High-level dialogue, data and drinks were the hallmarks of the inaugural VIBE Conference held at the Palazzo in Las Vegas two weeks ago. More than 500 registrants gathered to confer on the challenges and opportunities facing multi-unit restaurant beverage professionals in 2010 and beyond. Kicked off by Kerry Gumas, president and CEO of Questex Media Group, which produces the event in concert with BSI-WFV Partners, the fast-paced program featured a number of energetic and informative keynote speakers and presentations. Here are some highlights:
• Dale DeGroff received the inaugural VIBE Visionary Award, recognizing him for single-handedly launching the cocktail renaissance in the U.S. and for his commitment to bartender education on the craft of the cocktail.
• Futurist Jim Carroll delivered seven strategies for overcoming “aggressive indecision” brought on by the recession.
• Stephen Barth and Elizabeth DeConti tag-teamed on a multimedia presentation about the legal landscape for on-premise operators and the dos and don’ts of promotions and activities.
• Dr. Peter Cressy of the Distilled Spirits Council urged attendees to fight attempts to raise alcohol taxes both in the state houses and the federal government, as well as at the grassroots level.
• Analysts and leaders of the major industry associations presented 2009 sales and trend data (see Data Points in this issue).
• In a first-ever appearance together, Rich Melman and sons R.J. and Jerrod Melman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises closed out the conference with a special keynote session. Rich Melman, LEYE chairman and founder, kicked off the session with his own perspective and comments on what makes for a successful restaurant operation in any climate – namely flexibility, hospitality that builds loyalty and close attention to detail. Afterward, the three took questions from the audience, sparking a lively dialogue.
• Ideas into Action Workshops drilled down into various topics, with presentations from leading experts and experienced operators on topics ranging from how to drive beer sales to flavor trends, as well as on-premise sales trends, vendor and distributor relationships, the value of the beverage manager, drink menus, responsible service and training tactics.
• The Catch the Vibe Grand Opening Splash drew a large crowd of people, who sampled original cocktails, showcasing sponsor products created by members of the mixology elite, including Cameo Mixologists Tony Abou-Ganim, Duggan McDonnell, Jeff Ruth, Charlotte Voisey and Pinnacle Mixologist Patricia Richards.
Plans are already underway for VIBE Conference 2011, so look for updates as the event develops.