Top tips from award-winning operator on making wine work

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Grape deal: Heath Ball emphasised the importance of a reasonably priced wine list
Grape deal: Heath Ball emphasised the importance of a reasonably priced wine list
Operators need to seriously up their wine offer and not add on huge mark-ups, according to Great British Pub of the Year licensee Heath Ball from the Red Lion & Sun in Highgate, north London.

The New Zealand-born landlord emphasised the importance of serving good wines the right way at The Morning Advertiser​'s MA500 conference in Sheffield last week (13 September).

He said: “Right now, if you wanted to go into a British pub and not drink s**t wine, you’d have a job on your hands. Except, maybe, if you went into my pub.

“I’m sad to report the [wine] offering out there is not good. Now don’t get me wrong, for the discerning punter, pubs have improved beyond imagination during the two decades I have been in the UK."

Pubs as good as fine-dining venues

He added: “The food [in pubs] is often on par with many local ‘fine-dining’ establishments and in some cases, it’s better. Which is why it is staggering that so many boozers in this country don’t think an inspiring wine list is worthy of their time and focus.

“The staff are untrained, the selections uninspiring, red wines are served at room temperature, which in some cases is 30°C, white wines are served too cold and there is crappy glassware.”

Ball highlighted the importance of operators knowing that punters are changing and so are their drinking habits.

He also gave top tips on how to capitalise on wine. He said: “Find a terrific supplier that you trust and don’t mystify the product.

“Some 10 years ago, wine was just 20% of my sales with a 68% GP. Today it is 55 to 60% with a 61% GP. I’m banking more cash daily than ever before and it is my wine list that is driving that.”

Silly mark-up

He outlined how the Red Lion & Sun has become the successful operation it is today.

“My customers trust my wine list and prices. As they begin to know more, they buy up the list where they get better value," Ball added.

“You can’t make margins on wines that people don’t know, in my case, wines that normally would be priced at a silly mark-up.

“We sell these wines at a cash margin. If I can make £30 on an £80 bottle of wine that would normally be £140 on a list, not only do I have a happy customer, I have yet more cash in the till.”

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