Sunday, March 23, 2014

Are Standing Tasting Bars Better than Seated?

“Today, our bodies are breaking down from obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, depression and the cascade of health ills and everyday malaise that come from what scientists have named sitting disease.”~ James Levine, MD, PhD

The votes are in and the reality is even with exercise and moderate wine consumption, the cumulative negative impacts of sitting behind a computer or gaming station can't be overcome by drinking more wine or with normal exercise regimens. That is really scary for people like me who work in an office. On the other hand, there is growing agreement that employees who work standing are not only more healthy, but they are more productive and creative than those who sit. That being the case, you would all of course naturally conclude that retail room sales people working in a standing bar should have a higher success rate converting visitors to buyers compared to sales people working in a seated venue. Of course you would conclude that ....

The Silicon Valley Bank/Wine Business Monthly Tasting Room Survey closed out 2 weeks ago, and we had a good result with responses from 866 wineries in the US and Canada. WBM's tasting room edition will come out in May analyzing the complete results. To the question posed above, it turns out that seated tasting rooms deliver better results compared to standing tasting rooms.

In the venue chart above we averaged out individual winery conversion/success rates and then sorted them by the type of tasting room experience. The standing experience came in with the lowest success rate at 64% or flipping that on its head, 36% of visitors to a standing bar were melon squeezers and bought nothing. Given the interest in the discussion last week surrounding tasting room success metrics, I thought it was worthwhile to dig a just a little deeper and discover what the data said about venue on those success rates.

Valenzano Family Winery, Shamong NJ
Perhaps the sales people are more productive and creative at the standing bars, I'm guessing there might be a few other factors that lead to greater success in seated tasting bars and private tasting room experiences compared to standing venues. I'd suggest that time spent with a guest and the attention given during the tasting has a lot to do with it.

Becker Vineyards, Austin TX
A seated experience will include a limited number of winery visitors which allows for greater interaction with a staff member compared to a standing bar. It also gives a sales person the opportunity to uncover likes and dislikes better. And before a guest even gets to a seated private experience they have probably been vetted up front regarding their wine appetite. Perhaps another reason why the success rate is higher seated is the fact that being seated might send a message that lingering is expected. Rather than renting a spot, you are invited to share around the table. Perhaps that sends a subliminal message to the visitor that they are welcomed versus a standing experience.

Some might have noticed at this point that the differences in success and failure in the venue chart above isn't huge. It's only 10% between the standing bar and a formal tasting. Maybe you think you'd rather go with a high number of people coming and going in your tasting room because you will end up with higher sales that way? Maybe, but take a look at the next chart from the SVB-WBM Survey: The average wine purchase in in a tasting room that employs a private or formal tasting, is more than double the purchase of that made in a standing Tasting Bar. 

That's a hard stat to ignore and I'd go a step further: I'm sure you have all had the experience of waking into a packed standing bar style tasting room 3 deep just to get to the bar. It's nice to be popular and have people clamoring for your wine but hopefully owners today recognize that the experience of elbowing to the front of a line isn't good for visitors and is brand negative. In my opinion that kind of a tasting bar experience says your wine is for the masses. If that is your goal versus selling an affordable luxury product then maybe that's OK, but for most brands, that's not the message to send. For most brands managed scarcity is the right path.

The way the math works, you would need to have to improve your conversion rate by 20 percentage points in a standing experience to match the success metrics in a formal seated style tasting room, holding visitor counts equal. Or, you will need to increase your existing visitor counts by more than 260% to get the same success rates in sales, holding conversion rates unchanged. In a busy stand up style tasting room, that kind of growth will also impact both the service levels and probably lower the success rate of converting visitors to customers.

Its not a one-size fits all. A lot of this also depends on where your tasting room is. Its not as if a tasting room in a remote area can double visitor counts with ease. Many like the tasting room of Riverbend Cellars on the edge of Meyers Flat in Humbolt County California look like this picture to the right. The staffing is done by the winemaker and owner and he will spend as much time with you as he can between racking. But what I see in the numbers suggests to me that more formal and seated experiences will on the whole deliver better results than a standing tasting bar. Unknown from this information (but we are trying to pull that out from the survey) is the success rate with a blended experience where visitors are brought in and funneled off to other rooms.

