It’s challenging for any beverage director to keep up with changing trends and consumer preferences. And when you’re responsible for a national chain concept that specializes in fondue, it can be even harder to develop and roll out a drink program that’s vibrant and relevant.
So how does The Melting Pot do it? The chain’s National Beverage Director Paul Brown turns to creative limited-time offers and promotions based on trends and consumer demographics.
Founded in 1975 and operated by Tampa, FL-based Front Burner Brands, The Melting Pot now includes 142 locations. The chain had long emphasized its fine wines as part of the fondue dining experience in the U.S.
But more recently it, began to shift its focus on spirits, says Brown, who joined Melting Pot in 2011. He previously served as food and beverage controller and beverage director at The Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater Beach, FL.
One of The Melting Pot’s most successful LTOs was the “Top Cocktail” contest from summer 2014. The program used a format similar to reality TV competitions such as The Voice to engage consumers by having them vote for the winner. Five craft cocktails, each using a different base spirit and representing a wide variety of flavor profiles and drink styles, were developed and put up for a fan vote, Brown says.
The contenders, priced at about $8 each (prices vary by location), included the Sassy Senorita (Avión Silver tequila, pomegranate juice, fresh lime, muddled blueberries and Sprite); The Baller (Fireball Cinnamon whisky, muddled cherry and orange and ginger ale); Tiki Girl (Hendrick’s gin, Monin South Seas Blend syrup, pineapple juice and ginger ale); Zen Master (muddled cucumber and fresh lemon with Stoli Razberi and Sprite); and Sailor Jerry (Sailor Jerry spiced rum, Stoli Vanil vodka, Monin blackberry syrup, cranberry juice, topped with ginger beer and Angostura bitters).
Consumers could vote for their favorite selections on The Melting Pot website, or via cellular texts.
“The idea came to me one night around 3 a.m.,” Brown recalls. “I was texting it to my team, because I wanted to make sure I got everything down before I fell back asleep. The next morning I wasn’t quite sure what I had come up with―whether it would still be good in the light of day―but it got the thumbs up.”
Executing the program was a joint effort between Melting Pot’s in-house marketing team and the agency Patrick Henry Creative Promotions. To encourage people to vote, the restaurant entered participants into a chance to win a $250 Melting Pot gift card and other prizes; 20 winners were picked at random.
The winning cocktail, the Sassy Senorita, received 45,000 votes and joined Melting Pot’s 2014 core menu. “The contest was fun, and very successful,” Brown says. “We had over 100,000 page views on the voting site.”
What’s more, the contest aspect of the program enabled The Melting Pot to collect consumer emails for future digital marketing efforts.
Top Cocktail was a key part of The Melting Pot’s larger LTO shift at towards spirits, Brown adds. The efforts have resulted in a lift in sales in the category.
Winning Over Whiskey women
Nearly three quarters (70%) of The Melting Pot’s guests are women, something the chain keeps in mind when designing LTOs. A good example is its Women and Whiskey program, which ran Sept. 16 through Nov. 22 in 2014.
“It could have just been a whiskey program, but we wanted to make this one for our [core demographic of women],” says Brown. “You’ve always got to know who your main guests are” and appeal to them
Whiskey has been the fastest-growing spirits category during the past few years, thanks in large part to more women developing a thirst for brown spirits, Brown explains.
“People naturally associate whiskey as a drink of choice for men,” he continues. “But its appeal to women, as well as Millennials, is what’s driving its current popularity.”
The program showcased whiskey in several ways. For one, guests could customize their own flights ($9.95) from a number of brown spirits, including bourbon, Scotch, flavored whiskies and Irish expressions.
The LTO also featured five whiskey cocktails ($8.95 each, $5.95 during happy hour and other special events), such as The Alabama ’33 (Clyde May’s Alabama Style whiskey, apple juice, orange, ginger beer and spice) and Saloon Sour (Maker’s Mark bourbon, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, fresh lemon juice, peach syrup and Sprite).
The programs other whisky cocktails included the Kentucky Stone Sour (Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbon, blackberries and fresh lemon juice, topped with Dreaming Tree Crush red wine); Buck Be a Lady (Jameson Irish whiskey, muddled strawberries, Angostura bitters and ginger beer); and Preservation League (Monkey Shoulder Scotch, Cointreau, apricot preserves and fresh citrus juices).