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Raising The Bar

BITAC® F&B Panel Examines Untapped Opportunities In Beverage Programs

Thursday, January 23, 2020
Dennis Nessler
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The increased importance and potential profitability of the beverage aspect of food & beverage was a point of emphasis among several key executives as BITAC® Food & Beverage, which got underway earlier this week at The Mirage in Las Vegas.

During a panel session entitled “Raising The Bar: Flipping The F&B Script,” a handful of executives discussed everything from signature cocktails and the importance of staff to managing inventory.

Don Falgoust, vp, F&B, RLJ Lodging Trust, provided some context for the movement away from traditional hotel restaurants.

“Quite frankly people want to leave your hotel to go eat at night, but you can get them down to have a glass of wine, cocktail, a beer or something to snack on. I believe personally that is absolutely the right tack,” he said.

Falgoust later added, “I would just tell you that we’re designing spaces now that are much more beverage-centric.”

Laurelle Kyte, corporate director of food & beverage, NewcrestImage, reinforced the point.

“We’re really focusing on our cocktail programs, not a lot of people go to eat at the hotel lobby bar or outlet that’s not fully activated. So I think it’s changing how we’re thinking about activating the outlets and really focusing on the cocktail liquor programs—where the majority of the profit is coming from—and getting away from these full dinner menus to more small bites that pair with the cocktails,” she said, later adding that having something that is instagrammable is “very important these days.”

Anjali Kundra, co-founder and vp, Partender, also weighed in on the importance of signature cocktails.

“From the consumer side, my friends and I spend the majority of our disposable income on food and beverage because it is about the experience. For us I know that really novelty drives everything. But you need to make sure that that novelty is accessible and exposed. You can have the most novel, most amazing product but if no one knows that it exists it doesn’t matter,” said Kundra.

Meanwhile, a couple of the owner/operators agreed that brand standards can sometimes get in the way of the overall experience and personal service.

Steve Kaiser, corporate director of F&B, PM Hotel Group, commented, “One of the most important things is we just need to get away from brand standards and SOPs, and the things that everybody else thinks we should be doing and focus on the people that are doing it.”

“I think for the most part brand standards were really created in an incubation tank. They’re really not related to what is happening in the free-standing restaurant and lounge industry. These brand standards come out and they have ulterior motives, whether it’s marketing dollars or whatever they may be, but what they fail to do is to recognize that when people are looking for a place to go what are they looking for is an overall experience. And they’re looking for a socially interactive experience,” asserted Falgoust.

He further added that more important than things like corporate standard uniforms and cocktail programs are “the employees.”

The panelists unilaterally agreed that the employees are critical, particularly the bartenders, to any successful outlet.

“One of the most important people driving the success of your bar or restaurant is your bartender. Yet that’s probably the person we’re more worried about whether or not his check is in front of his guest or if he is pouring with a doo-hickey. We look at all the details and we don’t look at how important that individual is to that neighborhood or to those repeat customers,” said Kaiser.

Kyte pointed out that her company has recognized the importance of this position.
“We raised the minimum wage for our bartenders to attract a little bit more of a mixologist versus just a bartender and I think allowing them to be creative with the program has been beneficial. I think when it comes to the bar program it’s hiring people that have that passion and creativity for the cocktails that really want to give that service and be proud of what they’re presenting,” she noted.

Kundra, meanwhile, also offered a nod to empowering employees.
“There is such an impactful result that comes out when you can empower someone. You can take someone that’s actually very passionate but doesn’t have experience because they don’t actually know what the limitations and the conventions are of our industry. They’re going to be able to break that mold versus someone who’s maybe been trained in a certain way,” she added.

Falgoust further touted the importance of energy and enthusiasm while recommending a different approach to staffing up.

“My charge to properties is don’t hire experience. We keep HR out of the equation as much as we can; we’re hiring personalities and we’re hiring energy and enthusiasm. We’ll teach them. That’s a lot of work for the management teams, but that’s a heck of a lot easier than hiring a new employee that goes in there and they have all this experience and most of the time that experience translates to not what you wanted to do. That might not be good experience,” he said.

The panelists stressed the importance of managing inventory as a critical element of success for making sure their properties are profitable, not to mention as a means of obtaining key information.

“It’s always so fascinating that we go looking for the latest trends when a lot of times as operators you already have the trends within your four walls. I think that everyone should start looking at their inventory data in a different way. It is your trend data, it is showing you what is actually being poured out,” noted Kundra.

Kyte noted that paring back her inventory has helped boost her bottom line. “What I’ve really done is reduce our inventories all around. Gone are the days where you need to have 15 or 20 different beers… Short [wine] lists have really been successful in limiting our inventory, which has helped our costs and we can focus on the quality of our cocktails and really pushing that for our profit margins,” she noted.

Falgoust, meanwhile, noted the experience is key when it comes to large parties as well. “Big hotels have always had the square footage to accommodate those big parties but as you look over the last five or six years our within our portfolio you look at a decline in those smaller parties of 50 to 200 people. Why is that? They want to experience free-standing restaurants and that’ s where people are having their parties now because that’s the vibe they want. That’s the experience they want,” he said.

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Dennis Nessler    Dennis Nessler
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