A Case for By-Appointment Tasting Rooms

Man smelling wine in a tasting room

As we move back into open tasting rooms and, hopefully, a more normal wine country summer and harvest, the question has come up: Should tasting rooms continue to be by-appointment, or should they be open for all walk-in customers? The 240% jump from walk-in tasting rooms to by-appointment in the last year, as highlighted in the recent DtC wine survey report by Silicon Valley Bank, is no surprise given the requirements of the last year. The question is, should this trend continue after restrictions are lifted. I make the case that tasting rooms should continue to be appointment only.

The tasting room is the wineries opportunity to build a relationship with the customer that they will remember when they return home. It is often the best avenue for future sales. And, as a business, wineries have to balance customer expectations, sales and your expenses. An appointment only tasting room allows wineries to maximize all three. How?

Appointments can:
  • Increase sales
  • Optimize staffing
  • Engage early and maximize customer expectations

Increase your sales

By-appointment customers buy more. The data from last year, again from the SVB DtC report, shows that average consumer tasting room purchases were up last year. This is during a time when the number of by-appointment tasting rooms also jumped substantially. And, while there are not direct numbers that match by-appointment tasting rooms with average sales, the data matches with other by-appointment trends. When customers make an appointment they purchase more and engage for the long term.

One of the best ways to engage customers long term is through the wine club. Not only does this build a long term relationship, wine club members stay in the club for an average of nearly three years. Because of this, the wine club conversion rate is a key number for wineries. A small percent change in the percentage of conversions of customers to wine club members has a significant impact on long term sales. By-appointment tasting rooms saw a wine club conversion rate of 9.2%, nearly double the rate of open to the public tasting rooms. What does this means in real terms? It means that a by-appointment tasting room can reduce their customers by half and still make 14% more over 5 years. And, that is just in sales directly to wine club members through the club. It doesn’t include the reduction in cost of staffing or the additional sales per customer beyond the wine club.

This, in itself, is a good reason to go by-appointment. But there are more good reasons to change the tasting room format.

By-appointment optimizes staffing

The restaurant industry is not the only industry hurting for staff. Finding tasting room staff is a challenge across the country. Tasting room staff are typically low paying, part-time employees without security or benefits. In the wine industry, it is a considered an entry position. It is no surprise that, after being laid off over a year ago, much of the staff has moved on. This is a problem for an industry that is built on customer relationships. So, what do you do?

First, by going to an appointment only system wineries can accurately determine staffing needs. Yes, there are limited slots for customers. But, that means the tasting room can staff to meet all the customer needs without having excess staff on hand. It’s not uncommon for tasting rooms to be both understaffed and overstaffed on any summer weekend. Both are a problem. Understaffed tasting rooms can’t create the experience that leads to on-site sales, wine club signups and a relationship that leads to future sales. This is a lost opportunity that you can’t get back. Overstaffed tasting rooms are just that, a significant cost that is not making a return.

So, optimize your staffing by knowing how many customers you will have in advance. Train your staff to create the experience you want your customers to receive. Train them also, to close the sale on both the on-site bottle purchases and wine club signups. And, yes, show them they are valued by paying them a wage they can live on and stepping up when customers are belligerent or intoxicated.

Engage Early and Maximize the Experience

When a customer makes an appointment they have started a relationship. This relationship is the foundation for future sales and it builds the customer experience with the winery and the wines. An appointment portal on the website engages the customer before they step into the tasting room. The portal should show the setting of the tasting room, options for tasting and give the customer an expectation of the costs and prices of the wine and any tasting charges. Unlike for a walk-in, by-appointment consumers know what types of wines are offered, wine prices, if it is a family or pet friendly venue and are likely to have paid a non-refundable tasting room fee. Not only does that make them more likely to show up but, the winery now has their information: at a minimum their email and a phone number. This allows for the winery to continue to market to them after they leave, regardless of sales on-site.

If the appointment is for a returning customer, the tasting room can enhance the value of their experience by:

  • Recognizing if they are a wine club member. Thanking them and acknowledging any discounts or reduced prices that they have as members.
  • Being knowledgable of their past purchases to adjust the wines that you are offering. If they are red only purchasers, acknowledge that and ask if they want to swap out whites in the tasting for reds.
  • Targeting new releases of wines that you know they have purchased.

The tasting room experience is short, but for many, it is the foundation of the customers experience with the winery, so tasting rooms need to make the most of it. Customers that build a strong relationships in the tasting room continue to purchase when return home. The by-appointment model allows the winery to maximize the experience while increasing sales and decreasing costs. It is really a win for both the consumer and the winery.

Contact me about how you can go to a by-appointment tasting room model, .

Published by Genevieve Rodgers

I'm an engineer turned, winemaker, turned winery consultant.

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