Best Chain Overall Beverage Program: P.F. Chang’s China Bistro
Having it All
In the hotly contested casual segment, many chains excel in one aspect and many do it well. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro innovates in every beverage arena, with unique and comprehensive programs not just wine, cocktails and beer but also sake, tea, coffee and its nonalcoholic offerings. Their well-merchandised promotions have shown solid results even in this economy with beverages, including non-alcoholic, accounting for 17 to 20 percent of total sales.
The chain’s offerings touch on trends such as locavore, hand-crafted and environmentally friendly. Just as the Scottsdale, Az.-based, 204-location chain seamlessly combines classic Asian with contemporary bistro elements, so too does its drinks program, from fine full-leaf teas to sake cocktails. Although China Bistro’s beverage program is national in scope, it is flexible and market driven, allowing operating partners the leeway to be creative. Those are the outstanding aspects that have won P.F. Chang’s China Bistro the Cheers’ Award for Best Chain Overall Beverage Program.
The wine program at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro is characterized by innovation in presentation and selection. Thirty-plus wines are available by the half glass (3.5 ounce), glass (7 ounce) or bottle. The chain’s director of beverage Mary Melton works with all the operating partners to customize the cellar (optional) wines that complement their lists based on regional trends, including limited production and local wineries. This individualistic and tailored system was inspired by Melton’s early experience as a wine director trying to manage a large portfolio. She found that allowing the chain’s operator-partners to customize their selections also provides a good deal of flexibility to respond to local market preferences.
Every list features a wide range of styles, growing regions and varietals. But rather than arranging selections by region or varietal, the lists are broken down by flavor and body, with headings such as “Lush,” “Soft & Tangy,” and “Powerful” for red wines and “Fruity,” “Floral,” and “Creamy” for white wines. “It’s like a cheat sheet,” says Melton, who got the idea at her first job as a wine steward, when it helped her keep track of a large inventory. At P.F. Chang’s, the arrangement assists servers in guiding customers’ choices. Additional descriptors like “Green Apples & Lemons” and “Black Cherries & Currants” prompt the guest if that’s what they’re in the mood for. “Customers love it,” says Melton.
An Eye to Value
Many of Chang’s drinks offerings offer a range of solid deals in a tough economy. For instance, guests also love the wine pricing, calculated with much lower markups than is usual in the industry. Glasses start as low as $4 up to around $15; bottle prices range from $13 topping out at about $100. Building on that reputation for value was a 33 percent off promotion on bottles of wine run chain wide on Mondays and Tuesdays during July, August and September. That increased bottled wine sales a whopping 85 percent on those days. “We would even have people come in for lunch and order a bottle of wine,” recalls the beverage director. “It was a chance for our customers to be adventurous.”
Also adventurous is the chain’s pioneering foray into bag-in-box wine. Melton got the idea while attending a conference on green wine. “I realized how many bottles we go through selling so much wine by the glass,” she recalls. Research convinced her it was a good idea: Not only is the technology environmentally friendly, but it’s also less expensive to package, a savings that is passed along to guests. Available by the glass and half carafe ($7 and $14, respectively), the private-label Vineyard 518 white and red wines are produced from sustainably grown and harvested grapes. The boxes, made from recycled and recyclable materials, were custom-designed one-bottle wide and four deep to fit neatly in the bistros’ wine coolers. “It’s quality wine at a better price—and we’re helping save the environment, what could be better?” exclaims Melton.
P.F. Chang’s has offered guests premium value well spirits for some time and now puts a modern twist on classic cocktails, like Bert’s Gin & Tonic that adds an Asian accent with star anise and comes with a bottle of premium Fever Tree Tonic. There are over a dozen cocktails on the list, priced $8 to $12.
Fresh and Varied
A focus on fresh products and fine-tuned lists also defines the chain. “We got excited by the whole fresh movement, started juicing our lemons and limes, and moving from there,” notes Melton. “We’re doing as much fresh and in-house as we can and we tap into the chefs for inspiration.” Last year, chefs began to concoct a mix of fresh ginger, lemon and simple syrup. The mix is used in the non-alcoholic Ginger Beer ($3) and is also the component of several specialty cocktails, such as the Yuzu Ginger Mojito. That drink is made with the fresh ginger mix, Ty-Ku Liqueur and Living Jewel sake. “The drink is ‘skinny,’ under 200 calories, gluten-free and Mojitos are very trendy. We feel like it’s a home run.”
Many of the cocktails, as well as selected wines, and beer are promoted during Triple Happiness Happy Hours, which has generated increased business. Running daily from 3 to 6 p.m., the happy hour features Asian street fare. Rolled out last summer, Triple Happiness is now the most successful day part for the chain as a whole. “The promotion does really well,” comments Melton. “People like small bites, they love street food.”
Although every China Bistro carries Asian brews Tsingtao and Kirin, the rest of the beer list is unique to every location to reflect local preferences. “We want the market to drive which beers they serve their guests,” points out the beverage director. Some P.F. Chang’s restaurants are located in craft-beer hotbeds and those lists are dominated by artisanal brews. “Those restaurants may change their beer lists every couple of weeks because they are always finding something new,” reports Melton. Other locations are having success with imported beer, and are adding more premium selections. Lists also include large-format bottles.
The company is seeing a shift to higher-priced and quality items due to the value involved. The result of these changes is an increase of over one percent in dollars spent per guest dining in the restaurant.
