Be it wine, beer or mixed drinks that sell best at your club, the key is to go beyond the basics of a neighborhood bar.
It happens to some extent, but most people don’t go to their club specifically to drink. It’s not a bar, it’s a club, and there are plenty of other reasons to spend time there. Members might come for a round of golf, a nice meal, or to use one of the other facilities, and while they are there for these reasons, they may have a drink. But it is rarely the other way around.
This makes the task of increasing alcohol sales more challenging than at the neighborhood saloon. To boost their bar business, clubs need to rely more on service, atmosphere, product quality and event-related creativity, rather than just “serving ‘em up” at happy hour. A New List of Ways to Sell Wine
For many people, the most intimidating part of dining out is the wine list.While clubs and resorts certainly have more than their share of members and guests who are very wine-savvy, there are also going to be many in your dining rooms who aren’t that used to club settings, and may already be a bit intimidated by the surroundings. Anything you can do to increase the comfort levels of these diners will enhance the chances of getting them to add a nice wine order to their tabs.
Does that mean you have to resort to cutting your list to a handful of nondescript house wines? Not at all. One technique that many clubs find effective, particularly in their more casual dining settings, is to forego listing the yearly vintages on their wine lists, and instead simply showing the name of the winemaker and type of wine.
This greatly helps increase comfort and confidence among diners who know they prefer cabernets to merlots, but wouldn’t know a good year from a mediocre one. And it has real advantages for the club as well, by greatly decreasing the need to stock specific inventory or waste time and good will informing diners that “We’re out of that particular bottle.” Also, wine lists don’t have to be updated and reprinted nearly as often. Of course, servers will need to be prepared to provide the vintage, if someone’s really dying to know. But for many club bars and grills, where the focus isn’t really on fine wines, this can be a very effective way to eliminate a barrier to bottled wine sales.
Wine can also be sold through a good story, especially when it’s delivered as part of a server’s response to that ever-frequent question, “What would you recommend?” In the Phantom Horse Sports Bar and Grill at Phoenix’s Pointe South Mountain Resort, Kerry Feltenberg, Director of Food and Beverage, has her staff ready to respond with the story behind the “14 Hands” wine that she gets from the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
The wine was named for the mustangs that once roamed the land in southeast Washington state, where the winery is located. The horses were smaller than average and measured about 14 hands. Telling this story works especially well at Pointe South because of the property’s Phantom Horse Golf Club. Diners learn a little trivia, and the story-telling gives the resort’s servers a great opportunity to connect with their customers. Recommendations With Real Returns
Learning the stories behind the brands, and knowing yearly vintages when asked, are just some of the ways that information provided by servers can help to promote wine sales. Perhaps the biggest returns in this regard will come when club chefs work with their servers to make sure they are prepared to help diners choose wines based not only on personal preferences, but also in relation to the food that they’ve ordered.
Forsgate Country Club in Monroe Township, N.J., takes this aspect of its food and beverage service very seriously—and its efforts have paid off not only with prestigious recognition, but also impressive increases in alcohol sales. In addition to earning an “Award of Distinction” from Wine Enthusiast magazine, beverage sales in Forsgate’s fine dining room have risen a whopping 167% over the last year. That performance stands out next to a respectable, but comparably smaller, 32% growth in food sales.
How did they do it? A new wine list, populated mostly with more exclusive estate wines, is just partly responsible. Jason DelliSanti, Forsgate’s Restaurant Manager, is also very much behind the success. In the three and a half years he’s been at the club, he’s taken it upon himself to make the wine list come alive. DelliSanti is trained as a chef and in fact spent the early years of his career working in the back of the house. It was after he finished culinary school that his passion for wine took hold. In his words, “Everyone needs a hobby. Some people collect stamps. I collect wine.”
By the time he became Forsgate’s Restaurant Manager, DelliSanti’s palate was highly developed. At first he made slow changes to the club’s wine offerings and began to offer more wines by the glass. A year ago, though, he debuted a new wine list and, as if that weren’t enough, the club now offers 25 wines by the glass, including sparkling and dessert wines.
And Forsgate doesn’t want to stop there. Det Williams, Director of Food and Beverage, says there are definite plans to purchase a wine preservation system to offer people just a taste of the higher quality wines, or even start serving flights. Right now, the club’s policy is to throw out any unfinished bottles the next day, so they are serving only freshly opened bottles. But the preservation system, which fills bottles with a precise amount of nitrogen before resealing, will ensure that the last glass tastes as good as the first.
Yet another element of Forsgate’s success is that the staff really knows the wines. DelliSanti and Williams often go to wine shows, pre-release tastings, and similar events held from Atlantic City to New York City. The pair enjoys this aspect of their work and uses the opportunities to find new gems, as well as to find the weak spots in their wine list. They also are constantly requesting samples from their vendors.
“We taste wines at least once a week,” says Williams. “It is imperative that you keep your palate in shape. It’s just like going to the gym for your taste buds.”
And it’s just as important for the rest of Forsgate’s staff to understand the wines they are selling. DelliSanti holds monthly seminars with the staff to taste the wines and discuss them in more depth. And don’t think these sessions are all fun and games. This is also an opportunity for the staff to brush up on their salesmanship and learn to confidently recommend a wine pairing.
At the Phantom Horse dining room at Pointe South Mountain Resort, the staff goes through a nightly drill where the chef presents the specials for the night, and the restaurant manager features a bottle of wine at the same time. Those 30 seconds of tasting and education help the servers do a much better job of selling throughout the evening.
