When the Nashville-based O’Charley’s chain rolled out their new drink menu last year, a key part of the initiative targeted the growing American interest in wine. Specifically, company beverage professionals wanted to provide their wine drinking customers with a finer glass, so they upgraded to a 12-ounce wine glass designed to hold a 6-ounce pour. The new wine glass is etched with the O’Charley’s logo, which also cleverly helps bartenders hit their mark every time: right in the center of the etched logo is the six-ounce pour line.
It’s that sort of thinking which has helped the chain grow, and gain awards like the Cheers 2004 Award for Beverage Excellence for their non-alcohol beverage program, specifically their success with a smoothie program.
“We do very well with our smoothie sales – when our drink menu first came out we actually doubled smoothie sales when we first started featuring them,” says beverage manager Colleen Brennan, who believes non-alcohol programs like these are great fits for the O’Charley’s concept. O’Charley’s also offers unlimited free refills on soft drinks, including coffee and tea. Despite the freebies, their non-alcohol beverages account for 10% of total sales. (Beverage alcohol sales account for approximately 9.2 % of total sales.)
Controlling the largest chunk of O’Charley’s beverage alcohol sales, beer accounts for 45%. Out of the eleven company-mandated beers, draft is tops, and Bud Light, Miller Lite and Budweiser rule, in that order. (Other mandates: Budweiser, Miller Genuine Draft, Corona, Heineken, Michelob, Michelob Light, Foster’s and O’Doul’s.)
Individual units are allowed to bring in as many as fourteen additional regional favorites. Domestic draft is offered in $2.25 14-ounce shaker glasses and $3.25 23-ounce chilled pilsner glasses. Typical domestic bottles go for $2.50 and imports for $3.25. Brennan says Corona leads by far in import sales.
By 2005: 231
Locations: 16 Southeast and Midwest states
Weekly per store sales average: $53,000
Dinner check average: $12.70
Beverage alcohol sales: 9.2% of total
Non-alcohol beverage sales: 10% of total
The beer list is reviewed annually. “Since we allow our stores to bring in so many different brands of beer, if we were to make a spec change to the mandated list we would look to what the individual stores are selling. We would also look at the Nielsen data and look at what sells off-premise, knowing it would sell on-premise also,” says Brennan.
O’Charley’s is often promotion-focused when it comes to alcohol sales. The 2004 summer promotion included drinks like Bermuda Breeze, Island Cooler and a new addition to O’Charley’s list of premium PrimO’ Top Shelf MargO’ritas, the Cranberry MangO’rita, made with Sauza Hornitos tequila, mango syrup, cranberry and orange juices and sweet and sour.
The PrimO’ program invites customers to trade up on their cocktail orders to call brands, and the PrimO’ Top Shelf selects certain brands for inclusion, like 1800 Reposado Tequila, Grand Marnier and Cointreau.
Brennan says wine sales are still small, but growing, accounting for nearly 10% of all alcohol sales, and the list is reviewed annually. O’Charley’s sells significantly more wine by the glass than the bottle. The current list was selected after several months of blind tastings with employees at company offices who were indicative of the chain’s core customer group, and then backed up with research data.
To assist servers in suggesting wine pairings with food, beverage execs created a “Wine Finder” training tool that pairs wines and entrees. Just rolled out to stores last April, the “Wine Finder” allows servers to view a window lining up pre-determined paired category selections. Categories include entrée, wine, and flavor notes and O’Charley’s recommendation.
For example, buffalo chicken wings, Cajun chicken pasta and Cajun chicken salad are paired with white zinfandel. Grilled salmon, grilled chicken and fried chicken salad are paired with chardonnay, and filet mignon and prime rib are paired with cabernet sauvignon. It’s a simple tool, but one that can help ease the nerves of young servers unfamiliar with wine, something beverage executives in charge of casual chain programs often mention as a growing industry problem.
“It’s a pretty neat tool that we’ve developed and it’s really helped,” says Brennan. “For the most part we are up in wine sales for the year. Servers keep the finder on their person and they can take it out and use it when they’re at a table and we’ve actually put some on tables also for guests to look through,” says Brennan.
