Takes Best Overall Beverage Program Award
Beverage director Aardahl cites drive to be the best
Kirk Aardahl, beverage director at RAM International, the Lakewood, WA-based recipient of the Cheers Best Overall Beverage Program award, said he set in motion a strategy to capture this award last year after RAM won Best Beer Program. “When we won Best Chain Beer, we were grateful but we wanted the ‘Super Bowl,'” Aardahl said.
“We started with our drinks menu. We wanted page one of the menu to have fun, exciting drinks on it; for example, our Mango Margarita,” said Aardahl. RAM developed a “tri-fold” menu three pages on the inside and three on the outside. RAM chose a bold statement with its menu: they have an all-black background. “Even our straws are black.”
Future Brands’ vp national accounts Ken Ruff, far left, and national accounts manager northwest Jackie Hanish, right, with RAM International’s outside promotions coordinator Mark Schermerhorn and director of beverage Kirk Aardahl.
One page of the menu lists Tasti-Tini’s; another focuses on wine and beer, and a third offers the chain’s Twisted Teas, signature recipe Long Island Iced Teas. “We average, with our 24 units, the sale of 2 million teas annually,” Aardahl said. The signature Teas start with a pre-made Barton tea mix, to which various liqueurs are added, such as watermelon.
Every year, in October, RAM “reviews everything in our beverage program. Every beer, wine and spirits company, all of our products. And we try to be almost a year ahead of what’s going to sell,” he said.
When it comes to drink promotions, the company decided that less was more. “Less drinks lead to greater volume of drinks,” he said. “Too many drinks on a page can be confusing, and the server can get stuck if there are too many,” said Aardahl. “Our flapper pages, a leaflet that opens up, has three or four drinks on it around a promotion, versus six or seven,” he said. “You know you’re doing well, to win this category, when 80 to 90 percent of all the drinks on the table are the ones you’re featuring,” he stressed.
A Mardi Gras promo this year “had two big drinks: the Voodoo Hurricane and a big red one featuring rum.” Beads were also wrapped around the drink as part of the fun and servers wore beads, too. Also, the length of time promotions were offered was shortened; Mardi Gras went for four weeks, instead of eight, he said.
The RAM portfolio consists of The Ram Restaurant and Brewery, C.B. & Potts (in CO and WY), Shenanigans, Humperdinks, Murphys and Stonehouse. In addition, RAM’s Big Horn Brewing Co. develops a variety of seasonal ales, and has plenty of beer promotions during the year. For example, for Oktoberfest, special Oktoberfest brews are available in six-packs or one-liter bottles at all of the restaurant/brewery locations. Big Horn “is the biggest part of our beverage program, over 50 percent of total sales,” said Aardahl. Wine is the smallest (just 4 to 5 percent). –EVS
T.G.I. Friday’s Returns to its Roots for Best Spirits Award
T.G.I. Friday’s cocktail program is “well-rounded,” where spirits are used in a variety of ways — from the “innovative, one-of-a-kind signatures” to the classics to “the new and refreshing seasonal updates to the tried-and-true favorites,” said Stewart Slocum, beverage marketing director at Friday’s. A “big picture view” of spirits at Friday’s was an important key to its taking the Cheers Best Spirits Program Award, he said. “Our big-picture view of our beverage business means we’re always thinking of the guest experience, the bartender and the server.”
The chain’s successful spirits program “is the result of countless hours spent behind the bar talking to our guests about their wants and needs of Friday’s,” Slocum said. “The result is an impressive list of new and refreshing drinks, coupled with training and merchandising for a complete approach to beverage sales. And drinks are placed in the first pages of our dining menu to help guests select a drink before they’re even asked.”
Carter Daniels, National Accounts Director, Allied Domecq Spirits,
presents the Best Spirits Program award to T.G.I. Friday’s’ director, brand marketing, Stewart Slocum.
Friday’s “Ultimates” signature line include its Ultimate Margarita, made with Jose Cuervo Tequila, a triple-citrus mix, orange and lime wedges; the Red Appletini, which contains Skyy Vodka, apple and cinnamon schnapps and apple juice, as well as the Friday’s Raspberry Lemon Icetini, which shakes Bacardi Limon with Cointreau, lemonade and raspberry juice.
Among the most popular drinks at Friday’s are the “tried-and-trues,” such as the Bloody Mary and the Cosmopolitan, and these are “executed expertly,” he said. “In the bar, there’s more room for innovation and the fun that Friday’s brings to the beverage business. Bar guests will experiment, but you better know how to pour the classics perfect every time.”
Seasonal drinks which may add a certain twist or ingredient are also an important part of the chain’s spirits program. In the spring, for example, lemonade is mixed with spirits. “The Strawberry Lemonade skews female and the Ultimate Lynchburg Lemonade skews male — so there’s something for everyone. Strawberry Lemonade mixes Bacardi rum, lemon juice, and strawberries; the Ultimate Lynchburg Lemonade combines Jack Daniel’s, Finlandia Vodka with sweet & sour,” Slocum said. Certain cocktails seem to sell better seasonally, he said. “Margaritas pop in summer, boosting tequila sales and ensuring agave fields. Coffee drinks are almost exclusively winter drinks, unless you’re in Minneapolis or Oslo. Martinis are perfect any old time.”
Slocum has also observed some spirits trends. “Vodka is the ‘alpha dog’ of spirits. It’s growing exponentially in brands, flavors and price points. People are passionate about which vodka they drink. They identify with it as a reflection of who they are.” He depicted rum as “vodka’s little brother, growing in kicks and fits. Will the Mojito be the next Appletini? Will rum drinks truly play in Peoria? With the growing Latin influence, rum’s definitely the one to watch and sip.” He also suggested that operators work with their chefs to pair spirits with the menu.
