[Article #4]: The French and wine in restaurants

December 2019 marks the release of a major survey conducted by Parisian research agency OpinionWay for Wine Paris. The quantitative analysis was conducted on a cross-section of 2,125 people aged over 18. 

But what do the numbers actually mean? Several restaurateurs share their insight..


Wine plays a pivotal role in the restaurant experience for enthusiasts: 96% of wine drinkers also consume wine in restaurants and 85% claim the quality of a wine is instrumental in ensuring an enjoyable meal. “There is wine on all our tables, at lunch and dinner time. Beer drinking at mealtimes has declined sharply in our eateries and has shifted to wine”, claims Parisian bistro owner Marlot Dumant. Among the French who patronise all types of restaurants, 88% order wine in gourmet restaurants, 82% in neighbourhood bistros and 80% in restaurant chains, which seems to imply that wine consumption depends on how elaborate the food is.


Advice more essential than ever

Despite this, one of the survey’s results is particularly thought-provoking: more than a quarter of respondents said they sometimes did not order wine because they did not know which one to choose. This figure rises to 36% for the under 45s, who expect more advice about wine and food pairings. “I have structured my team around selling wine. Our five sommeliers are familiar with the cellar, the wine list and are articulate about wine. They travel to a wine region at least twice a month. We cannot sell and talk about wines without meeting the winegrowers. Passing on knowledge and having a love of wine and producers are essential. The sommelier is a conveyor of stories, it is a profession that requires an extraordinary amount of humility”, comments Benoît Duval-Arnould, owner of the neighbourhood bistro Le Bon Georges in Paris’ 9th arrondissement. Advice, knowledge sharing and staff training remain key factors in choosing to drink wine in restaurants, and are valued by 86% of consumers. Wine is still an ego-driven product, which can impress but also put novice drinkers ill at ease. “The wine list always frightens people, no-one wants to be given it”, comments Guillaume Muller, owner of the Garance gourmet restaurant located in the 7th arrondissement of Paris.


A very price-sensitive market

The market is also extremely price-sensitive – price is the top buying cue (88%) ahead of producer region (87%). Feelings towards prices vary depending on the type of restaurant – 75% of the French consider prices in fine dining establishments to be too high, whereas only 16% feel this is true of restaurant chains and 14% for local bistros. In a top-end restaurant, the average spend per bottle of wine is 31.50 euros, but one quarter of consumers spend more than €35 (26%) and 11% over €50. Parisians are less price-sensitive. Their average spend is €39.60 per bottle in a gourmet restaurant, which is 10 euros more than in Burgundy-Franche-Comté (€29.50) or Occitania (€29.40). “Over 40 euros, people start to think twice. The most popular wines are priced at around 35 euros. If restaurant-goers are looking for a cheap wine, they will opt for a pitcher costing 15 euros for 45cl”, points out Margot Dumant. This goes hand in hand with the fact that some wine lists in the capital city do not carry entry-level wines, getting the ball rolling at around 50 euros a bottle, which makes wine unaffordable for the less affluent patrons. Nevertheless, the overall trend is for a drop in mark-ups, prompted by the ubiquity of wine on the internet. “Due to technology, consumers can easily find out the price of a wine. We can hide nothing from the client, there is no room for cheating”, enthuses gourmet restaurant owner Guillaume Muller, whose wine list starts at around 20 euros a bottle. In neighbourhood bistros and chains, the average price per bottle drops sharply, to 19.60 euros and 18.90 euros respectively. “Excessive mark-ups do not do wine sales any favours in France. The way our costs are structured means that we make a profit on wine, but if we stick to reasonable prices, people drink a lot more. Wine is meant to be drunk, there is no point in stockpiling bottles”, explains Benoît Duval-Arnoult.


Drinking less, but better

Although 64% of the French say they drink less wine than a few years ago, 72% consider wines served in restaurants to be better quality. “There are more young people specialised in wine who have no recollection of the times when you bought everything from the same distributor. It used to be about managing finances, now it’s a labour of love. Family estates and relationships with people have taken centre stage again”, comments Guillaume Muller. “Small producers are more prominent and the range is more diversified compared with before, when you used to find roughly the same listings everywhere. The wine lists were very similar”, adds Margot Dumant. The so-called “drinking less but better” trend, often referred to, promotes wine drinking by the glass, which is growing as the choice broadens. Consequently, 32% of consumers prefer to order by the glass than by the bottle (50%) or the pitcher (17%), especially women (37%) and under-35s (35%). “The glass is a superb vehicle for discovery. We try to constantly rekindle enthusiasm by showcasing some real gems and themes”, says Benoît Duval-Arnould by way of example. Cues for drinking by the glass include not only sensible drinking, but also the scope of food pairing possibilities for 27% of consumers questioned. Again, average prices vary depending on the type of eatery, ranging from an average 7.80 euros for a top-end restaurant (9.10 euros in Paris) to 5.4 euros in a local restaurant and 5.10 euros in a restaurant chain. “Some wines by the glass cost 12 or even 14 euros but when they come from outstanding vineyard locations, are produced by a good winegrower whose story can be told by someone who knows what they’re talking about and are served generously in fine glassware, the approach is different. A region is being promoted and, ultimately, we have to be able to explain to consumers that they are getting more bang for their buck than if they’d chosen cheap rubbish poured from a plastic drum at 5 euros a glass served in a Paris Goblet”, claims Benoît Duval-Arnould. In this case, wine is mostly drunk with the main course (70%), followed by the aperitif (28%) and the cheese course (27%). Aperitif time seems to be gaining traction – 51% of the French claim to drink more wine as an aperitif than they did a few years ago. The phenomenon is being fuelled by young people who tend to prefer to drink outside mealtimes.


Inquisitiveness, local and organic products – three distinctive trends

On a more general level, consumption leans more towards local products. 83% of wine drinkers like to indulge in local wines, particularly within the major wine regions such as Burgundy-Franche-Comté (91%) and Occitania (92%). This tendency and the desire to discover new products (79%) are not mutually exclusive, particularly within one’s own region. In non-producer regions, consumers are guided by their inquisitive nature: this is true of Parisians who look to the Loire Valley (23%) followed jointly by Burgundy and the Rhone Valley (19%); Bordeaux and Alsace are hot on their heels with 14% each. “We have very strong demand for Côtes-du-Rhône, which are balanced and full-bodied. Some of our patrons have been slightly disappointed by the more expensive Burgundy, and unfortunately Bordeaux is still a little boycotted in our bistros”, notes Margot Dumant. The trends seem to be the opposite for the less price-sensitive clientele in Guillaume Muller’s gourmet restaurant: “Burgundy is clearly stands apart in my restaurant, possibly because I got allocations very early on and people are snapping them up. There are a lot of prominent appellations in Burgundy that patrons like and are reassured by, with a high average price tag. Bordeaux is also starting to make a come-back”. Organic and biodynamic wines are also showing strong appeal although the choice seems to be too restricted for 82% of consumers – 86% of Parisians and 87% of people living in the Loire particularly complain about this. They are partial to advice and clarifications about certification endorsements (69%) and consider they are not being pointed in the direction of these wines enough. There has never been a greater need for the restaurant industry to educate its front-of-house staff about wine to ensure its patrons enjoy a rewarding experience.