PHOTOGRAPHY BY LEN KAUFMAN/BLACK STAR
The Cheers Beverage Conference keeps growing, this year adding break-out sessions and continuing the information-packed 1 1/2 day format.
Leading industry sources tackle alcohol and legal issues.
The Cheers Beverage Conference tackled one of the thorniest issues for on-premise operators: the growing attempt to limit beverage alcohol service. Panelists Paul Avery, Outback Steakhouse and the American Beverage Institute; Ralph Blackman, the Century Council; Rachel Antalek, Red Lobster; and Stan Novack, HMS Host, all talked about the various difficulties confronting them.
Avery noted escalating negativism about adult beverage alcohol consumption. “There are people out there who are trying to lower the bar, who work full time on this (making alcohol consumption dangerous).”
Blackman reported the group is working to overcome misperceptions and negativity through the media and working with merchants and law enforcement, and reported progress in bringing the two together.
Antalek said, “We really need to create a better dining experience that promotes responsible adults enjoying alcoholic beverages that complement a meal.”
And Novack pointed out that the two-drink limit for air carriers is “starting to surface again” and that the “airlines would not be against it” since it eliminates weight and the need for as many flight attendants.
REACHING THE FEMALE CONSUMER
Diamond sponsor Brown-Forman offers
Bob Krall, vp, director of trade marketing at Brown-Forman, told the conference that operators marketing only to men are missing out on a huge opportunity to boost business.
Krall said “women are a key demographic for restaurants and hotels.” Why? Among women patrons who drink beverage alcohol, “women think it’s ok to drink wine, beer or liquor, and women order at about the same rate as men.”
Women tend to be more concerned about “security and finding their way around in strange cities. … There’s also the pampering factor.” A hotel or restaurant, therefore, can serve as both a “launching pad” and a “landing zone” especially for women. “If you can provide that, … it’s new money.”
Women’s desire for good service makes them open to suggestions, Krall says, giving bartenders and servers opportunities to suggest new drinks and upsell premium brands.
Bartenders should want to impress patrons with their expertise on the latest “in” drinks, how to make eye-catching drinks, and what’s special about a brand.
Women tend to classify drink preferences not by category, but more by whether they are “girlie,” classy, light refreshment or good with food. Yet women like “manly” drinks, too, Krall says. “You can’t ignore the ‘manly’ drinks when marketing to females, drinks like Scotch, single malts, single barrel whisky, and Cognac.
PUTTING WINE IN ITS PLACE
Wine consumption grows, but there may be shaky times ahead, says Wine Market Council’s head.
Intent on “Putting Wine in its Place,” John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council, allows that when it comes to wine, “I am indeed an evangelist.”
“Domestic table wine continues to be the lion’s share of the market,” he says, noting that since 1994 table wine sales in the U.S. have grown steadily, averaging annual gains of about 5%. Total table wine sales in 2000 reached an all-time high of nearly 204 million cases, with adult per capita consumption increasing to 2.46 gallons in 2000.
While growth trends are positive, Gillespie says, there’s evidence of weakness among consumers, and several indications point to difficulties ahead for marketers if steps aren’t taken to stimulate demand.
Wine Market Council studies show only one in four U.S. adults consumes wine and merely 10% of adults account for 86% of wine consumed. Among core consumers, 97 percent love the taste of wine, an attitude shared by 90 percent of marginal consumers. A majority of both groups–79% of core consumers and 57% of marginals–prefer wine to other alcohol beverages.
Tony Abou-Ganim, Dale DeGroff and Jimmy Skeadas shared their bar philosophies.
“I think I’ve got the greatest job in the world,” said Tony Abou-Ganim, referring to his job as master mixologist at the Bellagio Resort & Casino. He refers to Dale DeGroff as the “man who changed my life. After watching Dale work,” he says, “I wanted to be the best bartender I could be.”
Fresh, top quality ingredients are key, he says.
“We need to really work together to elevate the knowledge of cocktail preparation,” he says. “With a plethora of the right ingredients, we can create magic.”
