Award sponsored by American Beverage Marketers, Inc.
When running a multi-concept drink program, it’s as important to look at the strengths of the individual concepts and know when to develop for the group as it is to know when not to share among concepts. This works for Stuart Melia, corporate director of beverage, at Nashville, Tennessee-based O’Charley’s Inc, which runs 235 O’Charley’s, 116 Ninety Nine and 11 Stoney River Legendary Steaks.
“From my standpoint, it’s exciting to work on things that are strong in their own right,” he says about the group’s focus on quality. “When developing and rolling out new drinks, it all starts with us getting excited about it.” He adds that it’s important to give his team “something they feel confident in.” It also helps that O’Charley’s and Ninety Nine don’t compete geographically. O’Charley’s is based in Nashville and Ninety Nine is based in Woburn, Mass. For the unique vision the chain has demonstrated in running individual restaurants it has received the Cheers Best Chain Multi-Concept Beverage Program, sponsored by American Beverage Marketers,
Because they don’t compete, the two casual dining restaurants feature some of the same cocktails. “We do a lot of cross-functional things from O’Charley’s and Ninety Nine,” Melia notes. “Overall, what will be exciting at O’Charley’s should work in Ninety Nine and vice versa. Our most successful drinks are at both concepts.”
For example, the Tangerine Grapefruit Margarita ($6.49), which is made with Jose Cuervo Gold and O’Charley’s Margarita mix, was introduced at O’Charley’s and followed at Ninety Nine a month later. The chain took some popular drinks at Ninety Nine and debuted them with success at O’Charley’s. Two of these are the Hypnotiq Ocean Martini ($6.99), made with Hypnotiq and Malibu Coconut Rum and the Mudslide Martini ($6.99), a mix of Kahlúa, Bailey’s and Stoli Vanil Vodka. Another is the Cotton Candy Cosmo ($7.49), made with SKYY Vodka, cotton candy and cranberry juice.
“Developing new drinks for multiconcepts at the same time makes sense because we can share preparation techniques, reduce costs and increase profitability,” he says. “We were able to take ideas we garnered through much research and development. We found emerging trends that would work for the large concepts.”
It’s also important to determine when not to share between concepts. For example, Stoney River doesn’t feature drinks from other restaurants, as Melia has chosen to develop and focus on this concept’s own program. “It’s a steakhouse that is really well complemented by the wine program,” he says, adding that Stoney’s Sugar Plum Cosmo ($8), made with Pearl Vodka, is at Stoney River could work at other concepts.
“Having these three concepts, we have a lot of great relationships and volume that allows us to utilize our beverage partnerships to get guaranteed allocation of certain wines for Stoney River, which has 50-plus wines,” explains Melia. For example, they partnered with Majestic Fine Wines for an exclusive wine buy with Murphy Goode. “This past year Stoney River had an exclusive on the Claret [French Bordeaux] for that concept and featured it at a very attractive price point.”
The results have been promising, with sales increases coinciding with the introduction of new drinks. “We are going to challenge those larger than us with innovative beverage offerings,” says Melia. He adds, “We are not a nationwide chain …. We have to truly deliver great service and great food and beverage to ensure people come back even though they see other restaurants’ commercials. I believe we are achieving the status of a challenger brand when we see larger national chains roll out a cocktail like the Cotton Candy Cosmo a year after we introduced it,” he notes with pride.