The brand may be approaching its 50th anniversary, but Hard Rock International is hardly slowing down. The chain of rock ’n’ roll-centric restaurants, hotels and casinos in July opened a new multilevel 19,000-sq.-ft. flagship in London’s Piccadilly Circus (shown atop).
It will also unveil the world’s first guitar-shaped hotel this fall as part of an expansion and overhaul of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, FL. And the company this past June launched the most extensive menu innovation in its history. Hard Rock rolled out more than 20 new offerings in locations around the world, with a heavy focus on steak burgers and boozy milkshakes.
The global launch of the new menu coincided with Hard Rock’s Founders’ Day, June 14. That’s the date in 1971 that Americans Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton opened the doors to the first Hard Rock Cafe at Old Park Lane in London. Their mission: to serve the best burgers and milkshakes around the world.
The chain started expanding in 1982, opening locations in Los Angeles, Toronto, Paris, Tokyo, Berlin and other major cities. Hard Rock International, which last year moved its headquarters from Orlando, FL, to Hollywood, FL, today operates venues in 74 countries, including 186 Hard Rock Cafes, 240 Rock Shops, 29 hotels and 12 casinos.
Bar and beverage is key to the Hard Rock experience, which celebrates rock music and history; locations are known for their extensive collections of memorabilia such as guitars, artwork and costumes of rock legends. So how do you upgrade the beverage menu for an enduring brand?
Innovation is important, but as with music, you also want to honor the classics and update them with unique twists. That’s the approach that Brittany Deloach, Hard Rock International’s director of beverage operations, took in revamping the chain’s program.
Deloach joined Hard Rock in October 2017. She came from Outback Steakhouse parent company Bloomin’ Brands, where she had worked for in a variety of beverage positions for 13 years. That’s also where she met Leigh Merritt, who is now Hard Rock’s vice president of food and beverage.
Deloach and her beverage managers, Jacqueline Laverde and Katherine Cook, spent months visiting different Hard Rock Cafe locations. They determined that the bar and beverage operations tended to be more complex than necessary.
For instance, Deloach says, “we had more cocktails than food items, and we had more mixers than cocktails.”
They spent time cleaning up the beverage lineup and simplifying execution. “We had to clear the runway for new items,” Deloach explains.
With her first core beverage menu update for Hard Rock in June 2018, Deloach reduced the number of signature cocktails offered from 34 to 16. She focused on putting spins on the classics and incorporating trending flavors.
For example, the Classic Caribbean Mojito, made Bacardi Superior rum, fresh mint, lime juice and sparkling soda, includes a floater of Bacardi Añejo Cuatro rum and a powdered-sugar-dusted mint flower. The Strawberry Mojito combines freshly muddled strawberries with www.cheersonline.com basil instead of mint with Malibu coconut rum and lime juice, topped with sparkling soda.
The beverage team did considerable research when revamping its menu. “We looked at global flavor trends, and passion fruit kept coming up—especially in Europe,” Deloach says.
So the beverage team took the Mai Tai cocktail and incorporated that tropical flavor. Hard Rock’s Passion Fruit Mai Tai combines Sailor Jerry spiced rum, passion fruit and a blend of traditional Tiki flavors, and is topped with an edible flower.
As a flavor, “peach was not on our core menu,” Deloach notes, but the stone fruit shined in several seasonal beverages. One is the Summer Peach Tea, with Jameson Caskmates Irish whiskey, fresh-brewed iced tea, white peach, fresh lemon and mint.
A standout cocktail this summer was the Strawberry Peach Sangria, which blends crisp white wine with St. Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh strawberries, peach and lemon juices finished with a splash of soda. “We are having fun with sangrias— they are a good introduction to wines for our guests,” says Deloach.
Hard Rock is in the process of relaunching its wine program. Of all the beverage alcohol segments, Deloach notes, “wine has been the weakest, so it’s been the last area to optimize.”
Given that “my past [work] life was very wine-heavy,” Deloach thinks there is great potential with wine at Hard Rock. Wine is intimidating for many people, she adds. The question is, “how do we make wine fun and approachable?”
Incorporating it into a cocktail such as a Sangria or Mule “is a great way to introduce guests to the world of wine,” Deloach says. For example, the Rhythm & Rosé Mule combines Absolut vodka, Torres de Casta rosé, passion fruit, green tea and lime finished with Fever-Tree ginger beer, served in a signature Hard Rock Mule mug.
A summer beverage spotlight was the Sparkling Blue Hawaii, which combines Malibu coconut rum, Absolut Citron vodka, blue Curaçao with fresh lime juice and pineapple juice and is finished with prosecco.