In keeping with its Asian heritage, warm sake is served according to tradition in a ceramic jar and cup. “We sell a ton of warm sake, it is among our top 10 best-selling beverages,” says Melton.
P.F. Chang’s offers a wide range of premium sakes served chilled, including Junmai (a variety made from rice that is polished at least 30 percent, an indicator of sake quality); Junmai Ginjo, Daignjo and unfiltered Junmai Nigori. Sake is available by the glass, starting at $7 and by the bottle at various price points. The chain also offers a $7 flight of three one-ounce pours. “To introduce more people to sake, we’ve started using it in cocktails, to keep sake top of mind and to keep the product fresh,” explains Melton. The Yuzu Ginger Mojito, for example, employs Living Jewel Junmai. “Our guests are more open to trying sake in a cocktail.”
Inventive Non-Alcoholic Offerings
Another custom in Asian restaurants is hot tea service. Here P.F. Chang’s upscales quality with premium full-leaf teas elegantly served in an individual-sized iron kettle ($3.25). “Tea is very important to our whole meal period,” says Melton. “People love those pots, which keep the tea nice and warm.” The selections, all from Revolution Tea company, include White Tangerine (white tea, light and fragrant with a hint of tangerine); and Dragon Eye Oolong (robust with safflower, peach and apricot. Iced Teas ($2.50) like Jasmine Blackberry Green and the signature Ginger Beer amp up the non-alcoholic selections.
To create its own specialty coffee, Bistro Blend, P.F. Chang’s teamed up with Coffee Reserve Brands. “We tasted a lot of coffees before we found the blend that fits the experience at our restaurants,” exclaims the beverage director. It is Rainforest Alliance certified, with strict guidelines to protect the environment, wildlife, workers and local communities.
That awareness of social responsibility and ensuring economic sustainability are important to P.F. Chang’s. “Servers talk up the Rainforest angle at the table. It appeals to the same guests who are drinking the Vineyard 518 box wine.”
Of course, the best beverage program in the world won’t succeed without training and execution. Here again, the chain has its bases covered, with instruction on wine, spirits, beer, sake and teas required for all servers, managers and bartenders. The centerpiece of their program is the “Liquid Forum,” when the groups of operating partners are invited to the home office for an intensive and intense two-day session. Led by Melton and Doug Frost, Master Sommelier and Master of Wine, the interactive gatherings cover all aspects of the beverage program. That’s bolstered by focused in-store, 30 minute classes conducted by Melton or Frost on an as-needed basis. Currently, a flying team of bartenders is being developed to train their peers on-site.
“With some 200 locations, and eight to 12 bartenders in each one, the most challenging part of my job these days is keeping people educated, excited and consistent,” concludes Melton.
—By Thomas Henry Strenk
Best Chain Spirits Program: Fairmont Hotels
Tailor Made for Each Market
For chain programs, consistency is often the key to success. But the Fairmont has taken a different approach, proving that individuality can be layered on top of consistency.
“We do not want a cookie cutter approach,” insists Mariano Stellner, corporate director of food and beverage, the Americas. “We have high service guidelines. We have certain standards that must be met so guests will have a great stay. But we want guests to know when they are in Singapore, Mexico, or the Plaza in New York.”
In 2006, Fairmont put into place a rigorous training program called the Fairmont Artistic Mixology Experience (FAME). Created and led by Seattle-based bar consultant Kathy Casey, the course is designed to teach all the fundamentals: information on spirits, historical cocktail lore and broad principles and techniques for serving great cocktails. Starting in 2010, the program also became available in an online course format. According to Stellner, the FAME program has been put in place over 95 percent of the Fairmont’s 45 North American hotels and resorts, as well as many of its properties outside of North America.
But if the FAME training ensures that Fairmont’s bartenders will be good, it’s also the freedom to individualize that makes the bar programs shine. There is no mandated core cocktail menu for Fairmont properties. Although the hotels are encouraged to select from approximately 100 cocktails, they are encouraged to create and showcase their own drinks.
“We want the beverage teams to select lists that speak to their locale,” Stellner explains. For example, at the Fairmont’s Middle East properties, look for regional ingredients such as curry syrup and coconut powder in the hotel’s signature cocktails. The signature “Luxury Margarita,” made with 1800 Silver Tequila, Cointreau and fresh lime juice; appears on most Fairmont drink menus, but at the Fairmont Kona, it gets a Hawaiian upgrade with the addition of passion fruit puree and sweet-sour local Li Hing Mui (dried plum) powder to rim the glass.
At the Fairmont Olympic in Seattle, one of five honeybee hives on the roof of the hotel provides a key ingredient for the “Luxurious Honey Lemon Foam” that tops the Hennessy Velvet Side Car. Further, hotels are encouraged to change cocktail offerings a few times a year, to help entice repeat customers.
A premium is placed on the luxury experience and there’s no sense to nickel-and-diming guests, he says: a rare attitude in the current challenging economic climate. To reach revenue goals, he explains, make guests happy and they will happily spend. “It’s less about the extra dollar. It’s about the experience. If I can have a great program, merely by offering this we will execute toward the goal.”
Since the 2006 launch of the FAME program, liquor revenue as a percentage of total beverage revenue increased by 1.25 percent, and by year-end was forecast to be 36.25 percent. That translates into an additional $1.3 million to $1.5 million in additional liquor sales. Average prices for Fairmont cocktails have increased as well.
