Now in his 21st year with Joe’s, overseeing three locations—in Las Vegas, DC and Chicago, his home base—Kevin Bratt says the annual reviews he does for the Restaurant Poll allow him to look at a year from the standpoint of all three markets. He brought back his entire team for the reopening at the beginning of summer, 2021. “Each market has a wine buyer,” he explains, “and a team working with them of, essentially, two sommeliers. Each is a three-person team, not including myself.” When he’s not managing the team, he’s posting at @invitisveritas (Instagram). —Joshua Greene
Have you revised or downsized your wine list significantly over the past year?
The list size hasn’t changed. We’re locked into a certain number of selections, which ties into the amount of space we have in each location. It stays pretty consistent: Each location has just under 450 selections. We make updates every Friday to maintain consistency or correct prices. Spot for spot, something goes off, then something comes in to fill that space.
You noted that your entrée prices are up but not wine prices.
In the supply chain, we are seeing prices rising. For wine, I lock in pricing for six months, contractually. So, we didn’t have to take price increases. Being a seafood restaurant, the variables are the price of king crab and ingredients for other wonderful dishes. They’ve gone up quite a bit. I’m in the process of taking proposals for our by-the-glass program. That gives me the opportunity to navigate, and if something goes up a lot, I can look elsewhere. An RFP gives me an opportunity to get an overview. Raising prices is inevitable, but I am trying to maintain stability across all of Joe’s markets.
Nine out of your top 15 wines in 2021 are cabernet, including your top-selling wine—Frank Family Cabernet—which was at the top in 2020, as well. But then you were selling two pinots among your top wines, now it is two sauvignon blancs. What changed?
I think, from a sales standpoint, it’s pretty consistent, I don’t think our consumer’s taste or palate has changed. Just arbitrary, from one year to the next, a lot of the same names when I run the list.
We always discuss that among our team, we’re a seafood restaurant first, but also a steak house, and people do love their cabernet with steak. When we look at these numbers, it’s always interesting to see where wines fit in in our top 20 or top 25. I take a step back and try to factor in why something would be higher. It might have been a private party selection that sold a little more. It helps to determine every department of the restaurant, whether these wines are on our private party list. Or if it fits into our happy hour, that will impact sales. Frank Family is not on either of those, it’s just in that sweet spot pricing-wise on our list.
How have guests’ expectations about wine lists and wine service changed over this past year?
A lot of our clientele is the same as it was prior to the pandemic. They are still asking for the same things. But the dynamic of our client-base has shifted. We’re not seeing a lot of convention business; it’s more couples and small parties than groups of eight or more. They’re just happy to be out, happy to be enjoying themselves and not to have to cook at home. To see consistency on the list, it gives them a sense of comfort. It just feels good to be back. The thing I have stressed to our team is the opportunity to overdeliver from a guest-experience standpoint. That’s what will help people enjoy the experience of being out of their house. Overdelivering starts with what the guests don’t see behind the scenes. Training the entire team to be able to speak to the product, be able to make a recommendation based on the flavor profile of the wine. Then it goes to the service, the attention to detail, all the things that meet the guest’s expectation without making the experience seem like work. I want the customers to leave with a new favorite, maybe learn a thing or two, and that all comes from our wine team knowing what’s expected of them.
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