Revealed: restaurants ramp up the price of their second cheapest wine

Restaurants are cashing in on diners who skip the house wine to avoid looking cheap

Updated on 14 January 2020

Revealed: restaurants ramp up the price of their second cheapest wine

The man behind a well-established London restaurant chain has revealed that many restaurants intentionally ramp up the price of the second cheapest wine on their menu.

Russell Norman, who founded the Polpo restaurant chain, confessed that several restaurants rely on the fact that diners don’t want to order the house wine in front of friends or dates, in case they look cheap. To combat this, they end up ordering the second cheapest wine on the menu, but according to Norman, this actually leaves diners out of pocket.

Writing about the tactic in Oldie Magazine, Norman said that good restaurateurs are skilled at “playing to natural human psychology.” That being said, he went on to reveal why many diners back out of ordering the house wine in a restaurant. “We instinctively don’t want to appear cheap, so we often skip the house wine and opt for the second cheapest.”

The interiors at Polpo Soho

“The margins on this wine will be particularly good for the restaurant but not so great for you in terms of value. It makes much more sense to go further up the list and choose a wine above £35... The margins will be smaller and the wine will be much better in quality and value.”

However, if you are really keen to stick to a budget, Norman says that the best thing to do is stick to your guns and order the house wine. “Stick to the house wine” says Norman “[which is] always very carefully sourced by the restaurateur or sommelier.”

For any diners that are still trying to avoid looking cheap in front of their mates or dates, there is another way to skip the house wine without breaking the bank. Instead, try experimenting with an unfamiliar style or region, as prices are often lower to encourage diners to try them out.

If you can’t get enough of restaurant bargains, check out our pick of London’s best cheap eats.