In the last newsletter, we predicted a bigger impact on-premise from cider, more slack from flavored vodkas, the demise of barreled cocktails and the greater emergence of new American whiskies in 2014. This time, we look at the things we hope improve next year.
1. Real service. Quality service gets plenty of, well, lip service, but in execution, American restaurants are still set up to serve the establishment’s needs first, the server’s needs second and then, finally, the customer’s needs. Any initiative that breaks that cycle would be welcome, foremost an attitude that honestly and consistently sticks to treating your customers as your guests, who you devoutly wish enjoy themselves and return again and again. Any process, routine, rule or behavior that isn’t attuned to that simple concept needs to be changed. Customers first, everything else follows.
2. Portion flexibility. Some restaurants with a serious wine focus have been doing this for years, as have brewpubs: making available and promoting small sampler portions as a way to provide guests with greater flexibility in ordering and to acclimate them to newer or unusual beverages. There’s no reason, especially with cocktails that can be batched and featured, why cocktail programs can’t also benefit from this trend as well. If nothing else, it provides a way for an operator to pick up incremental orders from a guest who wants one more drink, but either doesn’t want to pay full fare or is concerned about how much they are consuming – it’s responsible, it’s innovative and it’s a smart way to increase the ring.
3. Pricing. In the same arena of customer convenience, how about more laddering up of beverage pricing? In the case of wines and beers, that just means putting more expensive and less expensive offerings on the menu – the amount of sales lost because an operation clusters its wine by the glass prices around a three dollar range ($7 – $10, $10 – $13, etc.) is incalculable. Similarly, an all $12 cocktail menu probably drives a significant number of neophytes away and towards something safe that won’t make your establishment stand out. How hard is it to offer, say, a Manhattan three ways – rail, call and super premium? It’s an old method, but now that operators pay so much attention to the quality of the ingredients they use, they can share that selection and simultaneously give some meager wallets a chance to buy a great drink. Of course, if you’re embarrassed by the stuff in your rail…
4. Slow down. Servers very easily give off the sense of bustling efficiency even when what they are doing is really not important to the guest. It doesn’t matter whether you are the owner of a 100+ seat fine dining restaurant or a bartender on a slow night or a harried cocktail server: taking time to make eye contact with a guest, acknowledge their presence, offer a smile or a hand to shake; these are the tools of hospitality, not the drink made in under 45 seconds or the swiftly served meal. Yes, efficiency is important, but not at the cost of the time needed to make a guest feel like an individual and not just one part of a four-top or the singleton at barstool #5.