A Sea-worthy Beverage Revamp

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2019 Cheers BevX Award Winners
Best Multi-Concept Hospitality Beverage Program: Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line operates nearly 180 bars and lounges throughout its fleet of 16 ships.

The Miami-based company in January 2018 launched a two-year revamp of its beverage offerings and menus across all those outlets. And after one year, it’s already seeing positive results.

“The beverage industry has significantly changed in the last five to six years,” says Wes Cort, Norwegian’s vice president of food and beverage operations. “Craft beer and craft cocktails are both huge phenomenons, and the wine category is more diverse—including grapes from all parts of the world and non-traditional wines.”

These changes have had a major impact on the cruise industry. “Guests expect when they take a cruise, they’ll find the same trends and offerings on the menu in their neighborhood restaurant,” he says.

The improvements that Norwegian has made across its menus include upgrading to higher-value brands for well pours, adding more iconic brands to back bars, reducing prices to increase value for wines by-the-bottle, showcasing featured drinks and focusing on “beverage-specialized” outlets on board new ships.

As a result, the beverage category has outperformed every other segment of hotel operations for the company and has significantly boosted overall guest satisfaction. During the 12 months ending in August 2018, Norwegian saw a 2% increase in beverage revenue, a 1% increase in guest satisfaction with bars and lounges and a 2% increase in guest-reported drink quality fleetwide.

By the end of the two-year revamp, the company expects to increase sales by 9% compared to 2016 and continue to increase guest satisfaction with the drink quality and service on all of its ships.

Balancing brands

“The reaction from our guests has been great,” Cort says. “When we launched the Bliss [ship] in 2018, customers were floored when they walked onboard and saw District Brew House carrying 100 beers,” with 24 brews on tap. “They’re amazed to get their favorite beers at sea, including some from around the world.”

Still, a bar or lounge cruise ship is quite different from an on-premise establishment on land. Cort and his team must be mindful of the unique issues they face when changing menus, procedures and products.

For instance, “We have the challenges of limited space and restocking opportunities to overcome,” Cort says. “If we sail from Miami and find that people are drinking a lot of Heineken, we can’t just call for a delivery.”

But Norwegian has put a dynamic program in place, he adds. “We don’t carry a lot of brands just to carry them–each one has to be current, on-trend and popular with guests.”

Tapping kegged cocktails

One program the company introduced to increase efficiency and save space is Cocktails on Tap, developed with mixology consultant Kathy Casey. Cocktails are made in batches and delivered via kegs as part of the on-board tap lineup. First introduced in 2018 on the Bliss, Norwegian soon plans to roll them out to other ships.

“Guests are thrilled with how good the cocktails are,” Cort says. “Since the launch, we’ve added mobile cocktail-on-tap units and we’re continuing to expand.”

In fact, he says, “We’ve contracted Kathy and her team for the future to curate a menu of consistently quality cocktails—we’ll be reducing beers in some venues in order to add cocktails into our tap system fleetwide.”

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