Seasonal advice from Danny Eilenberg, Co-founder of Half Cut Market

When it comes to the festive season, wine teams find themselves in a slightly different position to the kitchen – big group bookings in December can often be relied on to commit to a set menu, with a larger spend per head than they’d usually indulge in. But when it comes to wine, festive drinkers tend to favour quantity over quality…

Let’s be honest, with a lot of Christmas bookings, customers are not restaurant regulars, or, dare I say it, ‘foodies’. Instead, they are what my business partner Edwin describes as ‘civilians’ — potentially more at home with a bottle of Echo Falls than some Envinate. So, while the food SPH goes up, wine bills are often lower than normal.

So, to ensure that your wine sales don’t suffer as a consequence of customers looking for a bargain bottle, consider stacking the lower end of the list with premium choices, from less mainstream ‘name-brand’ regions like Riesling or Picpoul, rather than chardonnay or sauvignon.

This means that if Gary from accounts only drinks Savvy B (and he’s probably not paying anyway!), a more strategic wine list will go some way towards preventing every table from just ordering stuff at the cheapest price. It also has the added benefit of offering interesting wines to more adventurous drinkers, who have been lucky enough to snag a December booking.

Christmas drinking inevitably means Christmas drunks. Whilst tipsy guests are a reality all year round — or at least I’d hope they are if you’re serious about selling wine — there’s a big difference between your June quaffer and December toper (see aforementioned ‘civilians’).

So, my top tips for managing over-indulgers are as follows:
  • Identify a lead member of the group and get them on side. Make it clear that there is a collective responsibility for their entire group, and if one of them has to go, they all do. People will be ordering sobering espressos and extra bread for their drunk mate in no time!
  • Speaking of extra bread… carbs are key. Catching imbibers early (and calming them down with a bit of food) is so much easier than managing them later in the meal, so your team should be ready to suggest bread to any table that looks like they’ve probably had a few too many drinks before their meal.
  • Prioritise food, even as a somm. People drink faster when it’s the only thing they’ve got to put in their mouths, so managing the flow of booze until starters are down should hopefully mean it’s smooth sailing all the way through to dessert.

Good luck everyone. See you in January for some non-civilian partying!

About Daniel Eilenberg:
Danny has worked in and around the hospitality business ever since he left school at 16. He founded Arnie, a creative and production agency working with booze and food brands in 2014 and is responsible for making sure that everything Half Cut related looks epic.

About Half Cut:
Founded in late 2021 by four north London friends – Danny, Holly, Edwin & Paul – with decades of hospo experience between them (including Noble Rot, The Marksman & 40FT Brewery), Half Cut Market is a restaurant, wine bar, shop and deli for people who love eating and drinking well.

Situated at 396 York Way just up from Kentish Town tube, Half Cut is half Camden and half Islington – a borough hybrid that lends itself perfectly to a delightfully different dining approach. Regular guest chef pop-up events and kitchen takeovers keep things fresh for guests, and give the team the chance to learn from a rolling list of industry legends.

Half Cut’s ethos is pretty clear – serving up a banging list of premium low-intervention natural wines and the very best craft beers from around the world, alongside some seriously tasty, seasonal food from head chef, Jack Newton (ex-head chef at Dublin’s revered Hen’s Teeth).

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