For complete coverage of the event, including a spread of photos and a list of Supplier Award winners, click “Download Now” at the bottom of this article.
Beverage industry executives were drawn to Dallas in February for the 16th annual Cheers Beverage Conference. The event delivered targeted programming packed with actionable information on improving profits, incorporating trends and implementing best practices, among other topics geared to beverage management.
The two-day CBC 2013 program also offered tastings on vodka and emerging wines, updates on the latest beverage-alcohol research, and a craft spirits showcase, not to mention round-robin discussions on critical issues led by industry experts.
And creative cocktails were flowing at the fun networking events, including the Mad Men-themed reception, at which world-renown celebrity bartenders put their spins on the classics. Another party featuring the Dallas Bar Stars celebrated the top mixology talent of the Lone Star State.
In all, it was a great event. Here are some of the highlights of CBC 2013.
Five Tips to Boost Profitability
Every bar or restaurant operator wants to increase profits, but it’s always a balancing act in terms of doing what’s right for your concept and your customer. During a CBC panel discussion titled “Profits, Promotions and Pizzazz,” industry experts offered up some tips; here are five of them.
1. Concentrate on what’s right for your concept.
Focus on making your restaurant a place that people want to go to, said Randy DeWitt, CEO of multi-unit Twin Peaks. But that doesn’t mean embracing every trend. For instance, the chain’s audience is 90% men, he said, so a lot of the trendy, fruity drinks popular now wouldn’t be a fit for Twin Peaks.
Also, Twin Peaks sells primarily domestic light beer and serves it ice cold in a frozen mug. “That’s all horrifying to craft beer drinkers,” DeWitt admitted. “But that’s who our customer is, and we’re not going to try to fight that.”
2. Beware “SKU-mageddon”: Less is more.
With all of the options in spirits, wines and crafts beer today, it’s tempting to load up the bar with plenty of brands. But keeping it simple with fewer SKUs to manage saves time and money.
Tavistock Restaurants recently reduced its brand SKUs by 27%, says beverage director Mike Hanley. This saves considerable time in inventory management and ordering, he said.
3. Hold your people accountable.
“You need a bar manager with accountability,” said George Barton, a consultant who spent 35 years with TGI Friday’s. That means bar mangers must be able to clarify how they order, who their vendors are and what’s in their beverage book at any time.
It’s not just bar managers who should account for their work, however. Kip Snider, director of beverage for Yard House Restaurants, said that the chain does performance reviews for all workers. One thing to watch for in the bar: Make sure bartenders are using standard pours, Snider said, not only for profitability but also for drink quality and consistency.
4. Keep your happy hour promotions simple.
“Customers today don’t need a lot of clutter at happy hour,” Barton said. Make sure that the theme and offering expresses your concept, then have “a few great items priced properly—a beer or two, a wine or two, and a few spirits.”
5. Streamline processes and embrace shortcuts.
Some Tavistock Restaurants concepts offered a Clementini cocktail made with fresh clementines, Hanley said. But working with the seasonal fruit could be expensive and time-consuming. Switching to a puree brand proved to be more efficient without hurting the drink quality, he said.
Cheers Q&A with Steele Platt
Steele Platt opened the first Yard House restaurant in Long Beach, CA, in late 1996. He sold the beer-centric concept—now a 44-unit chain—to Darden Restaurants last year for $585 million. Platt, who delivered the CBC keynote address, talked with Cheers about his early days in the business, the Yard House story and what makes a restaurant successful.
CHEERS: You started your restaurant career in the trenches as a dishwasher and held most or all of the front-line service positions. Do you think that’s important to launching/running your own place?
STEELE PLATT: I knew I wanted to own a restaurant/bar at the age of 17. So when I worked in different restaurants while I was in college, I focused on watching what made guests happy. As a food server, I could really see what made the guest tick—what their likes and dislikes were. As the owner of a restaurant, you must know what keeps your customers coming back.
CHEERS: When you launched the Yard House in late 1996, the interest in craft beer had subsided from its height in the early ’90s. Did you have any idea then it would rebound and take off the way it has today?
