Looking at glassware can be like a trip through the looking glass. The sheer number of styles, sizes, materials, colors, prices and manufacturers available to operators can be downright dizzying, especially if purchase decisions are attempted without the proper focus.
The three things to consider first are price, the quality and durability of the glassware, “and a certain style you’re looking for,” says Tony Abou-Ganim, beverage specialist for the 3,025-room Bellagio Resort Casino in Las Vegas. When it comes to style, Bellagio tries to “stay as elegant and simple as we can. To me, simplicity is at the forefront of elegance.”
Operators like glasses to be simple AND ornate, cheap AND expensive, light AND heavy, large AND small, clear AND colored, elegant AND functional, with AND without logos — depending on the operation, of course.
Food and beverage trends naturally play a role, as well. The resurgence of the Martini, the popularity of ultra-premium spirits served neat, operators’ growing preference for heftier and larger-size drinks bolster value perception yet cut down on refills have all played a role. “I don’t know if any trend ever really sweeps the nation,” says Jay Achenbach, corporate marketing manager for foodservice for Libbey Glass in Toledo, OH. “Trends in glassware tend to be long lasting.”
Many things drive trends in glassware. The most obvious is beverage trends. Martinis, for example, have zoomed in popularity in recent years, with martini glasses following close behind.
“Certainly a good economy helps that zing along,” says one glassware sales rep, “because people aren’t afraid to spend a good price for a good drink.”
Other factors, however, don’t change. Glassware must be durable, suited to the concept, affordable and available for replacements down the road. And it must be handled, cleaned, stored properly and safely every day.
Looking at a restaurant’s collection of glasses — from tumblers, goblets and steins to Pilsner glasses, snifters, mugs, stemware, rocks glasses, Margarita glasses, shot glasses, Martini glasses, Hi-Ball glasses, champagne glasses and English pub glasses — can be like reading the owner’s palm. His hopes, desires, beliefs, and goals are all on display. Instead of telling his future, however, glassware helps create it.
MAKE AN IMPRESSION
For impressing customers, glassware remains essential. “The best thing to do when you first go into a restaurant to change over the appearance of a property without spending tons of money is to do your tabletop,” explains John Jadelis, regional sales manager -special markets for glassware maker Cardinal International in Wayne, NJ. “The first thing you usually see when you go to your table is glassware. I mean, you’ll see a vase or flower, then your flatware, silverware, plates, on the surface. But if you look across the room you can see the glasses standing on the tables.”
Size is “important,” adds the sales rep. “If you take a look at any glass maker’s catalog, notice how many sizes they offer. Size is portion control; it’s profit to the operator.” Oversize glasses also help promote a sense of value to drinks.
Concept themes can likewise be carried out through glasses. Some specialty models feature stems with shapes — dollar signs, dice, soccer, golf, base and footballs, and even guitars, cacti and, last year, the number 2000.
Libbey is in the process of introducing several new products that “cover all the categories,” says Achenbach. “We have some new tumbler lines coming out, and we continue to emphasize specialty glassware.”
Indeed, he believes the “novelty or unique pieces that are niche items and help the operator merchandise more creatively” have been getting “more and more interest. It doesn’t have to be something extremely unique, it just has to be a little different. “
EVERY GLASS UNIQUE
Glassware “has to be something that is functional on one side, but also stimulates the people so that when they get it they can converse about it,” says Shimon Bakovza, owner of Sushi Samba in Manhattan. It does at his establishment.
“Every glass is very, very different,” he notes. “Every glass is well thought out, and obviously the wine and sake glasses, which are crystal, are not cheap.” The 80- seat restaurant, which opened in December, features a menu of Japanese and South American — primarily Peruvian influence — specialties.
Sushi Samba’s cocktail menu includes such favorites as Caipirinha (the national drink of Brazil, with cachaca, limes and sugar); Mojito (a Cuban classic of light rum, muddled limes and a splash of tonic); Periodista (‘The Journalist,’ with light rum, muddled limes and a splash of tonic); Sambatini (a house martini featuring seasonal fruit); Pisco Sour (a Peruvian classic of Pisco brandy and Samba Mist); and Saketini (Japanese vodka and sake with a splash of lichee juice).
“We carry some unusual glassware for sake,” notes Bakovsa. The Japanese liquor is served in a classic 4-oz. crystal wine glass usually reserved for port wine.
TAKE YOUR GLASSES SERIOUSLY
“For me, a glass says a lot about a restaurant,” says Andre Guillet, director of operations for the renowned Philadelphia fine dining restaurant, Le Bec-Fin. His advice to colleagues is to match their glasses to their concept. A sister restaurant, Brasserie Perrier, uses less expensive glasses that match its wine list.
“We serve upper-class clientele and the wine list is something that we take very seriously,” says Guillet, “so of course the glassware has to be in relationship with what we do.” The landmark eatery maintains more than 300 fine wines on its menu, as well as a handful of beers, soda and iced tea.
Diners at the 70-seat Le Bec-Fin usually order its $118-per-person, six-course prix-fixe dinner. “We have different wine glasses for everything,” notes Guillet, including individual styles for reds, burgundies, ports, Bordeaux and vintages from Alsace. “We take our role very seriously when it comes to giving the proper glassware to our guests.” About 80% of his patrons, he estimates would notice a drink arriving in the wrong glass.
