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2011 VIBE Vista Awards Honors Best Spirits Programs

April 4, 2011 By: Alissa Ponchione


At the 2011 VIBE Conference on March 8-10 in Las Vegas, we celebrated the winners of the VIBE Vista Awards. In a series of VIBE Spotlights, we’ll will profile the winners in each category. This week, we take a look at the winning spirits program from McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant, which took home the VIBE Vista Spirits Award for the Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator segment, sponsored by Brown-Forman, while Interstate Hotels & Resorts received top honors for Spirits Program in the Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator category, sponsored by Diageo. Congratulations to both!

McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant

VIBE Vista Spirits Award, Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator

For McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant, a strong beverage program means re-imagining original ideas into fresh, modern cocktail concepts. Because of this, the 89-unit Portland, Ore.-based brand proves that a strong foundation cultivates a successful beverage program.

McCormick & Schmick's
McCormick & Schmick's spirits program consists of signature drinks, classic cocktails and guest favorites.

In fact, for the past four decades, McCormick & Schmick’s has incorporated fresh ingredients, bottled sodas and juices into its mixology program. Bill Freeman, CEO of McCormick & Schmick’s, credits this strategy for the brand's success. “The one thing that is interesting is we’re going to be 40 years old next year, and we’ve been consistent. The end-of-line tenants – fresh squeezed juice, bottled soda, traditional mixology – all of those things people are going back to, McCormick & Schmick’s has done it for 40 years,” he notes.

This strong mixology program is coupled with a well-trained bartending staff, which helps create McCormick & Schmick’s ever-changing cocktail menus. For example, this winter the seasonal menu included innovative takes on classic cocktails such as the Holiday Spiced Sangria (Blackstone Merlot, Hennessy VS Cognac, simple syrup, pear nectar, Allspice, fresh squeeze orange juice and fresh-squeeze lime juice), Irish Coffee (Jameson Irish Whiskey, Dekuyper, Crème de Cacao), as well as a Cinnamon Daiquiri and a Cranberry Mojito.

McCormick & Schmick's
Mike Tobias, Regional Manager of McCormick & Schmick's, accepts the VIBE Vista Award for Best Spirits Program for the Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator segment, sponsored by Brown-Forman. 

“One of the things we focus on is the culture of our bar. How to make cocktails our own is driven by what makes our program great,” Freeman says. This means changing the drinks list regularly. Every quarter, a new seasonal menu is rolled out with six additional signature drinks, which means working with vendors and developing cocktails that “have the consistency and quality that we demand,” explains Freeman. The seasonal cocktails supplement a beverage menu that includes Favorites and Classic cocktails such as Martinis, Margaritas, Cosmopolitans and Mojitos.

Classic CocktailsClassic cocktails that complement drinks with a more modern twist reflect McCormick & Schmick’s overall philosophy: respect the past yet create for the future. To do this, Freeman and his team “tap into our local bartenders and managers to see what our guests are asking about." He says this is the reason McCormick & Schmick’s is at the forefront of trends in wine and beer cocktails, as well as spirits-based drinks.

Having a strong drink menu is jut one element of McCormick & Schmick’s program's success. From happy hour specials that drive traffic to a staff that makes sure those great drinks are served with flair, it’s also reflected in the social environment. Even though “great cocktails is an entry card for getting into the game,” says Freeman, “it’s the service, energy and environment” that round out the experience, meaning McCormick & Schmick’s knows how to connect with its guests on all fronts.


Interstate Hotels & Resorts

VIBE Vista Spirits Program Award, Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator

Confessions of a BartenderCreating an award-winning spirits program for Arlington, Va.-based Interstate Hotels & Resorts means encompassing all facets of the bar into the initiative -- an aesthetic menu, a knowledgeable staff and great drinks. Bradley Moore, Director of Food and Beverage Operations, and his team do this by constantly updating Interstate’s menus with comprehensive programs like the “History of the Cocktail” menu and its most recent menu update, the “Confessions of a Bartender” program, featuring bartender confessions accompanied by a drink. The tongue-in-cheek approach appealed to guests, prompting them to read the menu and gain an appreciation for the bartending profession. For instance, the Martini menu page features the Pomegranate Martini (ABSOLUT Citron Vodka, PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur with lime juice and grenadine) and the confession: “A stiff Martini will keep the unhappy from their thoughts and will ensure company for the cheerful.”

Interstate Hotels worked with Patrick Henry Creative Promotions to make the drinks menu the focal point of the guest experience, but also ensured the drinks and the service contributed to a stellar packaged. Moore spoke to us about what makes this 233-unit hotel chain’s beverage program work on all levels.

Intersate Hotels & Resorts
Bradley Moore, Director of Food and Beverage Operations, accepts the VIBE Vista Award for Spirits Program for Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator, sponsored by Diageo. 

VIBE: What makes Interstate Hotels & Resorts' Spirits Program stand out?

Bradley Moore: The Interstate Hotels & Resorts current spirits program is unique because it requires the hotels to carry a limited number of spirits but offers guests a wide variety of cocktail choices. Through the use of unique cordials and other items, which the hotels keep in inventory (basil, cucumber, rosemary, etc.), we are able to develop a unique cocktail offering while maintaining a low inventory cost for our hotels.

VIBE: What kind of drinks do you offer?

Moore: Our current featured beverage menu, “Confessions of a Bartender,” features culinary style cocktails that are light, refreshing and on-trend with our guests’ expectations.

VIBE: What is your bartender/staff training program like?

Moore: Bartender training/information is essential in every program that we implement. A bartender/server information tool is always provided, which may include drink recipes and photos along with any pertinent rationale/history about the current feature. Also, we do on-site bartender training and bar re-invigoration projects throughout the year.

VIBE: How do you market and promote your spirits program?

Moore: The strategy behind our entire beverage-related marketing/promotions is to offer guests item(s), which they may not have readily available while at home. While these featured items come across to the guests as a luxury, the hotels are able to execute against the features with high-profit margins. With this strategy, we are winning both by enhancing the guest experience and operationally with the hotels.

VIBE: How often do you change your menu? Do you run seasonal menus?

Moore: Our core beverage menu and wine lists are in place for one year. We then supplement these menus with bi-annual food and beverage promotions, sports and seasonal promotions, which feature a variety of beverage offerings. The supplemental promotions are in place anywhere from three to six months.

VIBE: What drink promotions do you run?

Moore: We feature bi-annual food and beverage promotions, which feature drinks that are complementary to the featured food theme. Also, we feature an annual football promotion with classic football cocktails and supplement this with seasonal promotions that can be executed at a property level.

VIBE: How does Interstate Hotels & Resorts stay on trend?

Moore: We constantly research the industry happenings to see where the trends are. Also, we watch economic indicators, which help us to foresee how our guests are going to be spending their money and how we should be marketing to them.

VIBE: Have you seen an increase in beverage sales?

Moore: In 2010 we saw an increase in beverage sales and look forward to a continued path of growth in 2011 as we watch the catering business start to come back.


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