by Eric Mullett
“Let them eat cake!” a well-dressed and well-fed Marie Antoinette screamed from her balcony to the starving French masses below her, inciting a violent revolution. On the other side of the world, normally demure tea drinkers burned and pillaged ravenously over tea so heavily taxed it became utterly unaffordable.
It is probably fair to say that we can all be a little sensitive when our desires are so deliberately undermined. It stirs some intense feelings. Feelings of frustration. Feelings of disappointment. Feelings not unlike the kind of incensed emotion that may have crept up the last time you made plans to go out to enjoy a nice dinner with a nice bottle of wine…only to find that the wine is not-so-nicely marked up two or three times what you would pay in a store!! Revolution seems the only answer.
But is it?
Up front, it must be confessed that there are obvious reasons why some mark up may be in order: an especially warm ambience, extraordinary service, and possibly a truly inspired menu. But two to three times? I’m still ready to pack powder.
Fortunately, Emily Richard, Communications Director at the Tennessee Department of Revenue and Susan Morris of the Audit Division were kind enough to lend their expertise and wisdom to shed some light on the situation. It seems there are some significant taxes that definitely contribute to the whole restaurant pricing issue but that they are not so well understood.
Specifically, the taxes in question include the Wholesale Tax, which is variable; the On Premise Tax (15 percent); and, of course, Tennessee’s infamous Sales Tax (9.25 percent). Combined, it makes the total tax incurred as much as 24.25% on every drink sold!
“Burn something!” Cries a desperate imbiber, “Pillage the cake queen!” cries another. And one wonders, “Could there be anything good in all of this?”
Well, yes, as a matter of fact, there is.
“Pillage them all anyway! Burn, burn, burn!”
Hold on, I’m serious and I think you’ll find this interesting: it turns out that half of that seemingly outrageous tax actually goes to our state’s educational funds and half is “situs,” meaning it is funneled back into the specific community from where the wine was purchased. Then, 50 percent of the situs monies are earmarked for more education in that originating community. Some of the situs funds have been reallocated in recent years due to tax cuts; but think about it! Isn’t it nice to know that while you are sitting on your bum and working a buzz, you’re actually helping to educate our children? Who knew imbibing could make such a difference!
An interesting note that may save you some money: by law, the prices listed on the menu have to be inclusive of all taxes. No additional taxes can be added to these prices and, while most abide by this rule, there is always the hapless server who may not know better. Best to check that bill, after all, you could save the 9.25 percent in additional sales tax! See, now we’re talking…
Another sugar filled spoonful that may help this medicine go down is the fact that Tennessee law allows you to take the remaining wine in a bottle purchased at the restaurant with you when you go home. Waste not, want not, right? So you can go ahead and splurge a little on the bottle and not feel like you have to choose between wasting valuable vino or guzzling the rest of the bottle…an action rarely applauded by fellow patrons.
Keep in mind too, that some restaurants allow you to bring a bottle of your choosing in and they will open it for you. There is usually a “corking fee” averaging around $15 or so; but it’s well worth it to explore that Lafite you’ve been saving for way too long with a great dinner and no clean up!
Remember, that restaurants are no fans of the taxes either; it’s just a fact of life that has become standard operating procedure. A great example of this is the approach taken sat the undeniably savvy restaurant, Wild Boar.
Brett Allen, along with his family, started the highly acclaimed hot spot back in 1992. They are known for their finely tuned wine list and have consistently won Wine Spectator’s coveted Grand Award. At the Wild Boar, Brett has made a conscientious effort to be decidedly up front with the tax, printing it right on the menu with little or no complaints from his patrons. His explanation? “Wine is about people. As long as you keep your focus on the people, it’s okay.”
Focus on the people? If only Antoinette’s French feasters and the English tea taxers could have so readily distilled that idea. And who knows? Maybe Antoinette was trying to offer them a nice Cakewalk wine and just got misquoted, poor pillaged girl.
In the end, revolution seems overrated. All that blood, sacrifice and strife. Just the general inconvenience of it all... Why not use your Nashville WinePress to help you choose your wine wisely and then firmly commit to enjoying it, knowing you’re not only helping the local community, but also educating students with every heavily taxed sip? Sealing the deal, you can cork the unsipped portion to repeat the experience the next night (or later that same night) at home. Victory is ours!