Ask a sommelier: what do people really want to drink at Christmas?

Everyone likes to treat themselves at this time of year, but what does that mean on an evening out? We asked former Shangri-La sommelier Bianca Gabellini to spill the beans on festive drinking habits.

In your experience, are people more willing to spend money on their drinks at Christmas?

It's much easier to sell wine during the Christmas period. I think people almost feel like they have to join in and celebrate! I'd say the main reason comes down to Christmas shopping - people will stop at a bar and think, "I've already spent £250 on other people, why can't I spend £25 or so on myself?"

The craze for Christmas shopping means venues can do other things to attract customers, too - for example, I remember hearing about a bar that offers to store people's shopping bags during the day. So, they carry on shopping, and then, when they go back to collect their bags, they have a glass of wine or a meal to end their day. If you have the space to do it, why not?

So what kind of drinks do people treat themselves with?

Because they come with a celebratory vibe, bubbles are the main thing that people feel inspired to spend more on at Christmas. When I worked at Vini Italiani, the main drinks we sold were Franciacorta and Prosecco (we didn't stock Champagne!). I think European customers in particular tend to associate Christmas with a nice bottle of sparkling wine. 

In Shangri-La, people also used to order a lot of Baileys, as well as port and fortified wines. Because it's a period where customers are willing to spend more on themselves, people indulge in desserts at the end of their meals. Digestifs like Baileys and fortified wines go perfectly. 

Can you give us your tips for how venues can upsell this Christmas?

Make sure your staff are well trained, know your list inside-out and can spot opportunities to upsell - and then be able to explain the wines when they need to. It's especially good if you have a great by-the-glass selection, that your staff can guide customers through - the best way to upsell is to show knowledge! 

But the real key to upselling at any time is understanding the customer that's in front of you. If you push too hard, it can have the opposite effect and turn people off spending more altogether. You have to play it by ear. But it's definitely easier at Christmas - if people are ordering a glass of Prosecco for themselves throughout the rest of the year, it's about getting them to treat themselves with Champagne instead for 25 days or so! 

What about magnums? 

Champagne magnums are easy to sell around Christmas, when people want to go all out! When you're dealing with a brand like Champagne, the quality levels mean people have an expectation of taste that's going to be met, so they're happier forking out for a large bottle. After all, they're buying the brand and the bottle, rather than the wine inside.

And finally, what will you be drinking this Christmas?

Champagne, of course! 

Feeling festive?

For more ideas on how to tempt customers with seasonal favourites, check out our selection of hearty reds.

Having spent childhood summers trekking through Italian vineyards, Elisa’s love of wine started at a young age. After a few stints working in pubs across the UK, she realised she could try far more samples working in a wine company, and landed at Bibendum two years ago. Now, she spends her days looking after digital marketing: writing, posting on social media, and everything in between.

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