Award sponsored by Pernod Ricard USA.
When looking to reinvigorate its cocktail program almost three years ago, the Phoenician did the unthinkable: It axed its drinks menu. Gone. No replacement. The 583-room, Scottsdale, Ariz. resort also removed all its well spirits.
“The focus is on the spirit,” explains Thomas “Mac” Gregory, food and beverage director. “If you ask for the cocktail, we then ask you what type of vodka you want.” The resort’s new beverage menus are organized by spirit type, country and price, not a particular drink.
The new menus are meant to engage customers and drive sales. “The servers can’t just put a Margarita into the register,” notes Gregory. “The only way to ring up a cocktail is to have a full conversation about the base spirit… It creates an up-sell with every drink ordered.” The property’s unique take on spirits sales has earned it a Cheers Best Chain Spirits Program Award, sponsored by Pernod Ricard USA.
And, according to Gregory, guests enjoy the discussion. “I don’t think people come in here looking to be sold something,” he notes. “Our job is to make what they want. My responsibility is offer great guest interactions—no order-takers work for me.”
To get guests on the same page, menus concisely explain the concept at the pool bars, where guests may have less time to discover it themselves. “It’s as easy as 1-2-3. First pick your tequila, pick mixer and then pick flavor.” They tailor it to where the guest is ordering the drink. Staff members are not given specific spirits to sell, but most do have their favorites. “A good associate will talk about the higher-priced rums when someone comes in asking for a Piña Colada,” Gregory says.
The goal is to create the artisanal, custom-made experience normally associated with cocktail geek haunts. “Even when people come back to the bar four or five times in a visit, they are having a unique experience every time,” explains Gregory. And the staff can make just about any drink a person can think up. “If people don’t know what they want, we treat it as if they don’t know what type of wine they want,” he says. “We talk about what types of drinks they normally like, and use the menus as a tool to guide them through the experience. We get to educate them on the spirit.”
The spirits list consists of a diverse mix of brands and types, but it doesn’t feature any two of the same flavor. “We don’t duplicate flavors,” says Gregory. “We have only one lemon vodka and one orange rum. When we add a product, it can and does change the product list.” Under Gregory’s direction, the Phoenician built one of the largest Tequila lists in the country with more than 400 Tequilas, priced from $3 to more than $600, including the El Tesoro Paradiso Phoenician Private Label Tequila. The spirits list also features 87 vodkas, priced $6 to $35, and 30 gins, $6 to $35, which are served as tableside Martinis, complete with various infused olive and onion garnishes. Sixty rums, priced $6 to $75, also are prominently featured at the pools, among other locations throughout the hotel.
Training is key, as the associates are tasked with educating the customers. “We do informal and formal training,” says Gregory. “Formal training occurs once a month and is mainly taught by one of the four members of my team.”
In addition, all classes are available for free to all associates, including housekeepers, valets and more. After all, these people have direct interaction with the customers as well. “People all over the property are ambassadors,” Gregory notes. “We have three or four valets that are certified sommeliers.”
Valet sommeliers? Now that’s a unique experience.