“If you are a discerning guest and you go into an environment like this, and the experience is exceptional, they won’t care if the price of the drink is $12 or $17,” Stellner insists. “They will drag friends to this place that makes incredible cocktails, and they will order another one.”
—By Kara Newman
Best Chain Wine Program: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
Wine at Centerstage
The ongoing commitment to the grape demonstrated by Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar is undeniably impressive. The 64-unit upscale steakhouse chain owned by the Tampa, Florida-based OSI Restaurant Partners, LLC, boasts a compelling wine program designed to engage guests, drive sales and create repeat visits. As a direct result of their wine initiatives, the company has seen a consistent increase in wine sales and guest traffic.
In 1998, the chain launched the “Fleming’s 100”—one hundred wines available by the glass and in two-ounce pours. Offerings are listed varietally and progressively, and a new menu is released annually. About 70 percent of the Fleming’s 100 is comprised of domestic offerings and eighty national selections that change annually, twenty local selections change continually and twenty-five wines cost $10 or less a glass.
“It’s really fun, and over five consecutive weeks, our guests can literally taste all 100 wines,” notes Maeve Pesquera, director of wine. “It’s exciting for me to watch a guest discover a new varietal or a new wine for the first time!” Guests can create their own flights from selections on the Fleming’s 100—a trio of two-ounce pours.
Their Icon Wine Series includes highly allocated wines that are exclusively available to Fleming’s, giving guests the opportunity to order well-known wines from wineries like Joseph Phelps Insignia and Merryvale Profile for almost retail prices. The Icon Wine Series runs for six weeks on and then six weeks off, adding to its exclusive appeal.
Five years ago, Fleming’s also started the “Forty-Six Diamonds” program, in which a different wine is released each October 1 available exclusively at Fleming’s in the $60 to $80 price range. “Each year, we collaborate with a top winery and winemaker to create a one-of-a-kind boutique, private label wine,” explains Pesquera. Their partner for the current vintage is Salvatore Ferragamo from Italy’s Il Borro, and in the past has included such renowned wineries as Robert Mondavi and Schug.
Each evening, Fleming’s also features a happy hour-inspired promotion called “5 for 6 til 7,’ in which five wines by the glass, five cocktails and five appetizers are available for $6 each until 7 p.m. “We wanted to create a whole new energy in our restaurants from the moment we open, and to introduce a new guests to Fleming’s,” says Pesquera.
For guests attracted to prix-fixe meals paired with wine, Fleming’s “Memorable Meals” are three-course meals for two, designed each season by executive chef Russell Skall and paired with Pesquera’s selections from the Fleming’s 100. The duo of meals is $99, not including wine, whose price changes depending on the selection.
Of course, a wine program as extensive and ambitious as this one could not exist without expansive wine education. “Every Fleming’s has a wine manager whose main focus is to make wine approachable and fun for our guests, train and educate our associates and servers, and create a compelling and engaging local wine program,” touts Pesquera. Wine managers receive a three-year, proprietary wine education program that encompasses wine knowledge, teaching and testing. They conduct weekly Fleming’s 100 wine tastings and educational seminars for the staff, create local wine dinners and events and provide suggestions for future Fleming’s 100 lists.
No matter if a patron orders a two-ounce tasting sample or a cult bottle from the Icon list, wine is poured into one size and shape of hand-blown, proprietary, American-made crystal stemware. The “simple and democratic” approach to glassware as described by Pesquera speaks to the restaurant’s overall approach to wine: though the wine program is comprehensive, and includes its share of high-end options, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar strives to make wine fun and accessible for all guests.
—By Kelly A. Magyarics
Best Chain Beer Program: Rusty Bucket Restaurant & Tavern
Beer at the Heart of the Drinks Program
With 13 locations in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana and at least two more planned for 2012, Rusty Bucket has created a chain that manages to feel like part of the community almost everywhere it’s located. “We are an upscale, casual dining restaurant that caters to affluent suburbia,” says Gary Callicoat, president and operating partner. “It’s a comfortable place. It’s got a family atmosphere. Everybody knows who you are.” From the start, beer has been part of the equation that draws people back to “their” Rusty Bucket.
The original Columbus location, which opened in 2002, featured eight taps handles and an extensive bottle list. “The beer program,” adds Callicoat, “has just progressed from there.” Now each store boasts a dozen or more tap handles, with drafts priced from $3.25 to $6, and more than 80 bottles, ranging in price from $2.95 up to $12.75 for 22-ounce bombers.
Beverages make up 24 percent of Rusty Bucket’s overall sales, and beer accounts for an impressive approximately 60 percent of that figure. Add in careful attention to how beer is stored and poured along with an extensive education program aimed at both employees and customers, and it’s easy to see why Rusty Bucket won Cheers’ Best Chain Beer Program Award.
Callicoat and the chain, which is part of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, have also benefited from good timing. As consumers became more interested in American craft beer, Rusty Bucket was well positioned to meet the demand for these higher margin beverages. “We were ahead of the game,” says Callicoat. “It used be that the beer list was more import driven. Now the majority is local driven and regional craft beer.”
General managers at each store can also tailor the draft list by adding three local or regional offerings. And the menu was redesigned to focus on the draft program, highlighting pairing options like pilsner with pan seared salmon, pale ale with a Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich, or brown ale with the Short Rib Sloppy Joe.
