Beverages sometimes take a backseat to food at clubs and resorts. But thoughtfully curated and promoted offerings of both spirited and spirit-free libations can reap high profit margins, while enhancing member and guest interest and loyalty.
It’s every oenophile’s dream to have a personal wine cellar. And at the Hyperion Field Club in Johnston, Iowa, members can always ensure that their favorite bottles are available by renting a wine locker.
About 50 couples rent 16-bottle wine lockers at Hyperion for an annual fee of $375. Some share their lockers with fellow wine aficionados. Those who rent lockers can also purchase wine at the club, for 15% above cost.
|Summing It Up
• Showcase local sources as featured varieties throughout your wine, beer and spirits menus.
• Seasonal sells, so drink menus should always feature a rotation of timely choices.
• Serve the kids, too, with creative non-alcoholic concoctions.
Hyperion’s wine-locker program, which was introduced about three-and-a-half years ago, began with an offering of 12 lockers. Today there are 27, and a 20-member waiting list. “We’re selling wine out of our ears,” says Evan Summa, Hyperion’s Assistant General Manager/Clubhouse Manager.
“When members have their own wine collection here, they are more likely to dine here as well,” Summa adds. “They also like to bring guests and order from their private cellars.”
Local and small-production wines are particularly popular at Hyperion. The club’s menu boasts over 300 labels and accounts for between $200,000 and $250,000 in annual revenues, according to Summa.
Summa adds an upscale touch to his club’s wine service by using a wide variety of Riedel glasses. Each glass is specially shaped to bring out the best in a specific type of wine. Servers are educated on which glass goes with each wine.
“We also use special stemless glasses for our martinis,” he points out. “They look great and they’re easier for the servers to handle.”
Freshening the Drinks
Members at River Place Country Club in Austin, Texas—and especially women—are also showing an increasing interest in wine, particularly local and boutique varieties, says Erika Tucker, Director of Catering and Special Events.
“Instead of sticking with the traditional pinot noir and chardonnay, they are asking us for wines they have tried elsewhere and enjoyed,” she says. “That’s encouraging us to freshen up our wine menu and bring in new varieties for them to try.”
When Cherry Creek Country Club in Denver, Colo., opened the new Mixed Grill extension to its bar in January of this year, it more than doubled its wine selection and inventory, says club owner Karen Hart. The casual facility, which seats about 42, is often overflowing with members sipping old favorites and trying new varieties.
In the Des Moines, Iowa area, where the Hyperion Field Club is located, craft beers are also a big thing, Summa explains. So beer varieties are constantly being rotated in and out, and food-pairing dinners have become very popular. When craft-beer purveyors come in to introduce new brews, the club’s front- and back-of-the-house staffers are included in the educational sessions.
“When we do pairing dinners, the kitchen staff cooks with the beers, so we want them to be as familiar as possible with them,” Summa explains.
River Place has six beer taps, half of which are dedicated to local brews. The selection changes seasonally. “Austin is booming with locally crafted beers and liquors, and if you don’t keep your selection cool, fun and fresh, members will go elsewhere,” Tucker says.
One of River Place’s most successful events of the year was “Textoberfest,” a two-day showcase for local beers and food featuring tastings from four local breweries and innovative fare such as beer-battered Brussels sprouts and “beeramisu,” made with cookies soaked in espresso and stout.
“The breweries came out at no charge to us and they even brought ‘swag bags,’” Tucker reports. “The members loved interacting with them.”
Service Stars at the Bar
Behind every bar should be a person who knows how to mix a good drink. But he or she doesn’t have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of cocktails to make your club or resort the go-to spot for members and guests.
While bartenders at River Place Country Club in Austin, Texas are expected to have an understanding of various liquors and ingredients and how they pair together, it is just as important that they learn how to develop special rapport with members and guests.
“Our members want to be catered to; they like and expect personal service,” says Erika Tucker, the club’s Director of Catering and Special Events. “That can mean creating special cocktails just for them based on their personal liquor and flavor profile preferences.” Members can then come in and order “their” drink and bartenders know what to make, she notes.
