Just as trends come and go in the world of fashion, the same holds true for glassware. While specialty glasses, like the traditional brandy snifter or distinctly shaped glasses for Margaritas and Martinis, will always remain popular to some extent, trends in glassware for beer, wine and spirits change with consumer demands.
Experts agree that glassware is integral to the marketing mix of every bar and restaurant. “Glassware is an important part of the drink line. Consumers ask themselves how does it look, feel and taste?” said Larry Varvella, director of beverage marketing for American Hospitality Concepts, Inc. “It’s important to have a line that you’re proud to put drinks into.”
To demonstrate the importance of using up to date glassware, Applebee’s has spent the past year evaluating the overhaul of its entire glassware program. “We have had a lot of our glassware for many years and it’s time to update it,” said David Brown, senior beverage marketing manager for Applebee’s International Inc. “Glassware has changed a lot since the first Applebee’s opened in 1980 and we have found that the appearance of being ‘bigger’ is what our customers are currently looking for.”
Whether a bar or restaurant focuses their sales more on beer, wine or spirits, glassware choices are serious decisions not taken lightly by operators. A choice of one stem line over another, one beer mug or one Martini glass can make the difference between lackluster and admirable sales.
Is bigger better?
As with other products, glassware decisions are usuallly only as important as what it is your concept sells the most. Casual dining venues, such as Applebee’s, often sell more beer than any other alcoholic beverage. “Beer has proven to be Applebee’s highest seller, with spirits being the next top seller,” said David Brown. “The Brutus Beer, our appropriately-named large beer, has gone over very well with consumers.”
LIBBEY: VINA LINE
“In casual dining restaurants, it is apparent that consumers are looking for drinks, especially beer, in containers that give them a larger appearance. We are trying to fill that request by rounding out our beverage program with more glassware that we can call our ‘own’, such as the Brutus.”
American Hospitality Concepts, Inc. (AHCI), is also big in beer sales as the operator of a number of casual dining concepts including the most well-known, Ground Round. “About 55% of our liquor sales at The Ground Round is beer,” said Varvella. “About half of that is draft beer.”
The Ground Round offers a 14-ounce pint-style glass as well as a 22-ounce Boomer mug. The pint glass is used for draft beer in addition to being served chilled with bottled beer. The Boomer is used strictly for draft. “We look at our glassware on a regular basis to keep the experience energized,” said Varvella.”Because of research, we switched to the Boomer mug about a year ago, which has proven very popular.”
Even though the Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas, is known most for its high-style cocktails, master mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim also must keep up with beer trends. “We offer an eclectic selection of beers throughout the hotel. One that has been very popular is the 20-ounce Imperial Pint offered in the Sports Book. It’s a draft beer served in a proper English pint glass, something you don’t find often in Las Vegas.”
Too Many Glasses?
“In Europe, traditional beers are always served with the proper glassware and we are trying to bring that experience here,” said Abou-Ganim. “For example, wheat beers should be served in a bowling pin-shaped glass while ales and stouts need their respective vessels in order to ensure the full enjoyment. To give our guests the ultimate beer drinking experience, we are in the midst of implementing proper glassware in the Petrossian Lounge.”
Mike Shelton, general manager of Rosemary’s Restaurant in Las Vegas, reiterated the importance of education about glassware. “I’ve seen a growing awareness in America toward European beer traditions,” said Shelton. “I believe that offering unusual products, things that people might not try otherwise, opens minds and makes for unique experiences. Glassware is part of that education.”
“A good example of a company bringing European traditions to America is the Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York. They brew Belgian-style beers as well as import brews from Belgium. We recently hosted a beer dinner using their products, including their line of logo glassware.”
While Bellagio and Rosemary’s are trying to be as “proper” as possible, “the United States will never be like Europe when it comes to beer and glasses,” said Decker Reidpath, executive director of marketing for Oneida Food Service. “Breweries in Europe provide logo glassware to operators, which, because of liquor regulations, can’t always be done in America.” Reidpath noted that the 16-ounce mixing glass is still the most popular beer vessel in the United States.
Matching the wine
Casual dining venues do not usually expect high wine sales and tend to base their glassware on that fact. “Wine does okay but we are trying to get its sales to a higher level,” said Applebee’s Brown. “We don’t expect its sales to be along the same lines as beer and spirits, but we would still like to raise its profile. As part of our glassware overhaul, we are looking into new glasses for wine.”
The Ground Round offers only one 8.5-ounce glass for wine, which is also used for serving bottled water. “Wine is not a strong focus at our restaurants,” said Varvella. “It only accounts for about two or three percent of our overall sales and about ten percent of our liquor sales.”
