August 10, 2008
From: La Isola
I find it nearly impossible to wade into shallow water these days. Or maybe the problem is that I am wading in shallow water thinking it’s the deep end. I really didn’t intend to go here today. But sitting under the sun, watching the earth rotate while clouds above smirked at my insular orientation, it just popped out.
It started last week as I visited a group of restaurants. Here in North Texas it is restaurant week, a two to three week period in which selected restaurants dream up a three to four course menu, some of the proceeds going to a charity. Diners flock to these places, in the hope of getting a taste of a life they don’t normally frequent. Salespeople for distributors have been scrambling to print special food menus and to also reprint wine lists. Some of the wine lists will show higher wine prices.
I had forgotten that happened. After all, the other day I was looking at a list in the northern-burbs with a wine that I know the restaurant paid about $17 for. On the list they had it priced at $66. Ouch.
But does it really matter? We have countries going to war with each other, does it really mean anything if some poor slug in a bedroom community spends a little more than he should for a bottle of wine? So he pays $20 more than he should. He drives 30 miles less than he would if he drove into town with his gas-hog SUV, which gets 12mpg. Which works out, at $4 a gallon, to saving him about $10 in gas. And then there’s the time factor. So when countries across the planet are sending their citizens out and away from targeted urban areas to escape destruction of life, it really isn’t that big of a deal.
Back to Italy. A farmer makes a wine and sells it for €4.50, that’s about $6.75. It costs about $1 for taxes and to get it over. The importer adds 35%, the wholesaler adds 28% and that brings us to almost $17, if you round up. The restaurant owner marks it up to $66. That’s 10x, with the highest mark up at the end. BYOB places start looking better and better. Or cooking at home.
I mention this to a friend and colleague, who is also a mid-level manager. Forget about talking to the bar manager about this; they do not want to hear about anything that has to do with them making lesser margins, in percentage points. Bean counters don't want to hear it. Forget about the argument that you take dollars to the bank, not percentages. Forget the concept of getting good press for marking up your wine and then having the word spread. Forget about taking more money to the bank. And then folk wonder why so many places across the country are closing? Ask Charles Darwin.
The feel good part to this story? When you go to Italy and buy that same bottle of wine in a trattoria, you’ll probably pay somewhere around €12, which is under $20. See, the dollar doesn’t really suck as bad in Italy as it does in the US. And you’ll probably get charged somewhere around €50 (US $75) for dinner for two. So you get out for under $100. In a similar situation in Anytown, USA with the wine costing $66 and two people eating for around $50 each plus tip, you’re looking at almost $200. And the food will probably better fresher, simpler and better at the place in Italy. Now doesn’t that make you feel better?
It almost makes taking a vacation a cheaper thing to do than to just stay home. But then, home is where the work is, and the family, the life, etc.
While taking a ten day or two week vacation might be something that some folks reading this do on a regular basis, what do you do about the daily routine when you are at home?
Learning how to cook is a good first step. Then, learning where to source fresh, local or otherwise wholesome ingredients is a good next step. If you are lucky enough to have a store specializing in the foods you love, you are a very lucky person. In my home town, not far from where I live, there is a store that does that. Only Italian products. Even here in flyover country we have folks who give a damn. Mike and Paul DiCarlo, who own Jimmy’s in Old East Dallas (what used to be the Italian neighborhood), have dedicated themselves to all the above, and priced for folks other than the millionaires who are constantly worrying about losing their fortune. So that would be for most of us. Very cool solution.
And when another Italian restaurant closes in my town, I will not mourn its loss. All the more if they never listened to me about which wines to use and whether or not to employ fair pricing. Natural selection, the survival of the fittest.
And after 25+ years, that’s how I wage war. Quietly, peacefully, and with a good meal and a bottle of wine of my own choosing.