Only in a nightclub are guests overtly willing to shell out hundreds — even thousands — of dollars for bottles of liquor readily available for a fraction of the price in any store. Sure, the money bottle-service clients are forking over with astonishing speed really isn’t for the bottled spirit, but instead for the real estate, prestige and attention that comes with the purchase. Strip the commonplace practice down to its core, and it’s truly a study in ego-stroking, which means it’s less about the spirit hitting the ice bucket and more about the perks and frills that come along with it. However, that doesn’t mean operators should overlook the bottle itself.
Los Angeles’ Playhouse tailors specials to specific brands: The Privilege package includes a full bottle of Grey Goose and a 375-ml bottle of Corzo tequila; the Unfiltered package features Moët Gold and Belvedere.
For the major venues in leading U.S. markets, bottle service is more profitable than ever, which is amazing given the economic climate.
“We’re up about 15% from last year with bottle sales,” says Mo Garcia, director of external operations at MMG Nightlife, which runs LIV and Arkadia at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. The venues, which are designed specifically for table service, rake in close to 80% of revenue from bottle service.
Ruling the Top Shelf
As for what’s in the bottles, Champagne and vodka reign supreme as always.
“We’ll get bottles of Moët Nectar on Sundays that fly off the shelves,” Garcia shares, “but it’s typically Perrier-Jouët, Dom Pérignon, Belvedere and Grey Goose.”
MMG venues don’t insist on a bottle minimum for a table reservation, but instead require a table spend minimum, which can run about $1,500 to $2,500 for six people, depending on the evening’s entertainment.
“We try to dictate certain brands, but we’re not out to start any new trends with new spirits,” Garcia shares. “We’re not pushing some new vodka that someone doesn’t want to drink.”
It’s rather simple to promote one liquor brand over another.
“When we first opened, we worked closely with Belvedere, so we’d offer a normal-sized bottle of Belvedere. But if you wanted Grey Goose, you had to buy a magnum. That steered people into Belvedere,” Garcia explains, quickly adding, “Still, we were the top-selling club in the country of magnums of Grey Goose. Now it doesn’t work like that, you can get whatever [you want]. Though, when it comes to Champagne, we sell the cheaper brands in sets of two bottles.”
High-End Promos Pay-off
Playhouse, one of Los Angeles’ top nightclubs, occasionally gets requests for more rare bottles.
“Sometimes clients will ask for whiskeys, gins, Cognac and other stuff we carry but don’t sell a ton of, but realistically 90% of our sales are vodka or Champagne,” Playhouse Owner Robert Vinokur says. In light of that, Vinokur tailored marketing specials to those brands.
Playhouse in LA gets requests for rare bottles.
“We’ve partnered with Bacardi, which owns Grey Goose and Corzo tequila, for our Privilege package. You get a full bottle of Grey Goose and a 375-ml [bottle] of Corzo both for $500, so you can have vodka and enough for a few shots of tequila,” Vinokur says. “We work with LVMH, which owns Moët, and Belvedere for the Playhouse Unfiltered package. Guests get the new Moët Gold bottle and a bottle of Belvedere for $800.
“Finally, we have a Black and Gold package where they get a bottle of Moët Gold and a bottle of Hennessey Black Cognac for $700,” he says.
The deals do save clients money — typically about $125 — but Vinokur doesn’t think of it as losing money.
“It’s more about giving something special to the clients, which will ensure we keep their business over the long haul,” he says.
In smaller markets, such as San Francisco, bottle service has fallen off slightly.
“We’ve noticed a bit of a drop, possibly due to the economy,” says Peter Kim, assistant manager at San Francisco’s Temple. “We’re also seeing more people coming already guest-listed, so they’re inherently getting free drinks at the bar or other specials, so the incentive isn’t there for them to buy a bottle.”
While vodka dominates Temple’s bottle-service sales — which Kim says make up close to 25% of the club’s revenue — Cognac is a close second. The venue’s most popular promotion currently is a bottle of Belvedere for $200, which includes gratuity and tax.
Temple in San Francisco has seen a decline in bottle service sales.
“We work closely with LVMH to work out our deals, which we run on our Website and blog, though we don’t specifically highlight the bottle service; it’s just included within all our advertisements and promotions along with specials and DJ
announcements,” Kim shares.
Like Playhouse, Temple also is trying to craft package deals successfully.
“A future special we are working on is a bottle of Champagne that will come with your vodka bottle service. It’s a way to make the promotion more of a festive experience by starting out with the Champagne, then moving on to the vodka,” Kim says.
Creating a Scene
Beyond pairing bottles, clubs have myriad options to make bottle service more exciting, such as presentation.
“The sparkler component is crucial,” Garcia says. “To get sparklers with your bottles, you have to buy high-end Champagne. You can’t put them on Moët, unless you’re buying six or more bottles,” he says, adding that the fireworks can be a double-edged sword. “We have clients who drop $100,000 and the sparklers are coming out 30 or 40 at a time. No one wants to follow with just two sparklers after that, so we do lose some revenue, but we’re not really concerned with that considering the six-figure rings we’ve just gotten,” Garcia laughs.
Sparklers are legal in Miami and New York City but considered a fire hazard in Las Vegas and California; therefore, West Coast clubs have to be more creative.
“We had a company create bright LED wands which flash and change colors,” Vinokur says. “So the waitresses wave those as they come to your table, and our busboys follow with confetti poppers, shooting those off. We also have strobe lights over each table, so we dim the rest of the lights and really highlight your table.”
Playhouse also has a 35-person limo that — for an extra $500 — is available to bottle-service clients who don’t want to drive.
At the end of the day, “nightlife and bottle service has always been about ego,” Garcia says. “From the second you valet, if they park you in the front, to if the doorman parts the sea of people, to getting a hug from the VIP director, to your waitress knowing your name, to the DJ playing your song when you’re inside, to having the most sparklers on your bottle — it’s all about making you look like the man. It’s our job to make sure you feel all of that extra attention, and it goes well beyond the bottle.” NCB