When referring to a person, it’s known as an “aura;” for a restaurant, most call it the “vibe.” However you slice it, the tone of a restaurant, can greatly impact its popularity and success, but what can it do for your bottom line? At our Columbus, OH-based, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants (CMR), we’ve found that setting the tone in our 17 restaurants is not only essential to our guests’ experience, but it is equally important to the total sales picture.
By making a fundamental change during the past four years in how CMR engages with our guests through beverages, we’ve been able to grow the percentage of beverage mix of total sales by seven percent in that same period for the entire company. We recognized that our guests’ overall experience expectations were becoming more and more sophisticated and took this as an opportunity to extend into the beverage arena. It began with a major shift in focus. Bars were once an afterthought, but today they represent a culinary approach complete with the use of industry experts, intensive staff involvement and training and a comprehensive beverage menu development process.
Our entire philosophy has evolved to maximize our guest experience and our ability to leverage that experience has resulted in increased profitability. Our bartenders are bar chefs. Our daily bar line checks happen with the same rigor and attention to detail as those in the kitchen. And we take an unparalleled visual approach to bar presentation, complete with state of the art lighting, soaring beverage displays and elegant granite bar tops: all elements we see contributing to the welcoming, energetic warmth guests will find in our restaurants.
Ingredients and presentation matter, and they need to be concept-correct. Whether it’s incorporating fresh fruits cut to order, hand-squeezed citrus or an on-site barista grinding coffee beans to order, the beverage approach can make all the difference. The specially selected ingredients that match the concept and the individual bars within the space, contribute to the overall vibe of the experience and help put guests in the right frame of mind for their environment.
A New Take on a Long-term Priority
The focus on beverage is most visible in our newest concept Ocean Prime, The Modern American Supper Club. The restaurant features steaks and seafood, handcrafted cocktails and an extensive wine list featuring more than 200 bottles of wine, priced from $30 to more than $300. All seven Ocean Prime locations incorporate multiple bar experiences in one restaurant, contributing to a more beverage dynamic concept, which allows our guests to experience the restaurant in three entirely different ways.
First is the main lounge. It offers a sexy, sophisticated, piano bar experience that’s ideal for cocktails with business associates after work during “Prime Hour” or a fun ladies’ night out. The cocktails served mirror that vibe with seasonal ingredients, visually appealing preparations and elegant presentations. Two of our specialty cocktails include our signature Berries and Bubbles, $13, made with Belvedere Cytrus Vodka, Marie Brizard Crème de Cassis, housemade sour, a float of Domaine Chandon Brut, and garnished with Gran Marnier-soaked blackberries; and our Cucumber Gimlet, $12, made with Bombay Sapphire Gin, simple syrup, hand-squeezed lime and fresh muddled cucumber, which is a modern take on a classic favorite.
And for guests seeking refined dining, Ocean Prime’s bar in the dining room is the restaurant’s main focal point and can meet guests’ desires for a romantic date night or serious business dinner. Beverage service is oriented to match in the dining room. For example, our associates shake and strain Martinis tableside in our dining room, adding to the supper club feel. Our concept brand DNA calls for world-class wines, and the dining room bar highlights those choices, complete with a dramatic wine room and tower located in the center of the restaurant.
On our patio bar outdoors, guests can relax in soft seating by one of our cozy fire elements and enjoy the sounds of our live piano music. In what is one of the most concept-appropriate and unique beverage presentations provided, Ocean Prime’s Scotch service stands out. All single-malt scotches, priced from $10 to more than $50, are served in a tulip glass on a silver platter, with a personal-sized pitcher of water and ice bucket, allowing guests to retain full control of their Scotch enjoyment.
As our guests enjoy the restaurant through the different established moods: from a cocktail or aperitif in the lounge, to a bottle of fine wine with dinner, to an after dinner drink on the patio, the experience will evolve over the course of the night as guests may move around and feel the different vibes within the space. As different areas swell, the entire restaurant, including how our associates serve our guests, evolves with them. That flexibility and adaptability is essential to maintaining multiple atmospheres within one concept and to ensuring guests leave the restaurant with an appreciation of the full experience, enhanced by the beverages.
Every detail is critical when developing concepts and the beverage philosophy is no exception. Whether it’s cutting-edge mixology, seasonal bar menus or associate interaction with guests, a focus on beverage and a traditional culinary approach can pay big dividends. That matters to the guest experience and it matters to the bottom line.