Trendy cocktails, new beers and fine wines–all demand their own glassware. And as showmanship and presentation grow more important for beverage programs, stylish and stand-out glassware provide operators with a way to show their premium beverage sensibilities.
Contemporary customers are finding the standard Martini glass replaced with oversized stemware; corkscrew-stemmed glasses, zig-zagged-stemmed glasses and glassware etched with funky designs. Also, the more cutting-edge operations are serving their cocktails in glasses such as the Japanese-inspired cocktail contraption, comprised of a stemless cocktail glass that rests in a small, ice-filled bowl.
For beer, Americans have long adopted traditional glassware, such as the English pint glass, but now other international beers that have traditionally had their own glassware are being served correctly in American bars. It’s growing more common, for instance, for bartenders to serve Belgian beers in thistle-shaped or chalice-style glasses and wheat beers in special, clunky tumblers and oversized pilsner glasses.
Wines have also entered the special-treatment arena, with restaurants such as Chicago’s Crofton-On-Wells serving wine in a glass designed to enhance that varietal’s particular strengths. Chiantis arrive in thinner, upright glasses that bring out characteristic cherry and bitter almond bouquets; burgundies are served in wide, open-rimmed glasses that favor the wine’s oaky and vegetal aromas and flavors.
Lawrence Chyall, manager of Seattle’s Sazerac, notes that restaurants have grown more concerned about glassware in the past five years because trend dictates that people should be more concerned about their public personae. “Now people try to shift the way they act and dress in public,” he reasons. “It’s more–continental.” Beverages and beverage presentation also fall under the new “continental” thinking, which explains why beverage managers are searching harder to find a glass that will fit the operation’s ambiance–and leave a lasting impression on customers. Scott Dahlin, general manager of Chicago’s 160 Blue, describes the importance of glassware with the three-legged stool analogy. One leg stands for food, another for service and the last leg, which he says includes glassware, is ambiance. “[Glassware] helps create the totality of a restaurant,” Dahlin explains.
Glassware can also tell customer that the restaurant aims to give them top-quality service, which meshes well with the buy-less-buy-better mantra today’s trend followers. Dahlin, whose restaurant was dubbed one of Esquire’s top restaurants for 1998, says he would be “appalled” if he chose to visit an upscale locale that served beverages in inexpensive glassware. “It would tell me they are too cheap to buy something quality, which reflects on quality of their business,” he adds.
Lately, cocktail glasses have become a main point of differentiation for restaurateurs. Michael Roger, director of operations for San Francisco’s Harry Denton’s Starlight Room, among others, subscribes to the idea that glassware can make, and sell, the cocktail–and give customers a reason to come back for more. The Starlight Room brings in 70% of its income on drink sales in part by serving its Martinis and other cocktails in 14-ounce stemware, a gimmick that grabs customers’ attention one minute and has them buying a drink the next.
“A waiter will be walking across the dining room with a tray of large cocktails, and people go, ‘What is that?'” Roger says.
The Starlight boasts a large menu of specialty drinks, but does not sell many of the more unusual ones. Roger says customers are more enthralled with holding the big glass than trying a new drink. So customers order Martinis instead, along with something from the restaurant’s super-sized appetizer menu, just to have the large glass in hand. “You’ve got these huge glasses and huge plates of food, Roger comments on the Starlight’s set-up. “It creates a buzz throughout the restaurant.”
160 Blue serves drinks dressed in both class and humor. Red and white wines are served in Montrachet wine glasses (an upscale crystal glass), champagne comes in a Masterpiece crystal glass and cocktails arrive in ultra-hip “Twinkle” glasses, cocktail glasses with twinkles and toothpicked olives etched into the glass–a true take on 1950s fashion and culture from Conrad & Co. Scott Dahlin, general manager, says they picked the wine glasses for their upscale appearance and the retro cocktail glasses for their built-in sense of humor. “People love them, and then they take them home with them,” Dahlin jokes.
Providing the glass that will stand out for the customer, naturally, plays on the restaurant’s atmosphere. The more trendy a restaurant, the more likely a funky glass will seem at home. The same follows for upscale crystal.
“If it’s a nice place, top quality glassware will only heighten the customer’s experience of that upscaleness, ” Dahlin says.