The variety of shapes allow a diner to “be able to smell the wine in a different way,” says Guillet. Design also affects the beverages themselves. For instance, some of Le Bec-Fin’s champagnes have to be in a curved glass in order to keep the bubbles inside the glass.
“The old fashioned champagne glasses used to be wide open, and as you poured, nothing held all the bubbles back. Now, by having the glass curved, the bubble will go up and then come right back down.”
The 30-year-old restaurant features strictly classical French cuisine and the famous triple-tiered dessert cart with 40 dessert choices. The 10-year-old Le Bar Lyonnais at Le Bec-Fin offers a less formal setting where patrons can dine from a bistro menu.
What Le Bec-Fin’s glasses say about it, he suggests, is “elegance. It’s the same thing with our china. We look at every glasses to make sure it’s fine and elegant and served for the right purposes. When a customer comes and spends $200 a head he feels like he’s in someone’s home rather than being in a restaurant.”
The glassware he uses today is “much more simple” than it would have been, say, 20 years ago. “Years ago we had white and red wine glasses. I’m sure there was not a cabernet or pinot noir glass, but now there is a difference.”
All glasses at Le Bec-Fin are washed by hand, he says, because using a machine entails “taking a much higher risk. These glasses are pretty expensive. Some of them go to $8 to $10 a glass.” The staff maintains a stock of 15 dozen of each type of glass.
CLASS GLASS IN VEGAS
Bellagio has “a pretty eclectic selection,” says Abou-Ganim. Most of the gourmet outlets have glassware designed specifically for them. Among them are Le Cirque and sister restaurant Circo, a pair of fine dining operations that originated in New York City.
Bellagio is owned by Mirage Resorts International, which also operates The Mirage, Treasure Island and the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. The resort, which opened in October 1998, includes 14 dining outlets, ranging from buffets and coffee shops to gourmet restaurants. Each has its own distinctive glassware.
All told, the operation maintains more than 100 different types of glasses for its various venues. Management recently changed the glassware it was using in the resort’s casino. Says Abou-Ganim, casinos’ needs are “a little different outlet because you go through so much glassware. One thing in the casino business is that people are free to leave with the glass, so a lot of glasses walk out.” The choice among the players is a line both “very simple and elegant, yet very sturdy.”
Abou-Ganim’s advice to operators is to remember that guests “taste with their eyes first. A great glass always represents a great cocktail. So don’t skimp on the glassware.”
Jadelis also urges operators to go for distinctive looks. What they need to ask themselves, he suggests, is “what look you’re trying to achieve for your operation. Do you want to be just like everyone else out in the marketplace, or do you want something that is unique?”
Manufacturers have gotten “really good at teaching people how to take care of their glassware by using their catalogs,” says an Oneida rep. “We make those catalogs very, very available to those restaurateurs to educate them the best we can. In many other cases we have literature to teach them as fast as they can.”
While glass manufactures “are in the replacement business,” she continues, “none of us want glasses to break excessively. There are a lot of things a restaurateur doesn’t think about that can cause breakage. We definitely try and talk about it.”
Guillet stresses the importance of employee training when it comes to carrying expensive glasses. “Don’t put too many on a tray, and don’t carry them in your hands. Hopefully you have professional people who know how to carry a tray. That would be the best thing.” His restaurant’s glasses are placed in racks for storage “because the chance that they will break is much less.”
The restaurant has a close relationship with its glassware supplier, which it permits to use its name. “We help the manufacturer get their glasses known. Guests sometimes want to know where we get our glasses and they’ll buy some directly, or other restaurants will.”
KEEP THEM AROUND
Thermal shock is the result of a sudden change in temperature. Since glass holds temperature, a sudden shift can generate enough stress to break it. For
example, a glass with ice cannot be emptied and placed directly into a dishwasher.
Conversely, glasses coming out of a hot dishwasher should not be placed immediately into service. In each case, the glass must be allowed to reach room temperature. The thicker the glass, the more time it needs to reach room temperature. Cracks resulting from thermal shock generally form around abrasions caused by mechanical impact.
Proper washing is also important. At the bar, glass scrubbing systems are safe and fast. Wash similar size glasses together, and air dry. Operators can and should test glass cleanness. Dip a glass into water and see if droplets form on the surface. Another: sprinkle salt inside a clean, wet glass. It should adhere evenly. Be sure to replace worn washer brushes.
Glasses that get broken should be placed into a container specifically to be used for broken glass. It should have a tight-fitting lid so the glass doesn’t spill out if knocked over. It should also be made of strong material so the broken shards don’t cut through. Broken pieces should be taken to a glass recycling center.
Make sure employees don protective gloves when cleaning up broken glass. Light should also be strong enough to help them find all the pieces. Use a dust pan and brush for the larger pieces, damp paper towels or cloths for smaller slivers. Also, be sure to tell other employees in the area — or those who will come into the area — that glass has been broken.
If a glass is broken near customers, instruct them to remain seated, and certainly not to touch the glass or help employees clean up. Broken glass should never be put down a drain. (See sidebar for more tips.)
Once glassware is wisely selected and employees well trained in its care and handling, it should help any operation flesh out its identity and impress its patrons.