The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., also takes an intense aproach to educating its staff. During the winter, the club’s entire food and beverage staff participate in an intensive 12-week wine course. They also participate in blind tastings at nightly pre-shift meetings in order to keep their palates sharp. This training ensures that the Greenbrier’s Wine Spectator recognition is warranted.
More and more clubs, of course, are taking tastings and education to the next level and turning them into events of their own.They’re finding that “pairing dinners” are great ways to introduce people to new wines without making them worry about the wine list. These events have great appeal because the wine and food has already been selected; all the members have to do is sit down and enjoy the night.
The Greenbrier, in addition to hosting pairing dinners, also collects detailed records of every wine each guest has sampled or purchased on prior visits, along with his or her comments about the specific wines that have been mentioned in conversation. This is a great tool for servers to use when asked to suggest wines. This builds a rapport with guests and showcases the resort’s attention to detail. Small tasting samples are offered if a guest needs extra convincing, and diners know that if they accept a recommendation that doesn’t suit their palate, it can be replaced with a wine of their choosing.
When Forsgate CC has tasting dinners, the planning usually starts with the wines. This gives vendors a chance to showcase their wines and helps members by educating them around a particular theme. To plan a dinner with an Italian Winemakers theme, DelliSanti and Williams sat down with vendors to taste the wines and read the tasting notes. Then Executive Chef Mike Kasperek joined them to jot down ideas that would complement the wines.
These dinners have led Forsgate members to ask more detailed questions about the wines, management reports, which in turn leads to better sales. The monthly events have proved so successful that the club will expand this fall into an Oktoberfest-themed evening, held outdoors with a band and traditional Bavarian cuisine, that will feature not wines, but German beers.
Forsgate has also seen mid-week beverage sales spike through a regular “Club Night” event, held on Wednesdays, that features a drawing of four member names for a $100 food and beverage credit. But there’s a catch—to win, you not only have to be present in one of the club’s indoor dining outlets, you also have to have an open check. If none of the four members are present, the pot rolls over to the next week’s drawing. Sales truly skyrocket when the pot is particularly large. Nothing Frivolous About the Sales
Clubs and resorts also have the edge in offering recreational occasions that call for the fun of special cocktail concoctions. Pointe South Mountain Resort’s Oasis Bar came up with a drink that added 25% to the summer’s beverage revenues and proved so popular, the resort also dreamed up a non-alcoholic version to satisfy demand from the kids. What drink can stir up that much excitement? Meet the Oasis Shark Tank
The Shark Tank is a 60-ounce, two-person drink served in a plastic fishbowl with gummy shark garnishes.What’s in it isn’t as important as the unique presentation. As resort guests and Phantom Horse Golf Club members walked around the property’s water park with the drinks, they sparked enough curiosity to become the bar’s best-seller for the summer. In fact, they may surpass the success of the previous year’s winner: the Mango Sunburn, a takeoff on the pina colada with grenadine on the bottom.
The bartenders at Pointe South are always coming up with new drinks and in fact are encouraged to do so when traffic hits a lull. Any brave souls who are lucky enough to be sitting at the bar during these “R&D sessions” are offered free samples and a chance to chime in with critiques. In the end, each drink goes through a lot of trial and error before it earns a place on the menu.
So what does it take to become a Pointe South Mountain Resort cocktail? “Taste is important, but first it needs to catch your attention,” says Feltenberg. Today’s array of colored salts and flavored sugars certainly help. The club even uses different colored cherries. And because the resort’s drinks look like so much fun, the staff tries hard to come up with “mocktails” for the kids, too.
Like DelliSanti and Williams, Feltenberg also finds it beneficial to meet often with vendors. “Your standards drive your revenue,” she says, “but you might sell an extra drink with some uniqueness.” For example, one of her vendors began offering “Sofia,” a sparkling wine individually packaged in red aluminum cans. It’s unique and the fact that it’s named after Sofia Coppola, director of “Lost in Translation,” doesn’t hurt. Remember, stories sell.
Summing It Up
• Use stories to sell wine. It helps build a dialogue between your members and servers, and also makes suggestive selling easier.
• Educate your palate and those of your servers by tasting frequently. It will allow servers to make better recommendations.
• Get to know your vendors and take the time to sit down and do tastings with them. It will help you keep up with new product offerings.
• Drinks that look as good as they taste will get noticed.
The martini craze has come and gone many times over the years, and there’s no doubt it’s here again now. Det Williams, Director of Food and Beverage at Forsgate CC in Monroe Township, N.J., thinks the Cosmopolitan, popularized on “Sex and the City,” might be the only variety to survive the current revival. But that hasn’t stopped Forsgate from creating a special martini menu with names evoking the private club atmosphere. Here’s a sampling of that menu:
Hole in One Ciclon Bacardi Gold Rum Blue Agave Tequila Triple Sec Sour Mix Orange Juice Orange Putter Absolut Mandarin Licor 43 Cointreau In the Rough Stoli Vanilla Bailey’s Irish Cream Kahlua P.G.A. Stoli Vanilla Crème de Cacao L.P.G.A. Vox Vodka Godiva Chocolate Sand Trap Absolut Citron Cointreau Orange Liquer Members Only Stoli Raspberry Chambord Pineapple Juice Tee Time Bacardi Orange Triple Sec Cranberry Juice On the Green DeKuyper Sour Apple Vox Vodka Midori Pineapple Juice Sour Mix Water Hazard Vox Vodka Cranberry Juice Blue Curacao