At the Hyperion Field Club in Johnston, Iowa, the bar manager will sometimes mix up something new and send it out for members to taste. “Younger members, especially, like to have fun with their drinks, so they are always open to trying a new cocktail,” notes Evan Summa, Hyperion’s Assistant General Manager/Clubhouse Manager.
Always in Season
Seasonal potables can often attract a special following and provide new reasons to make a club or resort property the cocktail lounge of choice. Popular new concoctions at the Hyperion Field Club, Summa reports, have included last winter’s whiskey-based Hottie Toddies and various riffs on martinis such as the Snowflake, made with vanilla vodka.
And as the summer heat rises, sales of Hyperion Lemonade, made with Absolut Cilantro, club soda, a splash of lemonade and a lemon slice, start to sizzle. “We sold a ton of those at the pool this year,” says Summa, who notes that frozen drinks, in fruit and other fun flavors, also make a splash at the pool.
And don’t forget that the members who are too young to imbibe can still help to boost beverage sales, too. “Kids get very excited about blended drinks—non-alcoholic, of course,” Summa says. “We sell them for $5 or $6, which gives us a very good profit margin.”
At River Place CC, the house drink is named in honor of the local high school football team, the Vipers; the “Viper Bite,” a mojito made with vodka and basil instead of mint (see recipe, pg. 33), is a big seller year-round. The club even hosts a Friday Viper Happy Hour during football season, for parents and others who want to grab drinks and dinner before the game.
Another favorite during the winter at River Place is the Brunswick, a combination of rye whiskey, lemon, agave, orange juice and a red wine floater, served with an orange wedge and a cherry.
“It’s a variation on an Old Fashioned,” Tucker explains. “And we can use whatever red wine we have open to make it.”
In the warm weather, when light and fresh libations are in order, every bar and club in Texas is expected to make an outstanding margarita, Tucker notes. River Place makes a premium version—called the River Place Rita—with fresh lime juice, a little olive juice, orange juice and agave. The club also offers a lighter version called the Paloma, made with Silver Tequila, lime juice and Fresca soda. “They make this drink in Mexico, and many of our members have traveled there,” Tucker notes.
Another summer refresher is a Beery Shandy, made with locally produced blonde ale, agave, lemon, a little bit of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, and ginger ale. Locally flavored vodkas, in flavors such as ruby red grapefruit (“It’s a rock star,” Tucker says), sweet tea, cranberry, pomegranate and lemon, also seem to hit the spot with members.
Tucker also keeps the kids in mind at club events, with a colorful specialty drink made with blue Powerade and lemonade. “At $1.50 a cup, it’s a real money maker,” she notes.
Getting in the Spirits
Cherry Creek CC boosts member participation during the club’s shoulder season by hosting spirit-centric events in October and November. In addition to the usual wine- and beer-pairing dinners, the club has also presented whiskey and vodka dinners. Many of the events are sellouts, says Kristin Eagen, the club’s Food and Beverage Manager.
The addition of herbs freshens up some of the popular cocktails at Cherry Creek. Among the most-ordered in summer is the Basil Bourbon Smash. And fragrant rosemary gives the familiar Salty Dog a new twist.
|They’ll Drink to These
When the National Restaurant Association surveyed 1,600 professional chefs to find out “What’s Hot for 2016” in beverages, the response yielded this list of top 10 trends:
• Craft/artisan spirits
“Our location is close to a number of great restaurants, and our members are always looking for something new and even a little bit edgy,” Eagen says. “They have sophisticated taste.”
In-Demand Tea Times
Not all beverage-focused programs have to be built around spirits. Last summer at Cherry Creek, a new Cool Tea Lounge provided a place for golfers to enjoy refreshing iced teas and unwind on the club’s covered patio. Four different teas were offered from a local craft producer—black, hibiscus, green and pineapple yerba mate. Manhattans made with black tea were also available.
The lounge opened on Fridays at four in the afternoon and remained open all evening. “For some of our members, it was an alternative to the traditional Happy Hour, while for others it served as a great transition from golfing to regular Happy Hour,” Eagen explains.
Every year, members eagerly await Cherry Creek’s Holiday High Teas, offered during November and December. In addition to a regular high tea, the club offers tea packages for champagne and chocolate lovers, and themed events such as a teddy-bear tea party and multigenerational party.