By the glass, O’Charley’s top sales go to Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, followed by Beringer White Zinfandel, Blackstone Merlot and Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio. Bottle sales are reversed with Ecco Domani leading, followed by Blackstone Merlot and Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay.
Beverages are often promoted seasonally in limited time offer menu inserts paired alongside appetizers. Around Christmas, wine is paired with their signature spinach & artichoke dip, while during their summer promotion, pepper Jack cheese wedges appetizer was paired with beer. “In the spring time we always do a seafood menu feature and we featured Corona with our shrimp dip,” says Brennan.
Headquartered in Nashville where the first O’Charley’s restaurant opened in 1971, the casual-dining chain known for fresh foods, aged, hand-cut beef, home made soups and salad dressings and caramel pie, has now grown to 217 units. Located in 16 states in the Southeast and Midwest, O’Charley’s has plans to open 15 new stores in 2004.
“The O’Charley’s concept has enjoyed great success, as evidenced by its popularity with our guests and our growth over the past twenty years,” says Rich May, chief strategic officer for O’Charley’s, Inc. “As the company embarks on the challenges and virtually limitless opportunities of being a vertically integrated multi-concept company, we are looking forward to replicating and enhancing our successes in each of our businesses. We’ll continue to operate great restaurants with a clear vision of exceeding the expectations of our guests, our co-workers, and our shareholders.”
Each O’Charley’s location is open seven days a week and offers a casual, neighborhood ambiance with colorful murals depicting local history and culture. “The fresh food, diverse menu and neighborhood feel of our restaurants make O’Charley’s a great choice for any occasion,” says May. “Our casual, relaxed atmosphere is ideal for anything from a family outing to a business lunch, while the variety in our menu appeals to everyone.”
Appetizers include chipotle BBQ wings, southwestern chicken quesadillas, three-cheese shrimp dip and their “O’thentic” spinach and artichoke dip. Salad specialties include black and blue Caesar salad topped with blackened sirloin, Roma tomatoes, crisp bacon, crumbled blue cheese and house-made Caesar dressing. Their classic club sandwich is upgraded with wheat-berry bread and their signature honey mustard dressing is made with pure honey.
According to May, menu promos go on throughout the year, with approximately five to six food and beverage special promotions annually.
Their recent summer “Crazy for that Flavor” menu promotion, for instance, included chili-lime sirloin steak fajitas with peppers, onions, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses, sour cream and salsa; and a spicier version of their Southwestern chicken salad, prepared with grilled chicken breast, roasted corn, black beans, peppers, onions and cheese on salad greens and crispy tortilla strips, served with cheese quesadilla roll-ups and spicy Southwestern ranch dressing.
Recent innovations include a low-carb menu that lists carbohydrate counts in each dish, and also a to-go menu. Sunday brunch, featuring prime rib, malted Bavarian waffles and Spanish omelets, is also a big part of the chain’s weekend business.
May says the key to O’Charley’s food success is allowing customers to choose from selections that represent current tastes woven into classic preparations, and the fresh quality of their ingredients. “Our butchers trim, hand-cut and age our choice steaks, we bake our famous yeast rolls every day, and we serve fresh-cut salads with O’Charley’s special recipe dressings. All this creates a fresh O’Charley’s taste that gives our restaurants a unique appeal,” says May.
O’Charley’s recently undertook a summer beverage promotion featuring new recipes and additions to their signature PrimO’ call brand program.
Malibu coconut rum, DiSaronno Amaretto, pineapple juice, Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail and Daily’s sweet & sour topped with a splash of 7-UP. $4.99
Malibu coconut rum, Midori melon liqueur, DeKuyper blue curacao, pineapple juice and Daily’s sweet and sour topped with a splash of 7-UP. $4.99
PRIMO’ TOP SHELF MARGO’RITA
1800 Reposado Tequila, Grand Marnier, Cointreau and Daily’s sweet & sour. $6.99
Wines are listed in ascending order from milder and sweeter to drier and more full-bodied.
Dry Light White Wines
Pinot Grigio, Ecco Domani
Dry Medium White Wines
Dry Light Red Wines
Dry Medium Red Wines