While the Hard Rock Café is iconic, recognizable and memorable, some other chains have less of a stand-alone reputation: especially hotels. Tapping into guests’ desire to have a unique regional experience when traveling, Omni Hotels and Resorts launched “Homegrown” sections on their cocktail menus last year. The forty-five unit hotel chain, based in Irving, Texas, employed five renowned mixologists who each created a menu of cocktails priced from $12 to $13, inspired by and using regional ingredients from five areas of the United States. Breakfast in the Bluegrass, on the southern menu features Woodford Reserve Bourbon, muddled lemons and blueberries and maple syrup, garnished with a rosemary sprig; the Vineyard Margarita on the West Coast list mixes Patrón Silver Tequila with sauvignon blanc, lime, agave and brown sugar.
The days of guests walking into a hotel and being satisfied with a cookie cutter atmosphere and mentality are over, declares David Morgan, vice president of food and beverage for Omni Hotels and Resorts, who goes on to add that when traveling, “People want experience, comfort and sophistication.” He has found that Omni’s promotion appeals not only to cocktail lovers, but also to guests who wish to feel an authentic sense of place. Each list of “Homegrown” libations appears on a separate section of the drinks menu, along with a paragraph about the mixologist who created the drinks, and his or her inspiration. The feature was rolled out along with a training video; cheat sheet recipe cards behind the bar help during busy times.
In Morgan’s experience, two key elements are necessary for any successful beverage promotion. The first is the existence of a series of unique pieces that are compelling from a customer perspective, and difficult for competitors to replicate. To get to that point, operators need to draw inspiration from the bottom up rather than the top down: listening to customers and servers to not just meet, but exceed guests’ expectations. Omni marked a ten per cent increase in sales of specialty cocktails since the Homegrown promotion began, and plans to expand the concept this summer with a series of pool menus featuring regional sips and food.