Rusty Bucket knows that stocking good beer isn’t enough. The chain’s “Perfect Draft” program ensures that at every restaurant the beer remains pristine “from the barrel to the glass.” Kegs are stored at 36 to 38 degrees. Newer locations have separate walk-ins for beer. The draft system allows each line to be calibrated for the particular type of beer. Seven to eight different types of glassware are used to highlight that various styles of beer. All glasses pass through a custom rinser that also chills them just before the beer is poured. And the staff is provided with a checklist of 13 “Draft Beer Absolutes,” which addresses everything from checking “born on” dates and rotating kegs to rinsing glasses from “heal to toe” and the proper angle for a prefect pour.
The menu explicitly tells customers about the many steps Rusty Bucket takes to provide top quality beer. “So people know,” said Callicoat, “that we take pride in what we do.”
Education has always been part of Rusty Bucket’s operation. “We’re a tavern,” says Callicoat. “From day one, we’ve always tasted in training every single beer on our menu.”
Now all Rusty Bucket bartenders must also complete the online Beer Connoisseur program, which has been bolstered by supporting print material developed by the chain. Nearly a quarter of the waitstaff have also completed the training program. “The more they know,” says Callicoat, “the more they sell.”
It must be working. Rusty Bucket is poised to rack up $30 million in sales this year. Craft beer has become a growing percentage of the chain’s bottom line. “Customers are screaming for it,” notes Callicoat, “and they’re buying it.”
—By Todd A. Price
Best Chain Drink Program: Ruby Tuesday
Ruby Tuesday’s Big Touchdown
What would you do if you wanted to make your casual dining chain more energetic? Add flat screen TVs and plan a killer promotion during the football season. At least that’s how Ruby Tuesday found success.
“We wanted a promotion to kick off our athletic program,” says Andy Scoggins, vice president of food and beverage of the approximately 800-location chain. Ruby Tuesday partnered with Direct TV, the NFL Ticket and MillerCoors for the promotion, which started in August 2010 with fantasy football draft parties in locations across the country. “We ended up having around four to ten draft parties per location,” says Scoggins. “We offered free Wi-Fi, so they could share their drafts online together.”
Guests were given draft day packs and specials around food and drink. “It gave us a lot of energy to start the season,” he notes.
Food and drink specials included $2 Miller Lite, $3 Blue Moon and $2 off Select Bar Bites during game times. Adding to the fun, guests entered for their chance to win some prizes, including iPads, big screen LCD TVs and more.
Guests weren’t the only ones to benefit. In order to gain participation, Ruby Tuesday incentivized staff by making it a contest for staff as well. “One of the things that started gathering excitement was that we gave the staff Flip cameras to film the excitement at their locations,” says Ken Lennox, director of quality beverage. “We then pick the restaurant with the best atmosphere and used it as an example to set the tone for what the expectation is for a good bar. It got really competitive.” Top bars were chosen by the energy levels guests showed.
In fact, there was an internal competition that pit region against region in a sweepstakes modeled after the football season. “The objective was the drive new people in the bar area and to get them into our ‘So Connected club,’ ” says Lennox, referring to the chain’s loyalty program. The internal winner from the Georgia market won a trip to the Super Bowl.
The individual teams were then encouraged utilize some Guerilla marketing techniques. “We armed our bar staff with free appetizer cards to go out into the community and drive into the stores,” says Scoggins. “In addition, we did a lot of marketing to our ‘So Connected Club’ to tell them what we had going on to get our loyal guests excited about the promotion.”
In-restaurant marketing played a key role in creating a mood for the games and keeping the promotion top of mind for consumers. Point-of-sale materials included posters, banners, food menu inserts, window clings, bartender business cards, check inserts, flyers, table tents and bartender T-shirts. In addition, the chain placed a full-page ad in ESPN magazine as well as some online advertising on Yahoo! Sports online.
For the Super Bowl, the chain refreshed the p-o-s to increase buzz around the promotion and get more people into their locations.
The promotion was deemed a success. “On Monday nights, we saw significant double digit growth for the whole day,” notes Scoggins. “We estimated that it drove $500,000 to $1 million in incremental sales over the five month period [end of August 2010 through January 2011].”
Since then, Ruby Tuesday has run similar programs around March Madness and World Cup Soccer. And this year marked the beginning of another NFL-related promotion.
“This year we expanded on what we learned from last year,” says Scoggins, noting that they added Thursday night games and college football to the promo that started for the 2011 season. They also added Jack Daniel’s as partner.
Scoggins adds, “I’m blown away by how much we are able to increase this year.” Another touchdown!
—Michelle Paolillo Lockett
Best Chain Hotel Beverage Program: The Broadmoor
From 21st Amendment to 21st Century
Walk down Bottle Alley at the venerable Broadmoor and you will see a display of the secret stash of dusty bottles discovered in tunnels hidden under the iconic hotel dating to before Prohibition. Soon after the hotel opened in 1918, prescient owner Spencer Penrose stocked up prime libations and this attention to beverage has continued with the current ownership.
“In each restaurant we respect the hotel’s history,” says Timothy Baldwin, the Broadmoor’s wine director and head of the beverage team. That’s especially true in the Tavern, the property’s oldest restaurant, where the focus is on turn-of-the-century cocktails. This Colorado Springs luxury resort property honors nearly a century of tradition, yet remains innovative and cutting edge. Those are the qualities that won the Broadmoor the Cheers 2012 Best Chain Hotel Beverage Program Award.
