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A Class On Glass

Millions of words are devoted to aid buyers in selecting beverages, but few words are dedicated to guiding buyers in selecting glassware in which to serve these beverages. Yet glassware represents a significant investment for beverage operations; procurement deserves close scrutiny. Here is a step-by-step approach to choosing and purchasing glassware for your operation.

1. Determine Your Needs
First, what types of glassware do you need? Glassware in a full-service restaurant falls into three basic categories: nonalcoholic beverages, such as water and soda; bar glassware, including rocks, highball, and cocktail/martini; and wine, which can range from a set of sparkling, white, and red to as many choices as there are wines to fill them. But glassware for a bar that specializes in beers will differ from glassware for a fine-dining establishment that focuses on wine.

From an investment perspective, the best plan is to start simple, taking into account the needs of your operation. Buying and storing extraneous glassware is an inefficient allocation of both money and space. Cover the basic styles, and expand your range as the need arises. For example, if Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are your biggest sellers, then consider glassware that will differentiate and highlight these wines rather than using a single red wineglass. 

Second, what quantity do you need for each type of glass? For glasses that are preset (e.g., water glasses), you need to cover the number of reservations on your busiest night. For wineglasses, multiply this number by the percentage of guests who drink wine. If you host special events, add the glassware required for these. If you have a breakage log, use this information to calculate replacement needs. If you do not have a log, consider starting one.

Your final quantity can be lowered if staff is available to wash and polish glassware during service. But be careful not to underestimate your numbers. Having servers run around the back of the house trying to find glassware is detrimental to good service.

2. Obtain Samples
After determining the glassware styles and quantities needed, contact distributors for samples. Creating specifications for each glass will narrow the choices to a manageable number. Basic information includes:

• Your budget—the first and most important concern.
• Crystal or glass? Crystal is finer, but glass is easier to maintain.
• Handblown or machine-made? Again, this is a trade-off in aesthetics for durability.
• Size of the glass? For wine glasses, factor in swirling space.
• Machine washable or hand washing recommended? For machine-washable glasses, racks create an additional expense. Also, racks are not always available from glassware distributors, so coordination with an additional distributor becomes a factor.

3. Rate the Glasses
Once you have samples, arrange an evaluation. Invite staff members who will be using the glasses on a daily basis—at least one server and one bartender. Their insights into functionality are often perceptive and practical. Discuss the pros and cons of each glass regarding aesthetics, functionality, and cost. A comparative tasting is helpful. If you are selecting a basic white and red wineglass, then taste at least two styles of wine in each glass. For example, tasting a Riesling and a Chardonnay will aid in finding a glass that works for both styles. Finally, set a table with the samples. Water, wine, and bar glasses that look great individually may not complement one another on the table.

4. Negotiate Pricing

Several factors can affect pricing. Being a good customer or a prestige account can yield discounts. Another possibility is to negotiate a discount for exclusive supply of all of your glassware. The most common discounts, however, are volume based. These usually start at ten-case quantities per style. If you have storage space, you can receive concessions by “front-loading” your purchases. This entails buying glassware to cover your medium- to long-term needs, then storing the extra glasses. Not only do you receive significant initial discounts, but you can negotiate discounted “mix-and-match” reorders. Multiunit operations can negotiate a national contract price with suppliers. Once a price list is established, individual units buy glassware at the negotiated price. Often, the local distributor charges a 5 to 10 percent shipping and storage premium, but this, too, is open to negotiation.

These basic steps do not remedy the scant material on the subject, but the strategies outlined for selecting and buying glassware can yield cost savings useful for upgrading to finer glassware, expanding your range, or simply saving money.

James Tidwell is consulting Master Sommelier with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in Las Colinas, Texas and cofounder of the Texas Sommelier Conference. He is a Certified Wine Educator and a member of the board of the Society of Wine Educators.

*Article originally published in 2008

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