A Signature Worth Something
Dave & Buster’s Over & Under is Top Signature Drink
Dave & Buster’s wanted “a distinctive drinks program, something different that would definitely set us apart,” said Will Jacobus, director of beverage operations for the chain. The company’s efforts paid off, as the chain achieved the Cheers Best Signature Drink Program this year.
The “biggest piece of our program was, ‘What are we going to do to separate ourselves from the others,'” said Jacobus. “There are a lot of different concepts out there. Everyone has signatures such as their own Long Island Ice Tea or Margarita. In fact, people will drink Margaritas anyway it’s the most popular drink in the world.”
Dave & Buster’s director of beverage operations Will Jacobus, left, with the Signature Drink Program award and Diageo’s Andrew Lessem.
Jacobus said that to break from the mold, the company decided to “knock down some barriers” and go with a shots program. “Not many operators are willing to do a shots program. It’s sort of taboo, with responsible drinking. But we wanted to do it and do it well and distinctively.” So the company created its “Over/Under Shots Program.”
The chain customized its own glassware for the program. “We created it from a returns perspective, we scaled it down, and made it easy to store,” he said. The result is an hourglass shaped vessel, with both the upper and lower bulbs holding 2 oz. The mixer, or chaser, goes on bottom and the liquor or spirit goes on the top.
Deciding what combinations of spirits to use in the Shots program was next. “We wrote down a thousand different recipes, but some just didn’t work. Presentation is 50 percent of the program. Maybe the viscosity did not work well in the glass, for example,” he said. One popular drink that did work: Red Bull in the bottom bulb, and Jagermeister on the top. “By the way, this drink, a variation of the Bull Blaster, had a huge impact on sales of both Red Bull and Jagermeister,” said Jacobus.
The Dallas-based chain has also developed an innovative cocktail program. “We have almost 70 drinks on our menu, and 65 percent of these were created in-house,” said Jacobus. One such creation, the Levitation, is comprised of Absolut Level Vodka, Absolut Raspberry, a bit of cranberry juice and a dash of Chambord. “We wanted to be one of the first companies to use Level Vodka. This drink makes a strong visual impact, the Chambord floats on top, and that’s where the name of the drink comes from,” he said.
Dave & Buster’s also creates drinks to tie-in to holiday promotions. For example, for St. Patrick’s Day, the chain created two special drinks: the Blarney Stone Martini and the Dubliner’s Delight. The Blarney Stone Martini combines Jameson’s Irish Whiskey with Pucker’s Sour Apple and cranberry juice. The drink is served in a Martini glass rimmed with green, sour apple-flavored sugar. A promotional feature of this drink is that the guest keeps a tin shaker; other cocktails provide glassware giveaways. –EVS
Little Italy on Top
Maggiano’s scores as Best Chain Wine Program
“Our focus at Maggiano’s is to make the customer feel comfortable; we don’t want to make dining an intimidating experience, and that includes our wines,” said Dave Pennachetti, director of beverage programs for the last six years at Maggiano’s Little Italy, recipient of the Cheers Award for Best Chain Wine Program. “We challenge ourselves, constantly, to improve the dining experience and to help customers feel comfortable in selecting wine.”
It all starts with the chain’s wine menu, Pennachetti said, which de-mystifies wine and provides factual information for guests. “Our menu contains an overview of certain styles of grapes. It explains our varietals, what the fruits are, smells and styles,” he said. “For example, let’s say guests come in and say, ‘We like light-bodied wines.’ Our server will point them in the right direction.” Staff training is “critical to what we do. We train servers in both food and wine. They taste all food dishes, and most of the wine.” Staff is taught “the key traits” of the chain’s most popular varietals. “If a server knows three wines he or she can recommend, well that’s better than just one.”
Pennachetti said the chain’s wine program “evolves each year,” and its focus is on three areas: quality, value and service. One of the top challenges for on-premise operators in selling wine is creating value for customers, he said. “With so much value being offered in the off-premise trade, we’re challenged by how we can balance it. We want to provide great value for our customers, and yet there are challenges in the profitability area as well.” Good service, he asserts, “helps to add value.”
Maggiano’s Dave Pennachetti, center, with award sponsor Schieffelin and Co.’s Deborah Hutton, left, and Chuck Summers.
The chain’s strong concept of family-style dining, also calls for larger-style wine bottles, such as the popular magnums, and double magnums (3-liters), he said. However, the most popular bottle size is the standard 750 ml. But wine sales overall are about equally split between by-the-glass and by the bottle, he points out.
It may come as no surprise that the majority of wine sold at Maggiano’s is red. “We sell a lot of Chianti, because we’re Italian,” he stressed. After Chianti, merlot is the next top selling red, followed by cabernet. “Merlot continues to be very strong, but we’re seeing strong growth with shiraz and pinot noir as well.”
Italian pinot grigio, by the glass and bottle, is the top-selling white wine overall, “although we sell a lot of chardonnay, too.” In the white category, wines from Italy, Australia and New Zealand “have grown quickly. From New Zealand, sauvignon blanc and rieslings are popular. Wines from Washington State are also big, growing strong.”
The chain compiled data about its customers and targets its wine programs to them. “For example, when we’re trying to find the right product mix, we need to know what’s selling currently. So we use outside sources, such as consumer insight groups and information from suppliers to find out.”
The chain, a Dallas-based Brinker International concept, has 32 outlets.