Unique Restaurant Corp. has created a mini-empire around the Detroit area, and beverages have played a key role.
As beverage programs continue to improve and the American consumer’s palate comes of age, it’s becoming more common to find sommelier’s working the floor at fine dining establishments. On hand to provide specialty service to the customer and aid servers in making the correct beverage sale, these professionals strive to ensure that the beverage experience is the best it can possibly be.
And often they play a much larger role. Take Madeline Triffon, for instance. Most beverage pros struggle to keep even one high-profile operation in top form; Triffon, director of wine and beverages for regional powerhouse Unique Restaurant Corp., Bingham Farms, MI, designs and manages beverage programs at their upscale eateries, and this for a group that believes every beverage experience should be first rate.
According to Triffon, who’s also a Master Sommelier (the second woman to have achieved the honor in the world), server education is the key to success.
“If you don’t understand service, you don’t belong in the business,” she says. “The most important things are customer perception and service.”
To get them in shape, potential servers are trained on every beverage available in Unique units, not only on wine and wine service. New employees attend classes at the corporation’s training center, and must pass wine, beer, liquor, menu and service technique examinations before waiting on their first customer.
With their mix of concepts running from casual to casual/fine hybrids to traditional fine dining, Unique’s stable puts Triffon through some hiring and training paces. (The company’s concepts include Detroit’s Duet and Bruschetta Cafe, Novi’s No. VI Chophouse and Lobster Bar, Bingham Farms’ Morels, A Michigan Bistro, Farmington Hills’ Fusion, Bloomfield Hills’ Northern Lakes Seafood Company, Troy’s Portabella, and Flying Fish Taverns in West Bloomfield and Birmingham.)
Launched by president/ceo Matthew Prentice, Unique today is a regional success story, turning a single deli into 14 eateries, a 11,000 square foot baking facility, a gourmet take-out and six banquet facilities that can serve up to 2,400 people. Last year, URC was the largest caterer in the state of Michigan.
Prentice estimates that company-wide sales in 1998 reached about $38 million, and he anticipates hitting $40 million this year. While only half of the sales involve units selling beverage alcohol, there’s still room for lots of success–and failure.
Customer perception and quality service drive successful restaurants, says Unique restaurant group’s director of wine and beverages Madeline Triffon, above. Morels, right, is only one of Unique’s concepts.