Are restaurants ripping us off?

The prices of wine at restaurants is a subject of hot debate: just how much can be justified as a mark-up on a product that a restaurant simply pores from a bottle into a glass?
I’m currently on a business trip around Asia, where wine tends to be prohibitively expensive either due to local government taxes or sheer extortion. Just last night in Macau I saw a bottle of Portugal’s cheap and cheerful Planalto white priced at nearly €30.
Now, considering that Macau has no government tax on wine and that this particular wine will have cost them no more than €3, this is a whopping 1000% mark-up! But, right below it on the same (excellent) list of Portuguese wines, was the premium Douro label Redoma, in various vintages – a wine at least five times the retail price of Planalto, but priced here exactly the same, I enjoyed a beautifully aged 2008 bottle, which was nothing short of a bargain.
The explanation, at this particular restaurant, is that they have a minimum price for a bottle of wine irrespective of the actual cost, a practice I find acceptable in most cases. Looking at the more expensive wines on the list, the mark-ups were as low as 100% in the case of mid-range wines and even lower in the case of the big budget vintages.
Here in Portugal, the acceptable average mark-up in a quality restaurant is around 300%, and if done correctly this is acceptable – i.e. a higher mark-up on cheaper wines and progressively lower the more expensive the wine.
Many restaurants in the Algarve have embraced this method over recent years, and it ends up paying off as guests are encouraged to drink better wine and thereby enjoy their meal all the more for it and feel that they are getting value for money.
But to put this into context, I find an average 300% mark-up acceptable only when the restaurant has invested in high-quality glassware, has a good wine list and perhaps a qualified sommelier, or at the very least, a head waiter who can offer guests advice on the wines they offer.
Where I live in Carvoeiro there is a small and humble Indian restaurant that serves half decent Indian food at acceptable prices, but is a complete rip-off when it comes to wine, charging well over 400% with just a few cheap wines on the list and nothing even resembling a proper wine glass to serve it in – best stick to beer!
By Patrick Stuart [email protected]