That custom-tailoring is especially true in the Penrose Room, Charles Court and Summit. “We went in completely different directions in each,” says Baldwin. The Charles Court is an American restaurant, focusing on local Colorado ingredients. The beverage program includes an American-only wine list and two draft taps dedicated to beers brewed in Colorado Springs.
“The wine program is deep,” says Baldwin, “not just 50 American wines but 350 wines from all over the country.” Glass prices range from $8 to $19, bottles start at about $40 and the focus of the range is $65 to $150. Charles Court’s beer list, besides the dedicated taps, includes a large array of bottled microbrews.
The Penrose Room is a formal, classical dining room. Baldwin and his team designed a program based around classic European wine regions. The list has a lot of depth, five full pages of Burgundy alone, for example. There are 23 wines by the glass, priced $9 to $19. Bottles start at $30 ranging up to thousands of dollars. In its bottled beer list too, the Penrose focuses mainly on classic European brews.
Summit, the resort’s newest restaurant, is an American Brasserie and has a seasonal list of 50 wines from small producers. Some 30 wines are poured by the glass ($8 to $17), and another 200 bottles fill a striking 14-foot rotating wine turret. Summit’s list is drawn from emerging and undiscovered regions, with many organic, sustainable and biodynamic selections. “Summit is the most sommelier-driven of our restaurants,” says Baldwin.
Summit is also dedicated to using local producers. There are 10 Colorado microbrews on draft ($5.50) and the majority of Summit’s specialty cocktails are made using spirits from Colorado micro-distilleries. “Summit is the hotbed of our cocktail program,” declares Baldwin. There are 15 cocktails, priced at $10.75 each.
Baldwin and his team oversee beverage programs at 18 outlets. Another interesting restaurant is the Golden Bee, an authentic English pub, which celebrated its 50th anniversary. The 19th century establishment was dismantled in England and reassembled at the Broadmoor. The pub’s 12 taps dispense European brews.
Throughout the Broadmoor, the focus is on bringing value to the guests. Every one of the glass pour programs start at about $8. “We cover both ends of the price spectrum,” says Baldwin, “with inexpensive selections as well as premium ones.” Markup is relatively low; double the wholesale cost. “I think among exclusive resorts our pricing is exceptional,” exclaims Baldwin.
Underpinning the beverage service is extensive training. Every new food and beverage employee undergoes a three-tiered training program, including a two-day beverage orientation, frequent quizzes, a weekly “Thirst for Excellence” program and regular voluntary but well-attended seminars. “You can have a great program but if you don’t teach people to communicate that to the guest, it won’t work,” notes Baldwin. We want every front of house person to be able to talk about our beverage programs, even bus boys and food runners.”
As for the future, Baldwin intends to dust off and pop the corks of some of those pre-Prohibition bottles.
—By Thomas Henry Strenk
Best chain Signature Drink Program: Omni Hotels & Resorts
Feels Like Home
There’s nothing like getting a little help from your friends. In developing its new signature drinks program based on “Home Grown Cocktails,” Omni Hotels & Resorts did just that, asking five award-winning mixologists to help the chain develop the new menu that launched in August.
“We needed a menu that served as a point of differentiation from other brands,” says David Morgan, Omni’s Irving, Texas-based vice president of food and beverage. “We’re a wholly owned company that has the flexibility to be different in each of our markets, so we created a home-grown section that features regionally inspired recipes based on local trends, authentic local flavors and fresh indigenous ingredients.”
The mixologists (Kim Hassarud, Duggan McDonnell, Adam Seger, Christy Pope and Freddy Diaz) each created cocktails, which are featured in Omni’s regional markets. All 35 Omni hotels are participating in the program, though each region’s drinks emphasize local flavors like fresh maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, ice cream and tea.
“We work hard not to be cookie cutter or homogenous,” says Caryn Kboudi, vice president of marketing. “We’re also proud of the authenticity of using home-grown ingredients and choosing mixologists who have a strong reference point back to their assigned regions.”
Omni’s committee, which created the promotion, also asked for input from the company’s field personnel to ensure the program could be implemented consistently and associates would get behind the idea. Once the cocktails were chosen, Omni created a training video for its staff describing each drink’s history and how to make it.
“At first there was some apprehension about taking elements customarily seen in the kitchen like fresh fruit and juices and applying them to hand-crafted cocktails,” Morgan says. “Once we developed the training videos we mitigated that and our staff was very excited. In fact, now that everyone is comfortable making these cocktails we’re considering bringing in some of our own bartenders to create their own home-grown cocktails going forward.”
In the program’s first week, Omni’s hotels experienced a 40 percent increase in specialty cocktail consumption and uploaded videos to YouTube showing customers how to make the drinks at home. Showcasing each region’s local flavors and ingredients is the key to the program’s success, according to Morgan.
“Culinary is something that allows us to create that memorable experience for our guests, whether they’re in New York or Los Angeles or in between,” he says. “There’s a high bar in terms of the room and other aspects of the stay, but culinary has always been our center of innovation and it’s something we take great pride in. We understand it’s important to continue evolve and that’s central to what sets Omni apart.”
