It took a trip to the west coast to do it, but this year for the first time, attendance at the annual Cheers Beverage Conference topped 500 attendees, a quantum leap beyond early years and a significant increase even over 2003’s successful New Orleans conference. With more than 60 sponsors, including nearly every important beverage alcohol firm, signing up to support the 1 1/2 day event, the conference has established an enthusiastic base for the future.
Among the conference highlights, keynoter Bill Allen, president and ceo of Fleming’s Steakhouse and Wine Bar, advised operators that premium products and quality service needed to be the rule in restaurants of all types today, as consumer expectations are higher than ever when it comes to wine, beer and spirits. John Gillespie, president of the Wine Marketing Council, revealed that the youngest consumers of beverage alcohol are more inclined than previous generations to treat wine as an every day beverage choice.
Steve Olson and Doug Frost, two of America’s best known wine and spirits experts, swapped insights about food and beverage trends for the future; beverage consultant David Commer led marketers on an examination of money-making (and losing) techniques; beer consultant John Beck lead a panel on the latest trends in draft beer; and wine training pros Evan Goldstein (Allied Domecq), Jonathan Fabio (Brown-Forman) and Joel Butler (Diageo) emphasized making wine training as simple and relaxed as possible.
Other sessions included a look at liability rules, regulations and avoidance procedures by Stephen Barth, Univ. of Houston; Adams Beverage Group’s annual state of industry trends, presented by company research director Tiziana Mohorovic; two panels of operators (including Kirk Aardahl, RAM International; Tony Garcia, Main Street and Main, Tylor Field III, Morton’s; Russell Greene, Cheesecake Factory, Cindy Busi, Hard Rock Café, Patrick Droesch, Brinker International, and Kathleen Packard, Carrabba’s) telling manufacturers what they want, and what they don’t want.
For the second year, the restaurant operators on the Cheers Editorial Advisory Board (see page 14 for a list of members) presented awards to five suppliers for outstanding service to the restaurant community, and the annual Cheers Awards for Beverage Excellence were presented to the country’s leading beverage programs.
The Cheers Editorial Advisory Board held meetings before the conference, and toured notable bar and restaurant operations in the Irvine area (including Best Independent Beer Award winner Yardhouse). The Cheers Awards for independent restaurants were presented at a private dinner (held at recipient Antonello Ristorante) to the Yardhouse, Antonello, Mastro’s and Lola’s, and conference speakers were feted at another private event held at Fleming’s.
Cheers is pleased to announce that Joe Lee, chairman and ceo of Darden Restaurants (Red Lobster, Oliver Garden, Bahama Breeze, Smokey Bones BBQ and Seasons 52), is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at next year’s conference, set once again for the Hyatt Irvine, Wednesday and Thursday Feb. 16-17, 2005.