Best Chain Beverage Merchandising Program
Carrabba’s Italian Grill knew that customers expected and wanted to enjoy wines with an Italian meal. But when the Tampa-based restaurant chain realized that many of its guests were reluctant to ask their early twenty-something servers about wine, it was a “wow moment,” says director of beverage Shelly Hurley.
“The education component was missing” from Carrabba’s wine program, Hurley says. She and her team noted that offering clients a taste of wine often assures a direct sell, and giving them some background information and structure in ordering also goes a long way. So Carrabba’s launched “Tasting Tuesdays” this past August.
The wine flights program includes an iPhone and iPad “Uncorked” application (an app for Droid devices is scheduled to launch in early 2013). The Uncorked app walks customers through the wines, their flavor profiles, a bit of background on them and a few short facts, with quizzes for testing knowledge and a diary to log their progress.
Then there’s the wine wheel, which is brought to the table to help customers choose. The wheel features three whites and three reds available in flights of three 2-oz. pours; each trio is priced at $8. The wine wheel was originally destined just to be used once in a while, but it’s now often part of the lineup many nights a week in the chain’s 232 locations. “It gets the conversation going,” Hurely adds.
A SERVICE TO SERVERS
The promotion has been as good for customers as staff, in that these three to six wines are selections that servers become firmly acquainted with over the time they are featured on the wine wheel. The wines featured are culled from the chain’s 28-wine core list and placed on a detailed wine map.
“Servers really love it and see it as a tool that allows them to interact with wine,” Hurley notes. She adds that wine wheel nights are the only ones when employees are able to bring their phones on the floor and are often eagerly seen helping out customers.
Carrabba’s spent months researching and developing the tools for the program, Hurley hopes these applications will help to convey how serious the chain is about wine service. “We needed to put it in [the customers’] hands and let them make decisions,” she says about the impetus to launch the promotion.
Not everyone can “taste the peaches,” and zero in on specific wine descriptors, Hurley adds. The wine wheel, apps and tasting flights have opened the interactive wine tasting experience to consumers on many different levels of wine expertise.
Carrabba’s Italian Grill
Based: Tampa, FL
Number of units: More than 200 locations
Parent company: Bloomin’ Brands