Tammy LaNasa, Steakhouse Drink Diva
Achieving greatness behind the bar is no accident. It requires dedication, attention to detail and, most importantly, someone to step up and take ownership. When it involves 28 bars in 19 different states, and they’re the centerpieces of two highly successful restaurant concepts — Sullivan’s and Del Frisco’s — the need for a champion is even greater. Fortunately for the clientele who regularly frequent these upscale steakhouses, their palates are in the good hands of Beverage Director Tammy LaNasa.
They’re fortunate because LaNasa is not your typical corporate operator. In 2008, she became the Del Frisco's Restaurant Group’s first beverage director and immediately went to work building the program from the ground up. Her efforts are paying off dividends. After three years on the job, Sullivan’s and Del Frisco’s on average operate at an impressive 36% bar mix.
While determined to improve every aspect of the beverage program, LaNasa made elevating the level of service at both concepts her primary mission. Enhance the guest experience, she surmised, and all spreadsheet issues naturally fall in line.
“I advise our bartenders and servers to focus their attention completely on the guest. Do that and you almost cannot go wrong,” says LaNasa. “But it goes beyond just satisfying the immediate needs of the clientele. We tell our servers and bartenders that taking the time to make a connection with each guest supercedes any task at hand. It’s the basic tenet of our service philosophy.”
As the company’s first beverage director, LaNasa had to create this program from scratch. Before her arrival, every unit operated independently when it came to beverage. Her biggest challenge initially was convincing the 28 management teams that standardizing the beverage program would benefit each restaurant and not rob them of their individual personality.
“The managers were justifiably proud of what they had built, yet I knew that to take our restaurants to the next level, we had to move forward as one cohesive group. Even after three years I still consider our beverage program a work in progress. That said, as I look back, I’m proud of what the Del Frisco’s and Sullivan’s teams have accomplished.”
Del Frisco's features locations in Fort Worth, Houston, Dallas, Denver, New York, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Charlotte and Boston.
After 14 years working as a wholesale distributor with Republic National, she developed an educated palate and a broad and detailed knowledge of all things potable. The experience also made her better appreciate the necessity of having knowledgeable people on the floor and behind the bar. She contends it’s the cornerstone of professionalism.
“To that end, we’ve focused on getting as many managers to take their first level MS wine exam, which has been a great success. We had 18 of the 28 managers complete their first level last year. At the same time, we’re encouraging our bartenders to attend the annual five-day BAR program in New York. Two have already become certified there. Their success is prompting their coworkers to continue their education as well.”
To reinvigorate the wine program, LaNasa had the company focus on one winery per quarter and began offering trips to Napa and Sonoma as sales incentives for staff members. She also scheduled weekly conference calls with all of the sommeliers and bar managers at each Sullivan’s and Del Frisco’s.
“Once a month, we have a special guest speaker on the call to lead us in a tasting of their products, educate us on their brand and trends in the industry. We've had Michael Mondavi, Kevin Zraly and Doug Frost, along with many winemakers, master distillers and master brewers. It’s been a great call — no pun intended.”
As for the bar, LaNasa expanded the number of specialty Martinis and handcrafted cocktails promoted on the menu, all of which she mandated be prepared with fresh ingredients.
“It’s exciting to see the kitchen come to the bar. Our guests were overwhelmingly supportive of the move to all fresh ingredients and the use of spices, fruits and herbs in ways they’d never seen before. In my opinion, the fresh movement is the most significant beverage trend in the last 10 years.”
LaNasa believes her experience as a sales rep for a distributor has benefited her tremendously in her present position. For one thing, it made her appreciate the importance of acknowledging vendors as partners. Yes, it’s their job to try to sell you the latest hot brand, but at the end of the day, both parties can help each other succeed.
Sullivan's has 20 locations across the United States.
“I think many operators treat suppliers disrespectfully and adopt the attitude that vendors have to take care of them because they’re the customer. The truth is, suppliers and vendors take care of the people they like best and who treat them with respect. It’s just human nature. Working together is good for everyone’s business.”
And LaNasa is clearly someone who knows what’s good for business.