Beer, Burgers and Shakes
Hard Rock revamped its beer program in December 2018, optimizing the product selection and enabling each restaurant to feature local selections. It’s not just about selecting the brands, though. Hard Rock worked worked with its partner, IMI agency, on staff training and instituting best practices for beer pouring, serving, etc.
The company is focusing on beer for its initial “Band Camp” food and beverage pairings, which was scheduled to launch in August. For the Headliner Burgers and Beer program, Hard Rock taught the team fundamentals of how different flavor profiles pair with different brews and how flavors interact.
Beer pairings are key for Hard Rock’s new lineup of steak burgers, which include a BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger and the Double Decker Double Cheeseburger, a tribute to Hard Rock’s 1971 “Down Home Double Burger” and the iconic double decker buses reminiscent of the brand’s London roots.
The jewel in Hard Rock’s burger crown is its 24-Karat Gold Leaf Steak Burger. Priced at $24.95 in all locations, the ½-lb. Steak Burger topped with 24-Karat edible gold leaf with Tillamook cheddar cheese, leaf lettuce, vine-ripened tomato and red onion. Through the Hard Rock Heals Foundation, a portion of all proceeds from the 24-Karat Gold Leaf Steak Burger will benefit Action Against Hunger to assist in the fight against world hunger.
Hard Rock’s new boozy shakes are also meant to pair with the burgers. These include Cookies n’ Cream, made with Absolut vanilla vodka, vanilla bean ice cream, white chocolate and Oreo cookies, with whipped cream and a chocolate Oreo churro; and Strawberry Cheesecake, with Absolut vanilla vodka and vanilla ice cream blended with the flavors of strawberry cheesecake, with white chocolate whipped cream and frosted animal crackers.
LTOs and no-ABV
Hard Rock Cafe plans to offer limited-time milkshake varieties timed to special occasions or holidays, Deloach says. Fan-favorite milkshakes that debuted for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Pride month gave guests a sneak peek at these exclusive boozy beverages that will be released throughout the year.
One LTO example is its Freddy for a Day promotion honoring Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s Sept. 5 birthday. Hard Rock has been celebrating the day for the past five years; this year, it’s Freddy For A Week.
From Sept. 5 to Sept. 12, Hard Rock Cafes are offering Freddie’s Mustache Milkshake, a hot fudge milkshake with dark-chocolate moustache garnish. For every drink sold, Hard Rock will donate $1 to the Mercury Phoenix Trust, a U.K. charity created in Mercury’s memory by Queen band members Brian May and Roger Taylor and manager Jim Beach to support the global fight against HIV/AIDS. The boozy shakes can also be ordered without alcohol.
Non-alcoholic or “Alternative Rock” drinks are a considerable part of Hard Rock’s business, Deloach says, especially during the summer when kids are out of school and families are traveling. Hard Rock has been focusing on testing flavors for the Alternative Rock offering. This past summer it promoted the Non-Alcoholic Pineapple Lemonade, which shakes hand-muddled pineapples with a sparkling lemonade, finished with a grilled pineapple slice.
The new London flagship restaurant will serve as sort of a testing ground for new drinks and menu items. For instance, Hard Rock has been offering a Fresh Pineapple Martini with a cotton candy garnish in Picadilly, as well as seven other locations.
Testing allows Hard Rock to identify best practices with new offerings, such as garnishes and glassware, before rolling them out in 2020. Deloach says Hard Rock has been using a coupe glass for the Fresh Pineapple Martini vs. a traditional Martini glass. The coupe design is more trend-forward, she notes, it also holds an ample amount of liquid.
“Glassware is super important,” Deloach says, “especially with our souvenir glassware sales.” The beverage team will work with marketing team on potential opportunities to do a souvenir glass with a drink. Hard Rock’s cocktail prices range from about $9.50 to $13 depending on location, and $14.99 with a signature Hurricane glass.
The company is coming out with a stemless logoed wine glass. Rather than the signature Hard Rock logo with a circle, the wine glass has a simple guitar logo. “It addresses the brand without standing on the brand,” Deloach says.
The wine glass is also embossed with pour marks, making it easier for bartenders to quickly execute wine orders. Hard Rock will be using a 6-oz. pour mark, she notes, “but we did a second pour mark on the glass if we opt to go for larger pours.”
DeLoach has focused on bringing a bit of culinary into the beverage program. For instance, the Rockin’ Fresh Rita—a simple, classic cocktail—incorporates a spice blend that the kitchen uses in barbeque. “We mix it with a little sugar to create a slightly spicy, sweet/salty rim for the cocktail,” Deloach says.
Even the company’s annual Bar Rocker contest has evolved as of this year to the Burger & Bar Rocker competition, Deloach says. “We wanted to recognize burger and cocktail innovation rather than just flair,” she notes.