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Should You Charge a Tasting Fee in Your Cellar Door?

May 27, 2019

The issue of whether you should charge a tasting fee in your cellar door can be a complicated one. Research found that here in Australia, only a third of cellar doors currently use tasting fees but in comparison, 60% of American cellar doors do charge.

The reality is that there’s no single answer on whether you should charge a tasting fee. Some studies do suggest that the practice might increase orders while many wineries fear they will lose business to another location that doesn’t.

Read on to find some of the biggest reasons for and against tasting fees to help you make your decision.

Pros for Tasting Fees 

Tasting fees may enhance perceived value for customers

One of the best arguments for having a tasting fee is a psychological one. People find more value in something they have to pay for and this perceived value can have an impact on sales.

This is why so many American wineries choose to charge for tastings. While small in scale, studies have found charging a tasting fee leads to a higher average order both in terms of bottle numbers and value.

Tasting fees cover the cost of the wine being tasted.

Wineries are after all a business and a lot of wine can be consumed in a cellar door. Particularly for smaller wineries, charging can offset this cost, something reflected in the fact that more smaller wineries in Australia charge fees, while larger ones are less likely to.

Tasting fees may lead to more purchases if refunds are offered

A recent Wine Australia study found that the majority of wineries will refund a tasting fee with a purchase. If this is your model, customers may be more likely to purchase the minimum amount to get value, particularly if this minimum counts across groups.

Tasting fees help maintain a good cellar door atmosphere

All cellar doors have endured the party of wine tasters who are simply there to get a few free drinks. This can have a significant impact on the environment in your location and may even discourage other customers from staying. By charging a nominal fee, you are discouraging this attitude.

Tasting fees are an easy way to offer additional value to wine club members

Your wine club members should always receive the most value possible and by waiving tasting fees for them, you have instantly created a new benefit to signing up. 

Cons of Tasting Fees

You may lose customers to other wineries that don’t charge a fee

Particularly in popular regions like the Hunter Valley and Barossa, cellar doors naturally have a lot of competition. Charging a tasting fee might be the difference between visitors coming to your cellar door or not.

Offering multiple styles of tastings can be confusing for customers (and you!)

Many of the cons of charging tasting fees can be negated by including a free option, while also charging for a more premium experience. However, offering more than one type of tasting has issues too. Customers may be confused as to why they can’t try a certain wine and your staff will also need to remain on top of what experience each group falls into.

Tasting fees may in fact discourage purchases

There’s a reason that free samples exist! People like to try something but will often then feel a social pressure to make a purchase as a token of appreciation. A tasting fee on the other hand exists as a product in its own right, letting customers feel as though they have already paid for the product and don’t need to buy a bottle.

Customers are asked to pay for a product they might not enjoy

While all wineries want to imagine that every customer will enjoy their wine, this is not always the case. For customers who don’t enjoy your wine, being charged even a small amount will likely cause some irritation.

It changes the intention of the tasting

The majority of customers visit your cellar door for the experience of tasting wines, but they are also looking for a bottle they want to buy. By charging a tasting fee, you run the risk of putting the emphasis on the tasting itself, rather than looking to the bigger picture of a long term relationship or even just a larger sale on the day.

Get the best of both worlds

In the end, whether you charge a tasting fee comes down to what elements you value as a winery. Some brands will prioritise the perceived value of the wine, while others would prefer to keep their cellar door as open to all visitors as possible.

But if you’re trying to get the best of both worlds, here’s what we recommend. 

  1. Offer a free experience to make sure you don’t lose customers simply because you charge a fee
  2. If you do charge a standard tasting fee, make sure it’s no more than $10.
  3. Consider including a premium experience or run more structured tastings to add perceived value to your wines
  4. If you do have tasting fees, refund on either a minimum purchase or if customers join your wine club
  5. Waive your standard tasting fees for wine club members and if you are running premium tastings, consider offering them a discount on this.
  6. Even if you decide to not use tasting fees generally, consider adding them to large bookings to cover costs

Want to run a successful cellar door?

Our free e-book gives you the tips you need to run a cellar door that creates long term customer engagement, drives repeat sales and promotes your brand.

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