Along with leaf-roll virus, mealy-bugs and over-extracted Cabernet Sauvignon, listing fees count among the most dreaded two words faced by wine producers in South Africa.
And it would appear that, unlike leaf-roll, the occurrence of listing fees is growing in abundance as this becomes assumed standard practice among many trading as restaurants in the hospitality industry.
For the uninitiated, a listing fee is an amount of money the restaurant deems fit to charge a winery for the winery's privilege of seeing one or more of its offerings appearing on that specific restaurant's wine list. So instead of eloquently and strategically marketing one's wine as a potential complement to the restaurant's culinary offering, as well as to the eatery's general individual ambience, all the winery's marketer has to do is hand over a wad of cash and bingo, your wine is accepted for re-selling by the dining establishment.
Annual amounts may vary from R3 000 to R26 000 charged to get your wine onto the restaurant list.
Now, I am no enemy of free-market capitalist business practices. But that a growing number of restaurants in the Western Cape are partaking in this mild extortion leaves a bad taste. The main reason for this is that wine is already a healthy and easy contributor to an eatery's bottom-line. So why squeeze the producer even more?
Restaurants will buy at a 30% trade discount. This means the bottle of Chateau RippedOff you and I pay R100 for in retail will be sold to the restaurant for R70. But if you think said establishment is going to charge us R100 to enjoy the wine at the table and be happy with a 30% profit, cloud cuckoo is waiting.
For said restaurant will place a substantial mark-up on the price at which the wine was bought. Think 300% to 500% on trade price. This means by the time it appears on the wine list, Chateau RippedOff will carry a tag of between R210 to R350. Minus R70 from those two sums, and the restaurant is sitting with a substantial return.
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What makes this profit tastier is that wine is an easy part of the restaurant value-chain. It does not have to be cooked to perfection and sauced by a trained chef. It does not need a uniform, nor does it require the paying of UIF benefits and taxi-fare. The wine only has to be stored and poured, in return giving love, pleasure and profit.
Which begs the question: why, with the restaurant already gaining a happy profit from the reselling of wine, do certain elements in the sector see the need to bump-up the wine-related income by slapping on an added listing fee?
If blatant greed is not the answer, then I do not know the difference between a steak tartare and a Beef Wellington.
The other nasty issue with a restaurant relying on a pay-for-play wine list, is that the diner is blissfully unaware of this sleazy underhandedness. Many of us frequent a restaurant assuming the same amount of care and the same spirit of hospitality that goes into the food preparation and the service will apply to the selecting of the wine list.
Chardonnay from limestone soils to accompany the seafood dishes. Elegant Cabernet Sauvignons to partner the accurately grilled beef. Bright cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc for those spicy Asian dishes. Wine and food offered with an holistic approach towards customer satisfaction, one would expect.
When the restaurant relies on listing fees, it displays a crude disrespect to its culinary offering by using money as the sole criteria for making its wine selection. Lack of respect for the diner, coupled with ignorance. Not exactly conducive to adding integrity to your hospitality offering, is it?
Of course, as long as wineries are willing to fall for this scam, it will go ahead unabated. The only party that can have a say is the customer. And for this, the wined-and-dined foodie media have a role to play by alerting the public to restaurants entertaining unethical wine lists.
Restaurant guides such as Eat Out should, along with a restaurant's wheelchair friendly status and the offering of vegan options, state whether the establishments listed play the listing-fee game.
Those provincial bodies who oversee the hospitality industry should force guilty restaurants to blatantly state – on the wine list – that this list is based on wineries who have paid to see their products offered for sale, and that the selection was not the personal choice of the restaurant and is about as democratic as a parliamentary election in Rwanda.
Of this, we don't need to know, we MUST know. For the choice is ours.
* Emile Joubert is an author, journalist and wine industry communications consultant from Stellenbosch. This column first appeared on his blog winegoggle.co.za.