The scene is all too familiar: glancing through a restaurant\u2019s wine list you spot a Napa Cab you saw in a wine shop for $30; it\u2019s listed at $80.\r\n\r\nIn a recent survey of consumers\u2019 wine-buying habits in restaurants, Julie Brosterman, CEO of WomenWine.com, found that 70% of respondents felt restaurant wine prices were too high. \u201cPeople are savvier about wine markups than they used to be,\u201d Brosterman says. \u201cThey know retail prices, and they can look up wine prices on their Blackberrys while sitting in the restaurant.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cWine is a good profit item,\u201d reads one restaurant management textbook. \u201cIt will average approximately the same cost of sales as food, but the labor and operating costs needed to present it are substantially less,\u201d observes another.\r\n\r\nIndustry-wide markups average two and a half to three times wholesale cost, says Randy Caparoso, a restaurant wine consultant at Wine List Consulting Unlimited. A bottle priced at $10 wholesale might sell for $15 retail, but $25 to $30 in a restaurant. \u201cEveryone knows you pay more in restaurants than at retail, but what really aggravates a lot of consumers is how wacky prices can be. A bottle may be $25 at one restaurant, $15 at another, and $40 at a third.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nSo what really goes into wine prices, and why are they all over the map? Let\u2019s dissect some of the factors.\r\nState\u00a0Laws and Taxes\r\nEach state has its own alcohol laws and taxes that can affect the price of wine. Utah restaurants are required to buy wine from state-run liquor stores at retail price instead of wholesale price. Taxes are steep in some states\u2014Tennessee tacks on a 15% tax hike for on-premise sales, for example\u2014and fairly low in others.\r\nWholesale Costs\r\nAgain, those Byzantine state laws make pricing a maze. In some states, wholesalers are required to price wine fairly to all restaurant customers; in others, large chain restaurants and those with bigger buying power are able to negotiate better wholesale prices.\r\nRestaurant Operational Costs\r\n\u201cA neighborhood restaurant where you\u2019re greeted at the door by the owner who also seats you, takes your order and cooks your food has two to three times lower overall expenses than a restaurant with fresh flowers, valets, five chefs and an army of waiters,\u201d Caparoso says. \u201cWine is a commodity, a costed good. It\u2019s the same as buying a pair of shoes. The nicer the store, the higher the cost of the shoes.\u201d\r\nPosition on the List\r\nMost lists follow a graduated markup, with the highest markups on the cheapest wines, and lower markups on higher-end wines. A $10 wholesale wine may be marked up to $30, but a $50 wine might be just $80.\r\n\r\nWhim. Mike Shor, an economics professor at Vanderbilt University, did a personal study analyzing wine prices at 38 Nashville restaurants, rating the restaurants according to markups. \u201cI teach a class in pricing, and a couple of restaurants I\u2019ve been to have ridiculous wine prices,\u201d he explains. \u201cI wanted to see if that was true or just a feeling I had.\u201d\r\n\r\nHis findings: markups varied widely. Some adhered to industry standards, but at least one merited this description from Shor: \u201cIf you search long enough, you may find a wine price that is merely insulting.\u201d\r\n\r\nTrevor Hertrich, a wine buyer for a large retail store in Denver and a former restaurant sommelier and wine program manager, says high markups are a matter of convention rather than good business planning. \u201cTo me, it\u2019s more about the bottom line and selling more at a lower margin.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cThe restaurant is kind of punishing you for being a creature of habit.\u201d\u00a0\u2014Randy Caparoso\r\n\r\nHertrich maintains that there is a magic number where a good restaurant wine manager can do a lower markup, sell more wine and make the same amount of profit. \u201cIf you pay $50 for a mid-range Burgundy, you can put it on the list for $200 and wait six months for someone to buy it, or you can charge $125 and sell it right away,\u201d he says. \u201cMeanwhile you\u2019ve already paid for it and you have to store it.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe good news is that restaurants are beginning to get the memo. Ten years ago, Caparoso says, wine markups were even higher, but that prices are moving down towards two times wholesale cost.\r\n\r\n\u201cPrices are coming down in response to consumer feedback. You couldn\u2019t do that 15\u201320 years ago because not enough wine was drunk to make it worthwhile,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nUltimately, though, Caparoso begs wine lovers to stop comparing restaurant wine prices with retail. \u201cYou have an army of people serving you and cooking for you and washing your dishes. They aren\u2019t doing it for free.\u201d\r\n\r\nHere are some ideas on how to get the best value from the wine list:\r\nSpend more for a better value. \r\nMost lists have higher markups on the cheapest wines and lower markups on high-end wines, so often the more you spend, the better wine you\u2019re getting for the money.\r\nOrder mid-list. \r\nThe second-least-expensive wine on the list is often marked up the most. Why? \u201cPeople don\u2019t want to look cheap, so they order the second cheapest wine,\u201d Shor says. Go one or two bottles higher for a better deal.\r\nBeware brand names. \r\nPopular brand names always get the full markup because they sell no matter what, Caparoso says. \u201cThe restaurant is kind of punishing you for being a creature of habit.\u201d\r\nBe adventurous.\r\n\u201cIf there\u2019s a wine I really want on the list but don\u2019t think a lot of people will order, I put an even lower markup on it,\u201d says Jay Frein, wine manager at Margot Caf\u00e9 in Nashville, which had the best value wine prices in Shor\u2019s study.