The Successful Wine Bar: No Pimpin’ Required
I like Kid Rock and I cannot lie
You other ladies can’t deny
That when the Kid starts singin’
With his style and his pimpin’
It’s the only thing to satisfy…
– with apologies to Sir Mix-A-Lot, and “Baby Got Back”
I discovered Kid Rock about the time I met Joe. That’s when the song Cowboy went mainstream and was in heavy rotation on Houston radio. Then came Bawitdaba, a hard-pounding catchy little industrial strength rap that made Joe’s nephew, who was about 2 years old at the time, get up and dance on his wobbly little legs.
I was already hooked in by the time I went to Kid Rock concert at the Toledo Sports Arena – a historic, yet pit of a place that has since been torn down. So into him that I thought the women, bare-breasted on top their boyfriends’ shoulders chanting for the Kid to take the stage, were entertaining. So into it, that what my feminist friends would decry as some pretty misogynistic lyrics didn’t really bother me either. And the whole trailer park, women dancing in cages stage set was just part of the theatrics.
The same with Dave Navarro. While I always loved listening to Jane’s Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I never really liked the looks of the band. Could have been my rather sheltered upbringing. But by the time Navarro’s solo album came out, and he started hosting Rockstar: INXS, I didn’t mind seeing the tattooed bad boy wearing a feather boa and sitting on a throne. There was something about that whole rock star pimp thing that was attractive and entertaining.
That being said, there’s a time and place for everything.
Recently we were visiting with one of our favorite wine wenches, who has worked at a number of wine bars. She mentioned a common theme among new wine bar owners that tends to annoy the bartenders and waitstaff, and could affect the success of the wine bar — what she termed ‘Newfound Pimpin.’
It’s what separates the boys from the men, when it comes to sustaining business and encouraging the patronage of serious wine drinkers; the people who will carry you through when the newness wears off, the economy takes a turn for the worst, and the trendy folks move to the next new Hot Spot in town.
Wine bars have popped up all over in Houston, and I would imagine a number of metropolitan cities across the United States. And in Houston, some of them seem to mimic the life cycle of night clubs I’ve seen since I moved here in the late 1980s. A club opens and begins to attract a following. Then come the lines, the need for bouncers four nights a week, and the requisite “look” necessary to not only get in the door, but be waited on. Soon there is no parking, no room for regulars, and as one guy puts it, the bar becomes “a smorgasbord of plastic, cocaine, and working girls.”
We had a great wine bar open up in town a few years ago. It was small, had boutique wines with a reasonable mark-up, great food and friendly waitstaff. Then it got POPULAR. It expanded. It became a Thursday Night hot spot. All the friendly and talented bartenders disappeared. In their place? Waitstaff pretends not to see customers that don’t look like they have a lot of disposable income. Bartenders actually talk on their cell phones behind the bar until a line forms in front of them. And the wine selection? Most of it you could pick up in the grocery store. I kid-you-not this place had Polka Dot Riesling priced at $29 with a $10 corkage fee if you wanted to open the bottle and drink it there — AT THE WINE BAR. It’s usually between $6 and $8 at the local H.E.B.
And according to the aforementioned Wine Wench, it’s all due to the bar owner’s “Newfound Pimpin.'”
Advice to New Wine Bar Owners
Bar owners; even if you’re new to the business, act like you’ve been there before. To build a loyal customer base who won’t foresake you when they turn 30, get married, or stop dealing in an instant high, you need to hire and train knowledgeable sommeliers. Carry boutique wines as well as a few upper end wines and resist the urge to triple and quadruple mark-up wine available in any grocery store outside a dry county. Do something to set your place apart from every other cocktail bar or night club in town.
If you don’t know where to start, ask around. Hire a consultant. Study the places that remain in business even in “the worst of times.” And treat your customers, bartenders, waitstaff and sommeliers like the ambassadors they can be for your wine bar. Because word-of-mouth advertising is the least expensive and most effective at building your business — because it’s credible. Every happy customer or employee can steer dozens your way.
Numbers vary – but research indicates that many more new businesses fail than succeed due to a number of factors, many of which are outside the owner’s control. Don’t handicapp your success by letting a little of it go to your head.
Don’t be the victim of the Newfound Pimpin!
~ Amy Corron Power,