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Joe Fattorini: Sell the sizzle

Published:  16 June, 2020

“Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle” is one of the great maxims of copywriting, but it leaves a bitter taste today for those of us involved in the on-trade. We’re not selling steaks, or sizzle.

But can its underlying truth offer some of us hope? I sell wine to restaurants, which sell glasses and bottles of wine to customers. But, of course, what customers are buying are celebrations, treats, convenience, adventure, social favours, even love. They’re buying sizzle, not steak. That desire to celebrate, to treat ourselves, to offer favours and to romance partners has not gone away.

People will emerge from lockdown wanting to celebrate. They’ll want to treat themselves, take a night off and share with friends. For us the challenge is delivering those experiences in, around and beyond the traditional confines of the on-trade. Are we going to see the emergence of a new type of takeaway or delivery service?

Imagine a halfway house between on-site dining and a dinner party service, with a specially designed menu, a suitably priced wine list, a set number of reserved places – delivered by your staff, not Deliveroo.

The wine trade has its part to play here. Wine is a major revenue stream for restaurants and offering stemware to emulate the restaurant experience will be one way to add value. Merchants will have to play their part by offering wines and vintages with limited retail distribution and help restaurants achieve reasonable margins, to find parcels and ranges that offer excitement for customers.

Restaurant teams need to adapt too. How can we bring wine to life over the phone? Elmer Wheeler, who came up with the steak vs sizzle line, also said: “Don’t ask ‘if’ – ask ‘which’.” “Which wine would you like to pair that with” will be an essential part of any home-dining service, if we’re not to see wonderful food matched with what was on special at Nisa Today.

We’ll also need to remember one of Wheeler’s other maxims: “Say it with flowers.” It’s not enough to say we want our customer to have a great evening. It’s time to buy corkscrews with your restaurant name on them and leave one with everyone who uses your at-home dining service. It’s not flowers, but every time they use it they’ll remember that you loved that they bought your wine.