While “neighborhood” restaurant chains tend to be beer-heavy, the consumer base of Morton’s of Chicago is more into wine. “Morton’s atmosphere appeals to the wine drinker. Because of that, we don’t focus as heavily on beer consumers and only use one glass, a 14-ounce Pilsner-style, for all of our beer selections,” said Tylor Field, director of beverage operations for Morton’s of Chicago.
“Morton’s sells more wine than beer or cocktails. Although we do have high wine sales, we have not changed our glassware in ten years,” said Field. “We offer Riedel crystal stemware to guests who request it but this is basically an added value choice for guests who want different glassware from our standard offering.”
Let the Wine Speak
Operators are offering better glasses for higher priced selections, said Reidpath of Oneida Food Service. “Presentation is key,” he said. “Restaurant chains like Outback Steakhouse and Carraba’s Italian Grill are upgrading their stemware for higher-end wine selections. House wine is still served in soda lime glass but the glasses that bottled wine is served in are becoming nicer.” (Soda lime is the most common and least expensive of glassware used in food service.). He noted that stem length and bigger bowls (28 30 ounces) are popular now.
Tim Herman, director of food and beverage for The Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino, discussed the recent trends he has seen regarding wine-specific glassware. “There is a diverse and ever-growing line of glassware when you talk about wine,” said Herman. “From what I have seen, it is a return to tradition. We are returning to a classic style of wine service.”
Rosemary’s Restaurant recently switched their wine glass program. “We now serve wine in German crystal, rather than in regular glass,” said general manager Shelton. “As with beer, the glass enhances the entire experience. People have become more knowledgeable and know what they want.”
Just as Abou-Ganim noted there are special vessels for every beer, the same is true for wine. “A wine glass should be colorless, transparent, stemmed and made of lead crystal,” said Abou-Ganim. “The size of a glass is important, because it shows the quality and intensity of the wine’s aromas. Red wines require larger glasses while white wines should be served in medium-sized glasses.”
Big, Bigger, Biggest
Glassware is a topic that is near and dear to Bellagio’s Abou-Ganim. “I was hired to design the cocktail and spirit program before Bellagio opened,” said Abou-Ganim. “You can use great stuff but if you put it into a tacky glass, the drink’s integrity immediately goes down.”
Abou-Ganim said that when he arrived in Las Vegas, he was appalled at the “bigger is better” notion that seems to permeate the city. “This idea seemed to be established and I knew it was going to be a big job to get people to overcome it. I want to serve drinks in the best possible vessel and am trying to persuade others to get away from the gimmicky drinks and big Hurricane glasses.”
Las Vegas is unique, in that so much glassware simply “walks” out of an establisment. “We had to be realistic, especially on the casino floor, yet maintain a high level of integrity” said Abou-Ganim. “We needed a commitment from a supplier that they would be able to replace glassware and we wouldn’t run out.”
“We serve 13,000 cocktails a day,” said the Venetian’s Herman, who also deals with casino drinkers. “While our restaurants focus more on specialty glasses, we are pretty limited as to what we can do on the casino floor. That is why the majority of drinks are served in highball glasses.”
While the selection of glassware on the casino floor is often limited, non-gaming operators are also focusing in on narrower glassware selections. “Martini glasses are still hot and can be used for a number of purposes,” said Oneida’s Reidpath. “I recently saw them being used for shrimp cocktail!”
Abou-Ganim is adamant about the correct glass. “The glassware needs to match the quality of the drink. I believe that cocktails are tasted with all the senses…first, you take the drink in visually (glassware, garnish, color, preparation), and as we know, first impressions say a lot. Aromatics are also important does the drink smell good? Cocktails are about the journey, not the destination.”
While Bellagio has tried to shy away from the “bigger is better” notion, establishments like Applebee’s have found that larger drinks are what their customers want. “Much like our Brutus Beer, our Margaritas served in the Mucho Glass have been quite popular with consumers,” said Brown of Applebee’s. “We’re currently doing a lot with the Martini glass our signature Perfect Margarita, Martinis and up-drinks. However, it is still not used as much as our Mucho, Hurricane or Mixing glasses.”
Brown also said that Applebee’s wants to “round out our beverage program with more glassware that we can call our own by giving it a new identity much as we did with the Brutus and the Mucho glasses. We are currently building on our program to define more drinks as Applebee’s signature drinks.”
“We bring in outside consultants to help they tell us what we should be doing and then we decide what we want to do,” said Brown. “Vendors also provide support and we’ve had great glassware suggestions from them.”
While there are differing opinions as to the evolvement of glassware trends, it seems that consumers at casual dining restaurants have their eyes open for “bigger looking” drinks while patrons at more upscale venues are looking more at the appropriateness of the serving vessel. Bellagio’s Tony Abou-Ganim put it best when he said, “Education is key.”
Robin Campbell-Ouchida writes from Las Vegas.