July 25, 2023

Washington Prime learns how to cater to different palates

Upscale steakhouse develops wine-to-go program that meets the needs of all guests, including women and younger customers.

Moss says to-go sales remain robust, particularly among guests who want to sample upscale varietals in Prime’s by-the-glass program.

Washington Prime is not your grandfather’s steakhouse.

While the upscale Norwalk, Conn., restaurant is known for the prime beef it serves, it also caters to a variety of palates—American, seafood, vegetarian, vegan, and even small plates. That’s, perhaps, one reason for its popularity among women and younger customers, says Rob Moss, its president and co-owner. 

But a big ingredient in its success might just be the upscale, yet affordable, wine-to-go program he and his partners started in 2020, after the pandemic began.

“It’s all kind of a blur now, but back then, when the law changed in Connecticut, allowing us to sell drinks to go, customers could go into local restaurants and not only buy a cocktail or glass of wine to go, they could also get a bottle of wine or liter of liquor,” Moss says. “When we started alcohol to-go sales, we saw people placing not $100, but $500 orders. They wanted glasses of our wines and cocktails, but also ordered our batched cocktails—four margaritas or espresso martinis—and food. People were buying them left and right during that COVID-19 period.”

As time progressed, and even as customers started returning to dine indoors, Moss says to-go sales remained robust, particularly among guests who wanted to sample upscale varietals in Prime’s by-the-glass program. The trend continues today.

“You know, some of our customers will order a $25 burger online, come in to pick it up, and see a glass of wine priced at $40 that they’d like to try,” he says. “This has become very popular with people who live in apartments in our South Norwalk neighborhood, young solo professionals in their 30s who have some disposable income and want to try a high-end wine but would rather spend $65 for a glass instead of $300 for the bottle. They’re willing to splurge a little, and it’s great for us because we move some of our inventory, increase the average check, and they get to try wines they wouldn’t find in their liquor store without having to buy the whole bottle.”

Read our report, “On the Menu: Trends in On- and Off-Premises Beverage Alcohol,” today!

He also says that participation in the restaurant’s monthly wine-pairing dinners, which resumed last year, has increased, especially among its young professional customers.

“Since COVID-19, people are just trying different things,” he says. “Before, younger guests didn’t seem like real wine drinkers. They weren’t buying expensive bottles of wine at the restaurant. Now, they’re buying French and Italian, despite prices going up because of import taxes.”

As Washington Prime considers its future, Moss says the group, which is about to open a new restaurant, will continue operating its alcohol-to-go program as long as the law remains in place. This summer he’ll introduce customers to a new flight of by-the-glass ros├ęs as well as more batched cocktails to-go.

“It’s working out really well,” he says. “It’s additional revenue for us and added value for our customers.”