While many tasting rooms still thrive in an informal environment similar to that in a cafe or bar, others have made the move to require or encourage reservations.
For some of these, the COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst that led them to take the plunge into a business model they’d been considering for awhile.
A panel of hospitality managers from wineries in California spoke earlier this year at the 2022 Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium and shared what they’ve discovered since requiring or encouraging reservations.
Cameron Metzger, Director of Hospitality for Pangloss Cellars in Sonoma, California, said Pangloss’s relatively recent move to tasting by reservation using the Tock platform had led to a greater number of sales per seated tasting.
“The dollars spent per taster have increased substantially,” Metzger said. “We’re tracking average order values and performance by time slots. It could be a psychological element with customers — if they’re calling ahead and making reservations, it could be that more serious wine people are the ones who are making these reservations. You’re getting more serious wine buyers than people who are just going downtown to the square to have lunch and maybe visit a tasting room.”
Metzger said requiring reservations was also helping Pangloss retain valuable tasting room employees.
“Transitioning to a reservation system has resulted in a much more structured environment,” he explained. “We’re able to keep staff members longer. They’re making more money and they’re more satisfied. They know what to expect and can plan their day out.”
Wineries have also used reservations to learn more about buying behavior.
Kimberly Whistler, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Lede Family Wines, said Cliff Lede Vineyards in Yountville, California had been offering tastings by reservation at two price points: $60 and $90, and had experimented with both to see what they could find out about buying behavior.
Whistler said the $90 experience (which included higher tiered wines) yielded roughly 2.5 times the amount of bottles purchased than the $60 purchase.
“We tried offering the higher tiered wines at the lower price point, but it didn’t change,” she said. “If people are seeking the lower price point, maybe they’re seeking a different experience. If you’ve got someone (ready to pay) the higher price, maybe you’re dealing with a serious collector or buyer.”
The panelists agreed it was necessary to take walk-ins when possible and to take care of club members who show up unannounced.
“Members are always going to walk in no matter how many times you say make an appointment, so it’s important to be able to accommodate them,” Whistler said. “Make sure you have chairs available so they can grab a glass and relax while they’re picking up their wine.”