Why you should order a restaurant's cheapest wine

Cheerful couple with menu in a restaurant making order
Cheerful couple with menu in a restaurant making order

The wine list arrives - and you don't want to look either ignorant or like a cheapskate, so you order the second cheapest bottle on the list.

That way, you figure, you won't have to fork out a fortune, but won't be getting the restaurant's worst plonk.

It's a reasonable way of thinking, but according to experts it's all wrong. In fact, the second-cheapest wine is likely to be the worst value, says sommelier Mark Oldman.

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In his book, How to Drink Like a Billionaire, Oldman points out that restaurants are perfectly aware that the second- and third-cheapest bottles are generally the most popular.

As a result, he says, they'll use those slots to get rid of anything that they happen to have overstocked. And they'll also slap the biggest mark-up on these bottles, knowing they're likely to sell well regardless.

"You are better served to order the cheapest wine, which diners often neglect out of fear or embarrassment and thus is often a better value," he says.

"Just make sure you do so at a restaurant that cares about its wine, where even modestly priced wines are of admirable quality."

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And, as you've probably worked out already, buying by the bottle is almost always better value than buying by the glass.

"Wines by the glass are so marked up that it is practically industry scripture that the cost of the first glass covers what that restaurant paid wholesale for the bottle," says Oldman.

Restaurant wine generally costs around three times as much as the same bottle bought from a supermarket. And it's not the only part of the menu that involves a huge mark-up.

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Kids' meals and desserts are easy to prepare and often bought in from outside, but are priced way higher than the restaurant's costs.

Vegetarian meals and pasta dishes, meanwhile, have far cheaper ingredients than other items on the menu, but generally cost around the same. And as for soup, it's usually made from leftovers from the day before.

All in all then, you'll generally get better value from a restaurant meal if you avoid the cheapest items on the list - and you'll be more likely to impress your date too...