PLATT: I owned a bar in Denver called The Boiler Room in 1989 where I offered 20 beers on tap, plus 80 different bottles of beer on the menu. In 1996, the microbrew explosion was in full effect and I thought it would be great to offer as many beer selections as I could on draft. I wanted 400 handles, but there wasn’t enough room so I settled on 250 beers on draft.
I think the transition from “microbrews” to “craft” beers is just another morph: Craft beers are a close derivative of microbrews. Craft beers have deeper personalities—edgy flavors, more experimentation—compared to the era of microbrews. I feel there are stronger and devote followers of craft beers—much more today then when microbrews started to evolve.
CHEERS: What, if anything, was easier than expected in launching/growing Yard House, and what was harder than you thought it would be?
PLATT: First off, there is nothing easy about building and owning a restaurant—nothing. I started Yard House with no money but with a strong conviction that my idea would be popular. What was hard was matching the concept with the people who could execute and operate it. It takes a personal daily commitment never to give up and to maintain the mindset of success without allowing others to talk you out of it.
CHEERS: Why was or is music so important to Yard House?
PLATT: I personally picked all the songs for every playlist each day. I felt classic rock-and-roll music was central to the success of the Yard House and that specific songs should be played at specific times of the day. Certain song titles and artists sound better played together; some song titles should be played at lunch and not at dinner. Atmosphere and energy is derived from music, and it quickly became Yard House’s atmosphere.
CHEERS: What advice would you give an entrepreneur launching a restaurant concept today?
PLATT: My advice would be to make sure your idea is unique and that it’s an idea that the public likes and will support. Sometimes I see entrepreneurs in the restaurant business only focus on what they think is a good idea, and that is a mistake. Then there is the obvious: money, good people, great location, a great chef—and 100% commitment to succeeding.
Embrace the Potential of Local Wines
Speaking in a session/tasting on emerging wines at the 2013 Cheers Beverage Conference on Feb. 12, Frost noted that offering local wine, beer and spirits can be a competitive advantage for operators. Local product offerings “let the guest know where they are” and help them remember the experience at your establishment.
Frost presented some unsung wines from regions in Spain, Portugal and Greece, as well as a Texas-made tempranillo. He defined a local wine as one in which “someone who is indigenous to the area could say, I know where that is made.”
For multiconcept, multiunit chain restaurant operators, it can be a challenge to go local, Frost said. You need to be able to give local management the authority to chose that 20% of the regional wine. But sometimes they will just choose different wines from the same national distributor—especially when they’re offered deals or discounts to do so.
Frost recalled working with one restaurant chain where he managed to get the wine list up to 60% local, 40% popular. But pretty soon, he said, “that 60% of local wine started looking like the old list” because the various locations were going after deals from the major distributors once they had the authority to chose 60% of the wine.
A Taste of Vodka With Tony Abou-Ganim
The differences in vodkas are very subtle, according to Tony Abou-Ganim, a.k.a. the Modern Mixologist. During a vodka session and tasting at the 2013 CBC, Abou-Ganim told attendees that “vodka is out there naked—it doesn’t hide behind botanicals or barrel aging” the way some other spirits do.
Vodka might be classified as a tasteless, odorless and colorless alcoholic beverage, but you’d never know it by some of the descriptors Abou-Ganim offered up. An organic American vodka, he said, brought to mind “corn mash” and “powdered sugar,” while a grape-based French vodka had a “very citrusy” and “floral” nose, specifically lilac blossoms. An Icelandic wheat vodka brand, was described as “stoney” with strong notes of pepper, and Swedish potato vodka had a palate of “dark chocolate and hazelnut.”
Abou-Ganim noted that vodka was a tough sell in the U.S. until the Moscow Mule caught on in the 1950s. Other vodka cocktails Abou-Ganim covered included the Vesper (“a great segway drink,” he said, since it includes gin and vodka, along with Lillet Blanc); the Cosmopolitan (which when made properly “should always be pink—not red,” thanks to the Cointreau); the Wizard (vodka, Cinzano Bianco, yellow Chartreuse); and The Flame of Love (vodka, sherry, flamed orange peels).“Never underestimate the importance of the garnish,” Abou-Ganim said, particularly a beautifully spiraled citrus peel.