—By Jeremy Nedelka
Best Chain Multi-Concept Beverage Program: Walt Disney Parks & Resorts
Making More with Less
To create a beverage program for more than 130 U.S. restaurants, six U.S. theme parks, 20 resorts, more than 80 hotel lounges and outdoor bars and three cruise ships is no small feat. Add that almost every food and beverage location throughout Disney is unique and heavily themed and you need the ultimate coordination.
Through bi-monthly meetings beverage managers focus on best practices, new concepts and the latest trends,” says Stuart McGuire, manager of beverage and concept development for Disney Theme Parks and Resorts.
All that hard work has paid off. “We saw a four percent increase in beverage sales per guest across the board in locations using the base beverage menus. We attribute this to the changes in offerings, increased focus on fresh and unique ingredients and improved menu design and presentation. What makes this even more impactful is that the gains were achieved in a year that we kept all alcohol pricing flat.”
While the same core beverage menu is leveraged through most of the resorts, there is a lot of flexibility for individual locations to support local flavors, which is part of the challenge. “The beverage programs are highly themed to each particular location, and this is especially true for our higher end ‘signature level’ restaurants,” he explains. These signature level restaurants have also experienced sales increases in the two to three percent range. This was due, according to McGuire, in great part because a value wine by the bottle and glass focus. For example Jiko, located in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World, keeps to its African roots. It also has what the company deems the largest selection of South African wines of any restaurant in the U.S. and features an assortment of South African spirits and beer.
At Disney’s ‘Ama ‘Ama Restaurant and Bar located at the new Aulani Resort & Spa in Hawaii, contemporary island cooking is complimented by a high-end wine list that includes the Olelo Cabernet, an Aulani private label wine. The location also offers local brews from the Kona Brewing Company.
The bars take pride in using the finest—and often local—ingredients, many of which are made in-house. Popular cocktails include the KonaRed Lemon Drop ($9), made with Ketel One Citroen and KonaRed Hawaiian Superfruit Juice, garnished with an orchid; and the Blue Hawaiian ($7.75), which mixes Old Lāhāina Light Rum, BOLS Blue Curaçao and pineapple.
The differences are built into the program meticulously and developed annually. “We develop an annual core list for wine, beer and spirits,” he says. “Through leveraging combined volume we are able to secure favorable pricing for many items. We are also able to develop exclusive beverage items with various suppliers.”
The individual beverage menus are then developed from the core list, according to McGuire. Despite the differences, the restaurants also learn from each other. For example, “We found that our guests have similar taste expectations for non-alcoholic drinks and signature cocktails domestically, but beer and wine preferences vary.” These insights and more help Disney continue to coordinate efforts as they roll out new venues.
—Michelle Paolillo Lockett
Best Chain Beverage Merchandising Program: Quaker Steak & Lube
A New Take on Cocktails
While reviewing the 2011 strategic plan for Quaker Steak & Lube, the 44-unit, casual restaurant headquartered in Sharon, Pennsylvania, corporate leadership recognized a solid opportunity for growth in the beverage program.
“With The Lube brand being irreverent, the team wanted a signature program that fit the culture,” explains Marla Pieton, senior director of marketing. Seeking a promotion that would both increase sales and add guest excitement about fun new cocktails, management created a unique beverage-merchandising program. Fifteen and a half-ounce Mason jars were christened “Bar Jars,” and were used to serve three new cocktail flavors and two signature ones. “The delivery to the table has the team member shaking the cocktail high in the air all the way to the guest,” explains Kate Malaniak, senior director of food and beverage, creating an attention-grabbing, high-energy presentation.
The Original Shake, Wrap & Roll! program provided a selection of five Bar Jar cocktails, two wrap sandwiches and two rolls (Philly Steak Sandwiches) promoted through menu inserts, table tents, posters, TV talkers and other eye-catching marketing methods. A detailed rollout guide for each unit included pre-shift training for employees and a staff sales contest. More than 59,000 of the five original Bar Jar flavors were sold from April 19, 2011 to July 18, 2011. The Leaded Lube-N-Ade, Quaker’s signature blend of lemon, rum, gin and Triple Sec, was the best-selling cocktail, selling an impressive total of 31,598 drinks.
Significant sales growth of the original five flavors led to a six-week continuation of the promotion. This past summer, the company launched Ronas’, Ritas’ and Grias’ with an additional four flavors, and 7,000 were sold the first month. Eventually, six Bar Jar flavors were rolled out to the permanent beverage menu. The most popular have been the Skinny Dragon Berry Lime-n-Ade, a Margarita riff made with Bacardi Dragonberry, strawberry and lime; and Three-O-Rang Tang Orange-n-Ade, a citrusy creation with lemonade, Three Olives Rang Tang Vodka, Triple Sec and orange. The menu also includes Sweet & Tart Peach Tea, White “Crush” Gria, Purple “Crush” Gria and Jack’s Honey Lemonade
The Bar Jar itself also serves as a popular take-away, providing added value for guests and augmenting the promotional program. “Our guests love the souvenir factor, the ‘Keep the Glass,’” notes Malaniak, who goes on to note that the glasses’ appeal translates to increased beverage sales, as patrons often want to procure multiple jars. “The Lube, as we say, has a cult following where people want to take a piece of the brand home with them.” Some locations began filling the jars with candy and giving them as gifts, or selling them in the retail area of the restaurant, often in a combination gift pack with sauces or a t-shirt. “Keep the Glass” provides additional brand exposure once the item leaves the restaurant.
