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Should You Charge a Tasting Fee in Your Cellar Door?

May 27, 2019

One of the biggest debates in the winery world is whether or not to charge a tasting fee at your cellar door. It can be complicated. People fall on different sides of the debate and will not be swayed by any arguments. In 2018, 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. If you are debating whether you should charge one at your cellar door, read on for the pros and cons.

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.

Pros for Tasting Fees 

Tasting Fees May Increase Perceived Value for Customers

This is one of the best arguments for having a tasting fee and it plays on simple psychology. People find more value in something they have to pay for and this perceived value can have an impact on sales. Basically, if something costs more people put more value in it. 

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

Tasting Fees Can Cover The Cost Of The Tasting

Wineries are a business and a lot of wine can be consumed in a cellar door at a tasting. What is covering that cost? Particularly for smaller wineries, charging a small fee can offset the cost of the tasting, something reflected in the fact that more of the smaller wineries in Australia charge fees, while the larger ones are less likely to.

Tasting Fees May Lead To More Purchases If Refunds Are Offered

A Wine Australia study found that the majority of wineries will refund a tasting fee with a purchase. For instance, you can taste five wines for a small fee that will be refunded if you purchase a bottle. 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 May Help Maintain A Good Cellar Door Atmosphere

We've all had the experience of enjoying a calm afternoon at a cellar door looking out over the vines as we sip a Pinot Grigio only to have the calm moment ruined by a roar from the stag-do next to us. 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 atmosphere at the cellar door. It can even discourage other customers from staying. By charging a nominal fee, you are discouraging punters hanging around for a free drink.

Tasting Fees 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. However, this only becomes an additional value if you charge tasting fee for those not in your wine club.

Cons of Tasting Fees

Tasting Fees Could Discourage Customers From Visiting

In popular wine regions like the Hunter Valley and the Barossa, visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to cellar doors to visit. Oftentimes they have to pick and choose which wineries to visit over the course of a weekend or short trip. Naturally this can promote a lot of competition among the cellar doors. Charging a tasting fee might be the difference between visitors coming to your cellar door or not. 

Multiple Tasting Offerings 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 Discourage Purchases

There’s a reason that free samples exist! People like to try something before they purchase but can often feel a social pressure to make a purchase as a token of appreciation. A tasting fee can oftentimes fill that requirement so 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 May 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 can potentially cause some irritation.

Tasting Fees Change 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 you value as a winery. Some brands will prioritise the wine itself, while others prefer to focus on the cellar door and ensuring they have as many visitors as possible.

To get the best of both worlds, here are our recommendations when it comes to charging a tasting fee:

  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 around the same price as what you charge for a glass of wine, no more than $10. 
  3. Consider including a premium experience or run more structured tastings to add more perceived value to your wines.
  4. If you do have tasting fees, refund the cost with a minimum purchase or if the 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.

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