The Second-Cheapest Bottle Of Wine Has The Highest Mark-Up & Other Restaurant ‘Secrets’

Many of us have been there, especially in our early to mid-20s, on a date and being asked to pick a wine. You don’t want to look cheap, so you rule out the least expensive bottle on the list and opt to spend a few dollars more to seem like a dollar-sensitive sophisticate. Restaurant owners are apparently on to our completely predictable ways, and that’s why you probably just paid a lot more for that wine than it’s worth.

At least according to UrbanSpoon, which includes this factoid on its recent roundup of “10 Things Restaurants Aren’t Telling You.”

So according to the story, the restaurant probably paid less for that bottle you paid $17 for than it did for the $14 bottle you avoided buying in order to avoid the stink of looking cheap. Making it slightly more expensive gives it the illusion of being a better wine, selling more — but at a still-reasonable price — and making more profit.

Some other gems from the UrbanSpoon list:

• Wait times are made up: No, your host/hostess probably does not have an amazing gift for sussing out exactly how long it will take for a table to open up. That “about 40 minutes” figure you were given, was probably plucked out of thin air.

• Upscale restaurants have fancy menu designs for a reason: You local diner or chain restaurant usually has prices all in one column off to the side, allowing you to see that the chicken dish is $5 cheaper than the steak. Meanwhile, fancier restaurants often take a different approach to menu design, putting the prices under the item’s description, or dropping the “$” from the number. It’s not just about creating a pretty menu card; it’s about getting you to not comparison-shop for the cheapest dish.

• The less busy we are, the worse your service will be: Anyone who has walked into an empty eatery and been completely ignored understands this one. “Employees take advantage of a slow restaurant by getting their side work done early and playing around with coworkers,” writes UrbanSpoon. “They’re not on a fast-paced routine like they are on a busy night, so they forget to check in on the tables they do have as often.”

You can read the whole list at

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  1. theoriginalcatastrophegirl says:

    interesting to know about the wine markup. makes a lot of sense. and if there are still people who think wait times mean anything, i’d like to talk to them about this bridge i have for sale…

    the full list has some things i had heard before and are a big part of why i rarely go to restaurants.
    “5. And, your waiter also often knows that those “allergies” you claim are just as likely to be overly dramatized claims to ensure an offending food stays off your plate.” – while it’s very clear some people do this, it means that people with actual food allergies are penalized when the server doesn’t take a food allergy seriously. like the waitress many years ago who clearly took my burger in the kitchen, removed the onion slice, waited a few minutes/heated it again and brought it back out to me. part of my reaction to the enzymes in onions is vomiting. i doubt she ever did that to anyone else again.
    fortunately i’ve met many servers who take food allergies seriously and i’ve kind of learned to tell when they are just trying to placate me into accepting whatever so they can be done with me.

    “6. Ordering coffee at night? It’s probably decaf.”
    i suppose for most people, especially with heart conditions, that’s better than getting too much caffeine.
    fun thing i learned when i got diabetes – caffeine raises my blood sugar, so i have to take insulin for it. if i think i’m getting caffeine and i take insulin, then don’t get caffeine, it’s a serious health concern. since i learned this a few years ago, i stopped ordering coffee in restaurants unless it’s a 24 hour place that is expecting to serve caffeinated coffee all night (waffle house, denny’s, etc)

  2. CommonC3nts says:

    Wait times are a best guess based on the number of tables left and if those tables have already eaten, have their food, or are still waiting for food.
    I used to work at a restaurant.
    The wait times do have logic behind them and also people can ask how many people are in front of them and how many tables have people who are done eating.

    Also, I dont see how putting the price below the item with no $ sign means you cant compare prices. That is really calling people stupid.

    I never heard of restaurants only brewing decaf before in the evenings. I used to work at one.

    #8 is illegal. You cant reserve a bottle that has sat on customers tables as you have no idea what was done to it. That goes against food safety practices. Where I worked people took the bottle with them as they bought it.

    This list is made from someone that never worked in a restaurant before.

    • BigKahunaBurger says:

      In regards to #8, how is repurposing a bottle of wine any different than leaving an open ketchup bottle at a table and refilling it at the end of the day?

      Somewhat curious about this.