Most surprising to Pieton has been the staff buy-in about this promotion, as team members in all locations have enthusiastically supported the promotion. In addition, word of mouth and social media have joined traditional marketing methods to continually promote the program.
For Quaker Steak & Lube, Bar Jars will continue to be a top tactic within the company’s marketing strategies. Future plans include additional cocktail and beer options for the quirky, casual serveware. As Pieton puts it, “The Lube’s brand culture is built on a fun atmosphere and creating synergy between team members and guests.” Bar Jars are a tangible symbol of that synergy, and their swift and successful implementation makes the concept worthy of Cheers’ award for Best Chain Beverage Merchandising Program.
—By Kelly A. Magyarics
Best Staff Training Program: Rusty Bucket Restaurant & Tavern
Based in Columbus, Ohio, Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern is a popular chain with a dozen locations spread across the Upper Midwest. It’s an operation that has long prided itself on being bar smart, but at the Bucket, it’s more than a clever phrase. It’s an institutional mandate.
Bar Smarts is now the beginning of a four-piece staff training program that seeks to elevate the collective acumen of the Bucket’s 750 employees, who are anything but rusty. Training has never been more crucial, says Rusty Bucket president Gary Callicoat, who calls it a necessity in meeting the needs of an ever-more-savvy clientele. The first part of the program was designed by Pernod Ricard, but it’s only one of four components at the Rusty Bucket. The other three, all designed by the Rusty Bucket—which is part of the Cameron Mitchell Restaurants Group, based in Columbus, Ohio—hone in further on beer, hospitality and mixology.
Callicoat says is it very intense. “We go through gin, rum, vodka, tequila. It’s a very extensive program in the spirits phase alone.” The Pernod Ricard piece is taught online, but the other three components are taught in branches of the Rusty Bucket, although Callicoat adds that a portion of the beer program is also taught online and was created by the Rusty Bucket staff.
But times have changed. In recent years, the customer base’s wants and needs all but demand cutting-edge servers, so the chain has calibrated its training to go beyond spirits to wine and beer and even beyond that to a broad array of innovative ingredients. Today’s drinker (and for that matter eater), Callicoat says, has a far more sophisticated palate than was found in previous generations. They don’t want to drink as much, he says, “so the experience better be good and the server better know what he or she is doing.”
After Bar Smarts, employees who pass head into the next phase, which focuses on beer and is taught by the Rusty Bucket executives. The third phase is mixology and the final piece is hospitality. At the Rusty Bucket, the customer’s needs are paramount, says Callicoat, who demands that they be treated “with the knowledge and sophistication they deserve.”
Callicoat says he and other industry observers deplore servers whose lack of enthusiasm or professionalism is as welcome as a stale Mojito. Bartenders need to know, for instance, that a glass needs to be perfectly clean for draft beer. Each piece of the training is like the leg of a stool. Without the right training, the customer, in his mind, is on the verge of a “disconnect.” What the training instills, he says, is passion.
“It’s a 16-week process before all is said and done,” says Callicoat, noting that the program started nine months ago, with stunning results. “Incredible,” he says, attributing a marked increase in beverage sales to the program at more than two percent, although Callicoat declines to disclose specific figures. Before the four-phase program, the Rusty Bucket enjoyed what he called “a fresh cocktail program that was fairly successful,” Callicoat says. “But we wanted to bring back the cocktail art of bartending.”
Customers now want “a fresh, organic, local flair to things,” he says. “Just because you use fresh lemons and limes doesn’t cut it anymore. There’s got to be balance to it.”
Staff morale is also on the rise, he says. “I don’t think you could find a chain anywhere, from casual to fine dining that has gotten more out of its program than we’ve gotten out of ours. I don’t know that customers are necessarily more demanding these days, but they do want more for less. People are afraid to drink and drive these days, so instead of having two to three cocktails, they have one or two, which means the experience, has to be special. And, largely because of this program, we believe ours is.”
—By Michael Granberry
Raising the Bar Award: F. Paul Pacult, Publisher and Editor of F. Paul Pacult’s Spirit Journal
A Spirited Journey
“I’ve always had this love affair with beverage alcohol —largely because I love the history,” says F. Paul Pacult, publisher and editor of F. Paul Pacult’s Spirit Journal. “I love that wine and beer have been around for a millennium and distillation for 2,000 to 3,000 years.”
That love guided his career. While working for Rodney Strong Vineyards from 1973 to 1982, Pacult began writing about wine. “Eventually writing just overtook what I wanted to do at the winery.”
In 1982, Pacult moved to New York to write and started a wine school called Wine Courses International. It was at that school that he met some staffers from The New York Times who were enrolled in his class. “They asked if I wanted to write for the Times,” he recalls. “My immediate reaction was ‘who do I have to kill?’ They had been following my writing and liked my style.”
The assignment was to write a 5,000-word article on Scotch. He was sent to Scotland for two weeks and submitted 10,000 word story thinking they wouldn’t be pleased. “When they called I was apologizing, but they said ‘this stuff is great. Can you write another 2,000 words?’” The first piece ran as a 28-page feature in The New York Times magazine.
From there, Pacult continued to write for them and noticed that he was filling a void. “It was clear that there was no one writing about spirits,” he notes. “It was a vast wasteland and I viewed it as an opportunity. I continued to write about wine, but it was clear that since I was the only one in the states writing about spirits.” That opportunity led to his founding the Spirit Journal. “I wanted the Spirit Journal to be viewed as totally independent and above board with no influence from advertising,” Pacult says. “Twenty-one years later it keeps rolling along and is mailed to 33 countries.”
