Hundreds of beverage industry executives gathered in New Orleans for the 15th annual Cheers Beverage Conference, held at the Astor Crowne Plaza. The lineup of talented speakers, seminars and tastings was enthusiastically received by attendees. Feedback was also highly positive on the launch of the one-day Executive Development Forum, created to give additional perspective and insight on the business to Cheers’ editorial board.
The day-long executive forum was created to cater to Cheers’ top chain operators. The lineup of two-hour workshops featured two dynamic speakers: information-contextualizer Paul Bridle and Clark Wolf of the Clark Wolf Company.
Bridle’s speech addressed ways to take a fresh look at leadership, training and motivation. He likened many types of business to a game of golf, in which you are competing with yourself as opposed to others. He also urged restaurants to think of what is new and innovative that they bring to the plate. He also encouraged operators to try to stay ahead of the game through innovation.
Wolf touched on restaurant trends, innovative merchandising programs and how to bring greater diversity to the restaurant business. He also touched on the range of inventive non-alcoholic beverage programs can be merchandised such as sodas, slushes and other ingredients like coconut water. He added that two of the best strategies for bars are either to give guests a strong sense of place or completely transport the guest to somewhere else. He also emphasized the importance of simplifying food and keeping it local.
Getting Down to Business
The first official day of the conference kicked off with a variety of round robin table discussions, focused on everything from current trends to private labels. It was followed by a welcome speech from this year’s emcee Andrew Freeman of the public relations and marketing company Andrew Freeman and Co.
Two keynote speeches followed from Coby Brooks—formerly of Hooters—of La Cima Restaurant and Wolf. Brooks talked about his history in the wine business and Wolf touched on food and drink trends inspired by a local restaurant in New Orleans where he had dined the previous night.
The afternoon was focused on hands-on tasting seminars and a three-hour social media boot camp. Fred LeFranc and Laura Grosse, both of Results thru Strategy Inc., talked to attendees about how to best use a variety of sites, from Twitter to Foursquare. Tony Abou-Ganim, The Modern Mixologist, walked operators through a high-energy rum seminar and Robert Plotkin of BarMedia moderated a panel on fresh mixology on which Jeff Ruth of Monin Gourmet Flavorings; Dean Serneels, of American Beverage Marketers; and Kathy Casey of Kathy Casey Liquid Kitchen were panelists. Madeline Triffon—formerly of the Matt Prentice Restaurant Group—from Plum Market taught a seminar on unusual wines and Sean Finter of Barmetrix and Jeffrey Maguire of Pulse held a workshop on the keys to production operator and supplier relationships.
The last two seminars of the day were cocktail-focused. Junior Merino of The Liquid Chef Inc. and Emmaunuel Laroche of Symrise focused on Latin spirits and influences on cocktails. Kathy Casey and Keith Waldbauer, of Kathy Casey Food Studios, held a tasting focused on how to easily executive a wide range of popular cocktails.
The final day of the Cheers conference in New Orleans offered a host of great speakers and tastings. Emcee Andrew Freeman started off the program by introducing Peter Sims—author of Little Bets—who touched on his theory that all great ideas are born from simple visions and risks.
Sims’ presentation was followed by a panel moderated by David Farkas, which covered a range of topics from promotions and happy hours to how they roll out beverage menu changes. The panelists included Helen Mackey of Ruth’s Chris Hospitality Group, Leigh Merritt of Bonefish Grill and Tim McEnery of Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant. The supplier awards were presented to outstanding wine, beer and spirits providers chosen by Cheers editorial board. This year’s winners included AB-InBev, Boston Beer, Constellation, Kobrand, Beam, William Grant, Cola-Cola, Finest Call and Patrick Henry Creative Promotions.
The afternoon featured five unique seminars and tastings. Michael Ginley of Next Level Marketing presented some strategic trends and data. Bartender Phil Ward of Mayahuel and Katie Stipe of Prime Meats and The Shanty presented an extensive tequila tasting. Sean Finter of Barmetrix and Jeffrey Maguire of Pulse presented a seminar on hiring and training top staff. The Brewers Association’s Julia Herz provided an insightful look at craft beers. The mixologist duo of Adam Seger of Hum Spirits and Mac Gregory of Starwood Hotels wrapped up the day with their insights on what is on the beverage horizon.
The all-star lineup of speakers over the course of the conference exposed attendees to a host of new ideas and flavors.
Coca-Cola was the conference’s diamond sponsor. Other sponsors included Finest Call, Atlas Imports, Beam, BevIntel, Evian, Hamilton Beach, iMi Agency, Island Oasis, Kindred Spirits, Layer Cake Wines, Libby, National Beef, New Belgium Brewing, Pisco Portón, Red Bull, Acqua Panna, Serralles USA, ServSafe Alcohol, SmartBar, Steelite International, Terressentia, Tito’s Vodka and White Rock Distilleries.