Keeping Wine and Spirits Flowing

Sales of wines and spirits are vulnerable in a weak economy. According to Restaurants & Institutions’ 2010 New American Diner Study, almost 70% of respondents surveyed said they don’t order or they limit purchases of alcoholic beverages when dining out – up from 58% from last year. Some restaurants have been keeping alcoholic beverage sales flowing by interacting more with customers, offering interesting/unique wine and spirits, and providing great values for premium products.

ENGAGING CUSTOMERS WITH MORE PERSONALIZED SERVICE: Guests in the lounge at the Fifth Floor, San Francisco, CA, have the opportunity to interact with a bartender who works from a cocktail cart. “We have a small bar and a large lounge area,” explains Jacques Bezuidenhout, master mixologist. “The cart has been great way to extend the bartender experience to guests in the lounge and to generate additional revenue. Prior to having the cart, Jacques says most lounge customers simply ordered a glass of wine; now they’re having cocktails before and after dinner. The cart holds 15-20 bottles, and the focus is on classic cocktails with no more than four ingredients – Manhattans, martinis, etc. If it’s not too busy, Jacques says he asks guests if they’d like to make their own cocktail, which many enjoy doing. To reinvigorate and elevate the cocktail experience, The Phoenician, Scottsdale, AZ, did away with its well spirits and traditional cocktail list and put the focus on hand-selected, premium spirits. “We now list the individual spirits, their price, country of origin, and distillation process,” explains Thomas “Mac” Gregory, food and beverage director. “As an example, we have 117 vodkas, which means a guest may have any one of 117 Bloody Marys, ranging in price from $8 to one for $37 – and a dialog with the server or bartender is virtually guaranteed.” Guests are intrigued and often trade up, Mac says. Training for the evolving beverage program is ongoing and offered to every member of the staff. In fact, some valets and concierges have become certified sommeliers. The Phoenician staff learns the story behind each product so that they can share unique nuggets of information with guests.

“We’re having success hand selling boutique wines sourced from artisan vineyards in California and Italy. To engage customers and develop a dialog, we share the stories behind the wines.”
– Adrian Tonon, director of operations, Cafe Cortina, Farmington Hills, MI

KEEPING IT INTERESTING WITH NEW CREATIONS AND UNIQUE EXPERIENCES: Craigie on Main, Cambridge, MA, offers a “Cocktail Whim” for $20 – a flight of four two-ounce cocktails (citrus, brown, sparkling, and egg-based) after the kitchen closes, from 10pm to 1am. “It’s a great way to let bartenders experiment and for customers to try some drinks they might not normally,” says Tony Maws, chef/owner. He says they sell five to ten Cocktail Whims a night and they’ve created a lot of buzz, helping bring in customers late night when it’s slow. Bouchon in Yountville, CA, and Beverly Hills, CA, is working with local wineries that are creating handcrafted wines exclusively for them. These unique, single barrel red and white wines are available by the glass ($8), half-liters ($25), and liters ($50). This “Vin de Carafe” program refers to the classic bistro dining for which Bouchon is known.

OFFERING PREMIUM PRODUCTS AT GOOD VALUE: As Ruby Tuesday moved its brand away from a bar and grill concept to upscale casual dining, Andy Scoggins, vp of culinary and beverage, says they began using only natural juices (no syrups), upgraded the wine list, added regional craft beers, and shifted to premium well spirits. “Using these ingredients, we tested a $5 Margarita and $5 Long Island Tea, which sold so well that we recently decided to offer our entire line of specialty cocktails and well drinks for $5 – it’s a value you can’t find anywhere else,” Andy says. Hyatt Hotels’ “Sip and Dip” bar menu encourages customers to select an appetizer and dipping sauce, plus one glass of pre-selected premium wine, a cocktail or beer, for an inclusive price of $16. “This promotion has been a great way to give our guests value – it’s been so popular that many properties are continuing it,” says Barry Prescott, corporate beverage director. As a result of a recent customer survey that revealed customers were not very comfortable ordering wine by the bottle, Hyatt has introduced two sizes of quartinos, which have become so popular that Barry says they account for 70% of wine sales.