And, since most beverage managers agree that glassware can be an expensive commitment, it becomes crucial that the glassware match the environment, yet be something unique, to differentiate it from other restaurants in the neighborhood.
Tim Johnson, beverage consultant for Applebee’s and others recommends that beverage managers should carefully examine their operation’s concept before purchasing new glassware. Managers should visualize what type of marketing will be appropriate for the target customers and then, how many drinks customers will be buying and how many drinks a glass will hold during its lifespan.
Managers should think about glassware before buying it. “You don’t want to make a capital investment every year, so figure out a style and type of glass that is concept appropriate at stick with it,” he says. “Also, don’t be so rigid that you can’t make changes–change is inevitable and growth is optional.”
Good places to start looking for glassware are with the staple glass manufacturers, such as Libbey, Cardinal, Anchor Hocking and Reidel, he says. If these bigwigs don’t meet your needs, then try smaller manufacturers and scan the glassware aisles in retail stores. Johnson says one client found a glass they liked at Pier 1, wrote down the manufacturer’s number and after taking a look at their catalogue, ordered the glassware from the importer.
Thinking creatively to find resources for glassware is one element; time is another. Rogers and the Starlight Room’s manager spent six weeks simply deciding which type of glass would work best with the restaurant’s intentions. The compelling appearance of the glasses are a major reason he went with the oversized stemware. Practicality was considered next.
“We looked at how durable the glassware was, the care of the glass–whether it could go through a dishwasher or be hand-washed,” he says. “We just wanted to make sure the glass fits with the restaurant; we didn’t want to try to push the glassware into the restaurant.”
Trendy restaurants usually operate with the budget and atmosphere to carry off using funkier glassware; beverage managers for chain restaurants deal with different issues. Choosing a glass that must be bought hundreds of times tends to limit chains, such as T.G.I. Friday’s and Applebee’s, to glassware that can stand the test of time. It’s easier for an independent to justify having more pricey and fragile glassware because broken glasses only have to be replaced in one location. Chains would have to replace glassware numerous times in numerous locations, which could stress any budget. Johnson and David Commer, Director of Beverage Development for Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, find that they are more likely to stick with the basics, and purchase the “proper” glassware that can survive many usages and the occasional “oops.” Generally, chains stock the more unusual glasses if they can provide a marketing edge and help create a well-known specialty drink. Specialty drinks can bring in profits for chains because the diverse cross-section of chain-restaurant customers will have heard about the drink and will be more likely to order it the next time they step into their local Friday’s or Applebee’s.
“Everyone’s looking for a signature drink that will put them on the map,” Johnson says, referring to the Pat O’Brien Hurricane from New Orleans’s Pat O’Brien restaurant. “That’s something that doesn’t come around that often.”
As a result, most chains work with the mass-marketed signature-drink concept. Applebee’s menus carry the “Brewtus,” a 23-ounce mug for what Johnson calls, “23-ounces of cold gold.” T.G.I. Friday’s, noted for their well-rounded frozen drink lineup, serves a mean Margarita in an 18-ounce goblet.
Like the independents, beverage managers agree that presentation and image are important, but the beverage remains their main focus. “Glassware is important to a beverage program’s success as long as what you are putting in the glass is good.” Johnson compares it to the philosophical chicken-or-egg-which-comes-first question–“The drink comes first,” he says.
Another matter of practicality in the world of trendy glassware, in chain and independents, is how long to keep it around. Every 18 months, Rogers takes a look at how the glasses are working for his restaurants. When he decides to bring in a new line of glasses, he recommends switching to glasses within the same style–and exercises change with caution.
“One thing you don’t want to do is start and stop something,” he says. “It will confuse the guests, and they’ll be asking, ‘Where is that large drink I used to order?’ You might change what is in the glassware but try to be consistent and commit to something.”
For Johnson, who says he always has his eye out for interesting, yet practical, glassware on the market, says its best to select glassware with a flexible attitude. “Also don’t be so rigid that you can’t make changes–change is inevitable, growth is optional.” Beverage managers can see the results for themselves. If out one night, slurping a mondo Margarita at Friday’s or sipping one of the Starlight Room’s oversized Martinis, observe the magic of the glassware on the crowd. It may be the way to boost your beverage program’s drink-ability.