At a time when every dollar counts, food and beverage promotions need to add fun and value for the guest, they also have to be profitable for the host. Our who’s-doing-what promotional sampler showcases ways operators are making that happen, from Hog & Barrel dinners that get guests in touch with their inner carnivore to grand giveaways, and spur-of-the-moment, social media-driven specials.
Call them what you like: Swine & Wine, Hooves & Hops, Lamb & Libations, etc., but dinners pairing wine, whiskey or beer with multiple courses of meat prepared every possible way can create more buzz than the traditional wine dinners. At Chef Michael Paley’s Proof on Main at the 90-room 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, KY, standard wine dinners topped out at 25 guests. Hoping to push the boundaries on that, last fall Paley asked himself, “What if we did a dinner with whiskey and pork?”
Not wasting any time, Paley secured three 300-pound locally raised English black pigs. He teamed with Julian Van Winkle of Van Winkle Bourbons to provide the whiskey and invited Chicago chef Paul Kahan to help prepare a special, one-night Hog and Barrel feast in December. The result was an overflow of 95-plus people at an all-inclusive $81 per head dinner where guests noshed on pork and sipped Bourbon cocktails. They then sat down for six pork-centric courses, each paired with different Bourbons. “Not only did we do really well that night, the event created a huge amount of buzz and bumped traffic for the entire month,” says Paley. He is now planning a Hog and Barrel, or wine or whiskey, dinner each fall.
With many guests’ travel and entertainment budgets cut to almost nothing, promotions that bundle special food and drink menus with tourism-sponsored travel prizes and local night-on-the-town deals are big draws. Portland, Oregon-based, 94-location McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants reeled guests in with a movie promotion in 2009 and a New Zealand promotion with a trip-giveaway in 2010. Response to the movie promotion was “overwhelming,” says Jennifer Parker, senior vice president of marketing.
While she is not allowed to release exact numbers, measuring results by ticket sales, increased dinner sales and the number of guests opting in for e-mail-list membership, the promotion was one of the chain’s most-successful yet. Focused on offering value “at a time when a lot of people weren’t dining out,” the chain tied the promotion to a lobster menu paired with Stella Artois draft and bottled beer. Summer beer sales were up considerably and the Lobster Steamer entrée, priced at $19.95, did so well, it moved onto the core menu.
On the heels of one successful endeavor, the New Zealand promotion featuring Kiwi-influenced offerings was so popular; it attracted three times more entries than any prior contest giveaway. Food features included items like Greenshell Mussel Fritters with a Cilantro-Roasted Garlic Pesto, $8.95, and Grilled New Zealand King Salmon with a Sauvignon Blanc Reduction, menued at $24.95. Suggested New Zealand wine pairings—Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc and The Crossing Pinot Noir—also did well. But sales of two Kiwi-themed specialty drinks were especially strong. “We had excellent reception of both The Kiwi Meringue Pie, price varies by unit, made fresh kiwi muddled with Stoli Vanil, Monin Kiwi, simple syrup and fresh-squeezed lemon juice, topped with handmade kiwi whipped cream, and The Kiwi Quencher, price also varies by unit, created with fresh kiwi and strawberries with Cruzan Aged Rum, Monin Kiwi and fresh-squeezed lemon juice topped with lemon-lime soda served over ice,” says Parker. The top-selling Kiwi Quencher is being brought back this summer.
At Chattanooga, TN-based Gordon Biersch, anchoring food and beverage promotions to different regions has also proven to be a winning promotional formula. Starting last year with six-week “Passport to…” Caribbean, Germany, the American Southwest and Hawaii food menus, Gordon Biersch saw sales of promotional menu items—which typically represent 10 percent of menu sales—climb to 15 to 16 percent of sales at the 35 units that participated. “And when we do these promotions with beer, we see the featured beer climb to 25 to 35 percent of all beer sales,” says Mike Curtis, vice president of marketing. During promotions, beer as an overall percentage of sales jumped from 17 ½ percent up to 18 percent of total sales.
Get a Room, Get a Cocktail
Food and beverage-focused promotions that allow operators to customize discounts to fit local tastes are a winning strategy for chain hotels and restaurants. Hoping to build on the success of Hyatt Hotel and Resorts’ popular “Sip and Dip” promotion, the property’s new, 2010 “Food Rules” promotion requires 100 Hyatt operators to choose three value-driven options from a menu of seven discounted food and drinks choices. A few of the options include Red, White & Brew Tuesdays, which feature a Burger or BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich with a Blue Moon beer for $9; and, Mix it Up! Thursdays, which offers an appetizer and choice of a Diamond Cosmopolitan, Classic Mojito or Diamond Bloody Mary for $7.
Meanwhile, San Francisco-based, 49-location Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants’ “Cocktail or Breakfast for Just $1 More” has boosted traffic an estimated 20 to 35 percent. Originally launched in 2008, as a breakfast deal, it was expanded to include the cocktail option in April 2009 and is still going strong. Guests receive a voucher at check-in, to be used at adjacent Kimpton restaurants and bars. Nearly 100 percent of guests redeem it. Kimpton estimates from 40 to 60 percent of guests go for the cocktail. While vouchers are good for any cocktail priced $13 or less, many locations use the promo to spotlight house specialties. Kimpton’s Bookstore Bar in Seattle, for example, highlights two signature cocktails: The Pulp Fiction, $9, made with Finlandia Vodka, cranberry and fresh grapefruit juice; and the Mark Twain, $9, made with Johnnie Walker Red, bitters and simple syrup. Meanwhile Kimpton’s Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar in Washington, D.C., features the Urbana Gimlet, $12, made with Tanqueray No. Ten gin and lime and grapefruit juices and simple syrup; and the Spici-tini, $11, which has Serrano chile pepper-infused Absolut Vodka, mango purée, simple syrup and fresh lemon.
Kimpton says guests that redeem vouchers for cocktails often stay to order regular-priced drinks. At Urbana approximately half of the guests order more drinks; 65 percent of guests order more at the Bookstore Bar. Kimpton also saw an increase in food orders as a result of the promotion. Close to three quarters of the people who came into to the Bookstore Bar to redeem their cocktail voucher, also ordered food.
Whether it is artisanal meat or innovative parings, unique promotions are driving crowds and check averages in the right direction for many operators.