His expertise in spirits and the popularity of his journal, also spring boarded his career as a wine and spirits consultant. Pacult hosts a popular tasting series at Keens Steakhouse. Taking place once a month, it features anything from cocktails—how to make a Margarita, say—to Irish whiskey to pinot noir. “It’s whatever strikes my fancy at the time,” he explains. “There are literally people who have been coming to every one for 16 years. I don’t take it too seriously and that’s the fun of it.”
He also continues to teach through two companies. For the Spirit Journal Inc., people hire him to train their staff on spirits. For him, though, the most fun is training the industry with his BAR (Beverage Alcohol Resource, LLC) partners—like Dale DeGroff and Doug Frost. “It’s incredibly rewarding to take what we know and put it out on the table,” Pacult notes. “I love being with young, passionate people who love this industry.”
Of his partners in crime he says, “We have all been friends for a long time and in part, we created BAR so we could spend more time together. Six years later it’s been a tremendously special experience.”
Pacult’s popularity has transcended the beverage alcohol industry. For example, Apple contacted him about creating an app for the iPhone because some of the top brass at the company were interested in whiskey. The popular iWhiskey app features more than 600 reviews allowing users to make informed buying decisions on the go. What he did for whiskey, he’s hoping to do for rum. He helped start Rum for All, an independent initiative of people who believe rum should be considered as great as a single malt.
Of his success and influence, Pacult is humble. “I have had no original ideas,” he admits. “People have just come to me with these great opportunities. I have been in the right place at the right time my entire adult life.” Moving those ideas forward, though, is what definitely raised the bar.
—Michelle Paolillo Lockett
Beverage Industry Innovator of the Year: Lesley Townsend, founder and director, Manhattan Cocktail Classic
Mover with a Shaker
Take 5,500 attendees, 74 festival events, 192 sponsors, 77 events, and 47 venues, plenty of fabulous food, music and a couple of high-flying trapeze artists, shake it and give it a twist and what do you have? The Manhattan Cocktail Classic. For her work founding and directing this high-profile happening, ringmaster Lesley Townsend deserves the Cheers’ Beverage Innovator of the Year Award.
“New York is the hungriest and thirstiest city on the planet,” proclaims Townsend—and she ought to know.
In just three years, Townsend has developed the Manhattan Cocktail Classic into one of the biggest and most prominent events of its kind, encompassing music, fashion, food, film, history, art, architecture, burlesque—and of course, cocktails. Attracting industry professionals and cocktail lovers from around the country and the globe, she has concocted an annual festival that spans three New York boroughs, hosting over 100 events in the city’s hottest bars and restaurants. The week-long fête in May opens with a glittering gala that takes over the historic New York Public Library for a bacchanalian night when more than 100 top mixologists shake up some 40,000 cocktails for more than 3,000 elegantly attire d guests. The Manhattan Cocktail Classic has become a must-attend conference for industry sponsors, from global giants to small artisan producers. The publicly ticketed seminars and invitation-only programming are ideal forums to expose their products to the best bartenders in the business as well as well as spirits-savvy consumers.
The stage manager of this extravaganza, since its inception in 2009, is Townsend. But, she says, “I’m not some mastermind programming every single seminar.” The director contracts with different agencies for their various expertise: in public relations, marketing, design, catering and logistics. Additionally Townsend has taken a crowd-sourcing approach to the festival. Most of the actual content is developed by the participating presenters, educators, sponsors, bars and restaurants. In many cases, they also work with their own teams to execute those ideas. Townsend and her one full-timer and associate director Georgia Tan oversee and manage the overall direction but don’t actively produce every single detail. “It’s too huge,” says Townsend. “Plus, allowing people to have a stake and creative control in their part of this is an empowering thing; it yields a stronger, richer more diverse product.”
“I was just in the right spot, at the right time with the right connections,” says Townsend modestly about the inception of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. She had been working at Astor Wines & Spirits in various positions, before being hired to open Astor Center, the store’s educational and events space. It was there the idea formed for the festival. Surprisingly she doesn’t have a long history in the drinks business, beyond her time at Astor.
“I take no credit as the originator of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic,” insists Townsend, “Ideas are cheap; it’s all in the execution.” And she has executed it well, just after noticing that there was not any single cocktail festival taking place in New York at that time. So in 2009, she quit her job at Astor, started a company and kicked off the first Classic, which has been growing in size, complexity and popularity ever since. She’s also had some help from her famous bartending friends; the list of founding advisors reads like a Who’s Who of Mixology.
Townsend’s plans for the 2012 festival are even more ambitious. In addition to the Friday night gala, Saturday will inaugurate the Classic Night Out, a massive block party, or rather six blocks, in Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. The event will hook up with area restaurants and shops and feature a dozen or more pop-up cocktail bars and installations. Additionally this year, partner Andaz Hotel will be the home base for trade-oriented programming, hosting professional presentations, sampling stations and VIP events. The popular and usually sold-out “Stories from Behind the Bar” events will be expanded as well.
“There are so many more things I want to do with this festival,” asserts Townsend. “I’m a perfectionist; I want to make it 10 times better.”
—By Thomas Henry Strenk