Order yourself a glass of wine. Good criteria for a place you would like to become regular at is how fairly you feel it treats its customers. One of the theoretical models I like to plug variables into is the glass of wine model. Most places offer some wines by the glass and you can learn a lot about their wine program by knowing some basics.
It all begins with knowing the price of a bottle of wine. Unless you can lay your hands on one of the books most states publish that shows the wholesale price of all liquor, you have to kind of guesstimate what it costs. The accepted standard at the moment is a 200% mark-up for retail and a 300% markup at restaurants.
With no other guidelines, if a good liquor store sells a bottle of wine for $20 a restaurant will sell it for $30. If you pick a guideline wine, look at the price of it at a couple of shops and a couple of restaurants. If it costs between $18 and $23 at the stores it should be priced $27-$35 at restaurants, all things being equal. A store charging $28 for it is way out of line, but a restaurant is quite a deal for the same price.
The reason most states publish a price book is it is an industry standard because distributors offer quantity discounts. So if wine is $10 dollars a bottle wholesale and you buy 3 cases it may be $9, or $8 if you had bought 5. The implications of this are that places with more storage can often offer better prices. They don’t always, so if the biggest restaurant you know has 100 wines on the list as does your favorite little place but they both get $30 for our theoretical bottle of wine, you may assume the little place has a better deal for you than for themselves.
Another thing to consider is how long the place has been open. Places that have existed longer have had more opportunity to develop depth in vintages. If a new place has great older vintage wine they probably bought from a distributor’s reserves or procured them at auction so classics skew a little. If there is a value on a great old wine, it will probably be at the great old place that has been lazy/generous about marking their inventory to market.
As far as glass wine goes, the accepted standard guideline is that there are four glasses in a bottle and one glass should buy the bottle for the house So the house should start profiting on the second glass sold. The reason to charge a premium on glasses is a bottle of wine starts decaying the minute it is opened. Even with argon gas or a vacuvin system you are just delaying the inevitable. With this price structure, at least if they throw the rest of the bottle out with zero profit realized they have not lost money by offering the smaller portion.
For example, at our standard place lets say they bought 3 cases paying $9 a bottle. It would be fair for them to earn $18 (their 300% markup) on a bottle sale by charging $27, and to earn $27 by selling 4 glasses for $36 total dollars.
This is considered standard. There are all sorts of variations depending on the place. But whether they serve mini carafes, have the most knowledgeable wine staff in the world, use Reidel crystal or jelly jars, what should change is the quality and original cost of the bottle, not the pricing structure At the greatest restaurant in the world a glass of wine may cost 100 bucks, but that is only fair if the best price you can get it for in a store that day is $200.
Some tools I like to use for assessing regional bottle prices of wine are winezap.com and winesearcher.com.