Bottom line: Standing might be good for office workers, but for most tasting rooms sitting shouldn't be a scary thing as a seated tasting room experience demonstrates better success metrics. What is scary is getting walk-in visitors at a standing bar like Miles in the tasting room photo above from the movie Sideways (Fess Parker Winery, Los Olivos, CA). I can only imagine what that did for any other potential sales that day. So sit down Miles! Its good for you.

  • What do you think? Does this information make you want to revisit your tasting room venue and strategy? Do you favor seated, standing or a combination strategy? Have you ever had a Miles experience with a visitor?
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  1. I think the standing vs sitting answer depends on a variety factors. For example, how big is your tasting room? Is it in a tourist area (where there are walk ins), how much staff do you have (to dedicate to the seated experience). What is are your price points?
    In addition I would guess that there is correlation (not causation) between some increased sales for seated experiences, merely because of the type of wineries that offer it.

    1. Eric - Thanks for loggin in with a name. Always appreciate that.

      Totally agree with your perspective. Your tasting room has to reflect what your region gives. We see in Washington State the wineries on the east side of the state and the consumers in the west. Solution? Open a tourist tasting room area closer to Seattle in Woodinville. ( ) And as noted in the post above, a remote winery will obviously have other strengths to lever.

      I think what is important in this discussion is recognizing the impact of segmenting customer experiences at the winery and dedicating proper resources to the larger potential buyers with seated and more formal tastings.

    2. I think we've decided to partition off a portion of our tasting room for sit down 8 wine reserve tasting with a non refundable fee, and allow people who want to reserve some time there.

    3. Eric - thanks for the follow on note. That sounds like a good plan for your space. Best of luck!

  2. When we added a seated, appointment only tasting our sales per visitor doubled.

    1. Anon 9:30, thanks for the comment. Its a nice indicator supporting the success in your case of what the survey results seem to demonstrate.

  3. I am in the midst of designing the tasting room experience for our new tasting room at The Barlow in Sebastopol. We elected to go with a large number of seated tastings. Our focus is on the education of wine (in our case, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from cool weather climates) and the idea is to create a tasting where people are not rushed, will have an very educated staff member talk about the various components of this wine from dirt to glass, and share the "story" of our winery. The bond in the 45 mins to 1 hour tasting we create is not something that can be replicated in a stand at the bar format tasting room. With wines starting at $40 and up, it is very important to cater to those that can afford to buy your wine.

    For walk ins or those that are new to our winery, we will have simple options for those that don't have the time nor inclination to do a seated tasting. They may very well be your future wine buyers. The important thing is to treat everyone with great respect and leave them thinking about their next visit to our tasting room.

    1. Jim - Thanks for weighing in.

      Sounds like a good plan for you and I'm sure you will find success particularly if you work on the outreach part of the equation and draw the right people to your property - those who will buy a case instead of a bottle.

      Best of luck on the project.

  4. Rob -

    Thank you for sharing this data and giving teeth to something I've been expecting to prove once we open our doors. We fully intend to follow the seated, private tasting appointment approach where we provide an immersive experience for our guests.

    As I reflect on the data, I continue to scratch my head - is it causal that the private, seated tasting drive more purchases and higher average RPU? I don't think so. The private, sit down tasting is a proxy measure for engagement. It is engagement that is driving the better results.

    This is similar to my thought regarding your post last year about wine club churn and offering choice / selection to the club members. It isn't so much the choice that is causal to the retention and sales improvements... it is the engagement empowered through offering choice that drives satisfaction.

    So, here we have another signal that it is a question of how well do you engage your clients with the right experiences to yield resonance and therefore affinity and sales. The sit down immersive tasting experience is a unique opportunity to focus 1:1 with prospective clients (who are paying you to sell to them!). You set the stage, your deliver the show, and you help them buy into the vision and intention of the winery. As you've mentioned before - they are already predisposed to become clients otherwise they would not be there... once a client, you then have to have the follow up service to achieve the second sale and migrate them to the club. And it is through engagement (conversations, events, information, access... etc) that you achieve these things.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Chris - thanks for weighing in and offering your thoughts.

      I think your point about engagement is a good one and I allude to that in the post. The reality is, with a tasting bar that gets a lot of visitors, its hard for the staff to really engage the crowd. They feel more like bartenders. I've sure many have seen the rote repetition of someone with a bottle pouring....

