Am I a moron, or do the Brits just do it differently than we do? Back when I was helping restaurants set their prices, you wanted as small a pour as you could get away with, so you could sell more glasses from a bottle. A 750 ml bottle will serve five 5 oz. pours or four 6 oz. pours. If an 8 oz. pour is the norm in England, then those pubs are only selling 3 glasses per bottle. Either their glass prices are ridiculously high, or they’re doing it wrong.

Spicewood Wine GlassFor those of you who’ve never looked inside of the pricing structure of a by-the-glass program, SOP is to charge half the wholesale price of the bottle, plus a dollar or so. At least, that’s what I always recommended to the restaurant owners that I worked with.

So if a bottle of Brancott Sauvignon Blanc costs a bar owner $8, I would tell her to price a glass at $5 per glass if she’s selling a 5 oz. pour. If she’s selling a 6 oz. pour, I would recommend $6.50 per glass. Thusly, a bottle of 5 oz pours nets a $17 profit, and a bottle of 6 oz. pours nets an $18 profit.

This is not a lot, compared to the profit on a bottle of well liquor, which should run $40+ per bottle (figuring $4 well drinks), you’ll notice. This is another reason that the best way to make a small fortune by opening a wine bar is to start with a large one.

If you’re pouring only 3 glasses of wine from each bottle, you’ve got to charge about the value of the bottle for each glass to turn any kind of profit. Customers hate that, by and large. So there could be a number of things going on here: (1) pub owners are selling wine by the glass that their customers can’t buy in a store, (2) pub goers don’t mind paying the same money for a glass of wine in a pub as they do for the same bottle of wine in a store, or (3) pubs pay wholesalers less for wine than wine stores do, or wine stores have huge mark-ups in England.

It all strikes me as very strange. For one thing, that a British lawmaker would be as puritanical as American lawmakers are wont to be about wine. Also, that somehow it would be a good business decision for a pub to sell fewer, larger glasses of wine. It just doesn’t add up. Between this and the French judge’s recent decision that all wine reviews and recommendation articles must be considered alcohol advertising and thus must be accompanied by health warnings, I’m feeling like a fool for lauding the free-thinking European perspective on wine for so many years. Oh, lalalala!

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