You all know the group. Maybe you've even been a part of the group. Fourteen friends -- or maybe family -- out for a day in wine country. The van has been reserved for the day, so everyone can partake in the tastings. Your friend -- or cousin -- Phil is the master of ceremonies, and the life of the party. Most of the group likes wine, but only a few are really into the details. For everyone else, it's a fun day out, a chance to socialize and catch up. A few wineries make a great backdrop for the day's socializing. Look familiar?
For a winery tasting room, or for our more serious visitors, these groups are a challenge. They can come unexpectedly and monopolize the attention of one of our tasting room servers. They tend to be loud and mostly interested in interacting with each other. And while we can always find a way to fit another 2 or 4 people into one of our tasting bars, fitting in a new group of 10 or 14 isn't always possible. Our focus has been on making sure that the core visitors who are our bread and butter are well taken care of, and over the last year or so we've been letting groups know that while we'd love to host them at a time when the tasting room is relatively quiet, we often can't accommodate large groups during our busy times.
Why? If we're looking at what the relative benefit is to us of a large group vs. a more traditional couple or party of 4, it's not close. On average, large groups buy about 20% as much wine per person as smaller parties. We comp our tasting fee on the purchase of even one bottle, which has meant that less than 10% of our traditional tasters even pay it. Historically, looking at our large groups, around 85% end up paying the tasting fee. While the tasting fee (barely) covers our costs, it's hardly possible to base a business on charging customers $15 for an hour of entertainment plus 6-8 tastes (between 1/4 and 1/3 of a bottle) of wine that averages $40/bottle.
At the same time, I hated the thought that we were turning away potential new customers. Sure, they might not buy anything on this visit, but who's more likely to buy later -- either on a return trip to Paso Robles, or when they see Tablas Creek on a restaurant list or retail shelf -- someone who's spent a fun hour out here, or someone who's been told that we couldn't accommodate them and then went and had a fun hour at some other local winery?
So, while I knew that we were making the right decision about where to prioritize our efforts, I was never happy with the outcome. Until now.
Those of you who visited before March of 2011 will remember our old tasting room, on the west side of our winery building. The below photo is from 2006 or thereabouts, with a second room (off-camera to the right) that had in very early days (pre-2005) been our conference room holding three additional tasting bars:
We decommissioned this tasting room when we moved into our current space in 2011. At that point, we turned the conference room back into a conference room and the original tasting room went back to being the office entrance it was between 1997 and 2002 while we waited for inspiration on what to use it for.
That inspiration is here. Please welcome our two new group tasting spaces:
These spaces give us two options, one seated and one standing, for hosting groups. It gives each group a dedicated pourer and its own space. It allows them to be as focused (or as unfocused) as they like without impacting anyone else's experience. It keeps their mini-buses and limousines from displacing our customers' cars from our parking lot. And it allows us to keep our main tasting room focused on the experience of the couples and smaller groups who are our most important customers.
These new rooms are available to groups of 10 or more on weekends. We ask that groups make a reservation (you would, wouldn't you?) but if we get a walk-in group and have the space available, we'll bring them back to the group space. All the details for our group tastings, including tasting fees and available times, can be found on our Visiting Page.
I hope that this will make everyone's experience better, allow us to continue to take great, personal care of our visitors, and mean that the times when we have to say we just can't accommodate someone who wants to come visit are truly few and far between. Meanwhile, if you've been a part of a particularly good group tasting somewhere, or you have any suggestions for our new program, I'd love you to leave a comment.