Winners of the 2012 VIBE Vista Awards were announced at the 2012 VIBE Conference held March 13-14 in Las Vegas. Recently, we’ve taken an up-close look at the winning beer, wine and spirits programs in a series of VIBE Spotlights.
In this issue, we’ll take a look at the award-winning alcohol-free beverage programs from Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and LXR Luxury Resorts. Red Robin took home the top spot in the Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator segment, while LXR nabbed the Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator segment award. Monin Gourmet Flavorings sponsored both awards.
Congratulations to all of the winners!
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
It’s a restaurant known for its burgers, but Red Robin is making a name for itself in beverages as well.
At its 460-plus locations in the United States and Canada, Red Robin serves up more than 20 different alcohol-free beverages to guests, ranging from the signature Freckled Lemonade to the indulgent Mint Brownie milkshake (not to mention a vast beverage alcohol menu).
“We have a wide range of guests who choose to dine at Red Robin — including guests who are not of legal drinking age — so we offer a variety of beverages, including alcohol and non-alcohol options to make sure our guests have choices beyond soft drinks and iced teas,” explains Senior Beverage Manager Jill Helmerick, who joined Red Robin more than nine years ago.
The menu is split into different sections: Bottomless Beverages, which includes the Freckled Lemonade, a root beer float, Very Berry Raspberry Limeade, soft drinks, tea and more; Under 10 Calorie options, such as peace or raspberry iced tea; Malt Shoppe Shakes; and Smoothies.
Bottomless Beverages are a major selling point at Red Robin, where alcohol-free beverages make up 13% of the sales mix. On select alcohol-free beverages, guests receive endless refills. Servers are trained to ask guests if they would like another refill when their glass is less than one-third full, according to Helmerick.
These Bottomless Beverages provide guests with value and showcase the high-quality ingredients used in Red Robin’s drinks, she says.
Such drinks include the Freckled Lemonade, a mix of fresh strawberries and Minute Maid Lemonade. This signature beverage, which ranks third in beverage sales behind soft drinks and iced tea, is so popular with guests that it’s spawned other iterations: a low-calorie version, a milkshake, cupcakes, and alcohol beverages such as the Lemon Vojito (Absolut Citron, lemonade, strawberries, fresh mint and club soda).
The success of Freckled Lemonade and other specialty alcohol-free beverages has helped spur sales at Red Robin. While recent research shows that many restaurants are seeing an increase in people opting for free tap water instead of an alcohol or alcohol-free specialty beverage, Helmerick says such is not the case at Red Robin.
“We have not experienced much of an increase in tap water requests as a substitute for ordering a beverage off of our menu,” she notes, “and, in fact, we have continued to see growth in our overall beverage sales, which is a credit to the variety and popularity of our non-alcohol beverage offerings.”
To offer such a vast alcohol-free beverage menu, Red Robin executives must constantly be on the watch for the latest flavor trends inside and outside of the industry, Helmerick says. When new trends hit, they introduce new menu items, ensuring that Red Robin stays up to date with what consumers desire.
“Red Robin is known for being a great place for both adults and families to gather, and having a wide selection of both alcohol and non-alcohol beverages ensures that we have an option to satisfy every guest,” she says.
LXR Luxury Resorts
A quick dip in the pool is one way to cool down on a hot day. Another? Hawaiian-style shaved ice, available poolside at LXR Luxury Resorts worldwide.
The Boca Raton, Fla.-based brand directly operates 22 properties (with others held across an international portfolio owned by Blackstone LLP), but it launched the Hawaiian-style shaved ice carts at its 11 beachfront properties last August; even during the company’s slow season, sales averaged $250 per hour.
We wanted something mobile — as shaved ice stands usually are — and we wanted people to have fun with them,” explains Morgen Jacobson, Creative Director of restaurants, bars and lounges, who joined the company eight years ago. “A sense of whimsy seemed appropriate, as shaved ice is a playful treat.”
The company had carts custom-built to house a shaved ice machine, blocks of ice, spirits, flavorings, garnishes and serving utensils.
Each alcohol-free portion ($4.50) is shaved, sculpted in a cup, flavored and garnished as the guest watches; servers go through a hands-on training program to perfect the shaved ice concoctions.
Alcohol-free shaved ice flavors include Key Lime Quencher (key lime pie syrup, citrus sour and whipped cream) and Berry-Berrylicious (wild berry puree and fresh lemonade).
The company also offers spirited shaved ice ($9), such as the Mojito (Bacardi Rock Coconut, mojito syrup, mint and lime juice) or the Mmmm, Margarita (Cabo Wabo Blanco Tequila, agave sour and fresh lime). Options like these also can be flavored with tastes such as watermelon, strawberry or mango.
Jacobson says they selected the flavors based on national research, the company’s own sales and what flavors were on-trend.
“We want to create memorable moments and unique guest experiences as often as possible,” Jacobson says. “The Hawaiian shaved ice carts offer those chances regularly.”
Not only are these creations a hit poolside, the carts also can be rented for catering and special events — adding yet another way for these hot sellers to make a cool dollar.