Should every wine on a restaurant wine list be available?

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Dear Dr Vinny,

We recently visited a high-end restaurant with an impressive 90-page wine list, but it took three attempts to find a wine that was actually in stock. Good friends had a similar problem the week before. The sommelier said that they had sold out of our choices. Is it unreasonable to expect a better hit rate?


Dear Stephen,

It is certainly not unreasonable: If a wine is on the wine list, it should be available. However—and this is a big "however"—this is summer 2021, and the restaurants that survived the pandemic are just starting to get back on their feet. They're going to need some time to recover to pre-pandemic status. While not the case for all restaurants, many high-end restaurants with excellent wine programs resorted to selling wines straight from their cellar during the pandemic to cover basic costs and stay afloat, depleting their inventories significantly without the means to reorder.

Yes, now that more and more places are opening, hopefully wine lists will be fully restored, but after being closed for so long, reopening is more like opening a brand-new restaurant. Staffing has been particularly difficult for employers. Updating a printed wine list can be both time-consuming and expensive, and it’s not an efficient use of time and money if the sold-out wine selections are expected to be replenished.

The best thing we can do as restaurant lovers right now is dine or order out as much as possible, and be both patient and generous (kindness and understanding go a long way, too). The more money that goes back into the industry, the sooner it will return to “normal.”

—Dr. Vinny

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