It’s a bartender’s calling, Abou-Ganim says, to be able to create magic for patrons by guiding them to drink options that will make for a memorable occasion, and, not incidentally, build the bottom line.
DeGroff said that “what wine is to France, … what vodka is to Russia, cocktails are to Americans.
Referring to his own Bartending Essentials video, DeGroff laments that for the Culinary Institute of America, “this is their program.”
More education is in order, he says, urging that restaurateurs “hire a staffer who is passionate.” Alluding to the concept that “I can teach you how to make drinks, but I can’t teach you how to be friendly,” he urged managers to give empower bartenders, by requiring that they create a drink a week. Utilize suppliers and conduct tastings to generate enthusiasm, he said.
Jimmy Skeadas of ShowTenders, addressing potential for building beverage programs at the mass market level, urged training tapes to cover some of the basics by showing, not talking about how it’s done, noting “I can’t tell a kid in Idaho how to cut a twist.”
Skeadas promotes upscaling service before getting too involved in upselling. Better service, he says, creates a confidence level, a “rapport” that will pay off in the long run.
As for psychology of enticing more patrons to order from the bar, Skeadas said, “I believe in separate drink menus.”
If beverage available is tied exclusively with the food menu, he said, it reduces the likelihood that patrons will order after the server takes the menus away.
DESIGNING THE RIGHT BAR
Bob Puccini, The Puccini Group; Don Senich, Innovative Concept Associates; and J. Russell Stilwell, FCSI Next Step Design, shared their designing secrets.
Don Senich, of Innovative Concept Associates, coordinates creation of large, upscale restaurants and been picked by Esquire for “Best New Restaurant” or “Restaurant of the Year” four times, and twice built Playboy’s “Bar of the Year.” Senich stressed the importance of site selection and offered a tutorial for improving success. Included were:
Know Your Concept: Be sure to let everybody know what your vision is.
Budgets Rule!: “Undercapitalization can lead straight to Chapter 11.”
Location, Location, Location.
Know Thy Architect and Contractor: And make sure they understand what you want.
Equipment Vendors Can Save you Money.
Drive Revenue: Use suppliers as resources.
Have Fun: “Work is a slice of your life, it’s not the whole prize.”
Bob Puccini, CEO of The Puccini Group, specializes in creating personality restaurants. Three ways to go, he says, are to franchise, to knock someone off, or to create your own concept. If you go for your own concept, “How do you know people will like it?,” he asks.
Typically, he says, it’s because “you think it will work, friends tell you it’s a great idea, someone else has done it, or, my personal favorite, no one else has done it.
What flies in San Francisco might not in Madison Wisconsin, he warns, citing psychographics that “measure people’s propensity” for eating and drinking certain items in certain locales at certain times. “You can only create a successful bar or restaurant if you know who you want your customer to be.”
J. Russell Stilwell, who heads up design development at Next Step Design Group, a leading professional kitchen design firm, also reminded attendees that successful bar design doesn’t just happen, but requires certain key principals. “You can never have enough glass storage.”
Stilwell admits to the occasional bias in bar designs that run against trends. ” I hate mug frosters … just a personal opinion.” But he pointed out that extravagance is not necessarily good. “If it’s not designed on budget, it’s worthless.”
CHANGE IS GOOD
Keynoter Russo of Ground Round made a case for frequent re-creation.
Industry veteran Tom Russo, chairman and CEO of American Hospitality Concepts (Ground Round Restaurants and John Harvard Brew Pubs) hailed change as essential to success, even though most aren’t crazy about it.
“I started out as a bartender,” said Russo, reminiscing on how, at age 18, he was put under supervision of Joe the bartender. Joe’s advice: Always keep the bottles behind the bar, not on it, and get a pull-off black tie.
A patron ordered his favorite, and Russo pulled the bottle from behind to pour, leaving the bottle on the bar when his attention was diverted. Soon he realized the patron was pouring his own. When Russo tried to intervene, the patron grabbed him by the tie, nearly strangling him.
Suddenly, “I was ready for change,” Russo recalls.