      "Hi 2010 Chardonnay 100% new French Oak and 75% malolactic fermentation. Hi 2010 Chardonnay 100% new French Oak and 75% malolactic fermentation." blah blah blah. That isn't engagement but it is a staffing and strategy problem. That said, I think there is also something to the point of people feeling welcomed and being seated versus standing might support that positive experience better than standing. After all, not all bars that are standing have an over-production of visitors. There is plenty of time to stop and talk even standing in many, so there has to be something more than engagement to explain the result.

      Let me offer another thought and a pet peeve with terms like engagement. I think "engagement "isn't the best term for what we want in a tasting room. It's another one of those over-used placeholders that's losing a real definition like the term 'passionate.' Everyone has to be passionate about something today and its just losing its real meaning. People listen right by that term now. Engagement can mean challenging someone's perspective, a two-way dialogue, or it can mean delivering a canned sales pitch once you have a visitors atention. If engagement means listening to a visitor's perspective, discovering their likes and dislikes, making them feel welcome and having a conversation about your product that includes listening, then engagement is good. Its trying to think first about their experience .... seeing the winery through their lens. That kind of engagement is critical and maybe seated experiences help in that process?

      Thanks again for the great insights.

  5. I work (casual as I have a day job) in a family run winery in Napa. We have mainly sit-down tasting by appointment, but on Saturdays we take larger parties that are entertained standing up in the winery itself and outdoors on the crush pad. For larger parties (8-12) that come in small tours or in limos standing is best as these parties have a tendency to not purchase and to be inebriated and no one wants to "work" with them for too long. The real sales come in the seating area where real conversations can take place AND real sales happen.

    1. Creatures -

      I've been pondering what to do about the limos and tours. Your description of the value as well as the employee attention requirement makes me wonder why you don't simply tell the tour companies "no more"?

      I ask because I will be facing this same scenario soon (we intend to open late summer) and other wineries near where I will be can't fathom that I will reject the limos... Why would I want them? As you state, they take space, employee attention and they don't buy anything!

      My primary concern is to not be seen as arrogant, but exclusive and therefore scare...

    2. Creatures and Chris - Great dialogue. Please continue and expand.

      From my perspective, some wineries do well with weddings, limos, and busses but again it depends on how you are vetting those. Refering to last week's post about the percent of visitors who buy nothing, you want to stay away generally from the fish weir thinking about attracting visitors. It shouldn't be all about random people stopping by and if you are in a major wine tourist area, then you have to have an on site solution to separate the people who aren't buyers from those who are. I think the real secret to success is attracting/marketing to the people you want to attract before they ever walk in the door.

      Here's a quick story to underscore the point: Years ago we worked with Sam Sebastiani on getting Viansa Winery off the ground. I thought Sam was a genius when it came to understanding direct sales. He built an Italian Marketplace playing off his family heritage and put all the effort into creating a venue that was inviting and one where consumers would have a good experience - even without being 'engaged' by a staff member. He always seemed to have 2-3 busses in the lot at any time and those visitors bought wine, sandwhiches, trinkets and joined the wine club in droves.

      Most people in the wine business hate to see busses hit the parking lot and rightly so to reference Creature's comment above, because those visitors often times are melon squeezers and think they are on a pub crawl - probably taking tequilla shots in the limo between wineries. Sam however knew what he wanted to do.

      Sam went to SF and worked with the drivers and limo companies who handled tourist traffic. He took care of the drivers when they dropped guests to the winery, making sure they were welcomed and comfortable. He gave them turkeys at Thanksgiving for instance and one day when one of the drivers asked for a ham instead, Sam gave him both. Sam knew the drivers were an important client and he spent time getting to know them and at the same time, passing on the story of Viansa and building up the consumers about what to expect at the facility and how to negitiate the property and offerings.

      That's someone who was way ahead of his time in thinking. He marketed to people by starting with the experience and backed into wine. Before guests arrived at the location they were hearing about where they were going from the driver/ambassador and Sam delivered a great experience, and honesly - spent a lot more on that than the wines themsleves and was hugely successful.

      So Creature's - when you think about limos and busses, my advice is if you want to take them - emulate what Sam did and get the right people to your place of business, but stay away from the pub crawlers.


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