The quality of the beverage programs at the various Cameron Mitchell Restaurants is no secret, though as a regional restaurant group, not everyone knows about this once well-kept secret. The recent VIBE Award for Best Spirits Program is only the latest honor signifying awareness and respect for the various aspects of the programs at the 13 restaurants under the Cameron Mitchell banner.
Headed up by director of beverage Ryan Valentine, the program is notable for taking pride in training associates with the latest beverage training resources and programs, and creating an awareness of cocktails, for example, so that servers are well-prepped to describe the qualities of each one.
Outside resources are used as well - to date, more than 70 bartenders have completed the Pernod-Ricard Bar Smarts program since 2011 as part of their training program. Before going behind the bar, associates are first required to complete a written recipe test. Next, they must complete a practical exam that includes making all specialty cocktails to order using proper technique, portions and correct garnish. All current bar chefs are also required to complete a written and practical exam every year to ensure their recipe knowledge is current.
Training, of course, only gets one so far; the Cameron Mitchell restaurants also keep staff up-to-date not only through vendor-supported training, but also by inviting in key mixologists to provide beverage workshops that inspire and influence associates.
As the company notes, “We believe our training program is impacting our beverage service as well as our beverage sales. Today’s guests are more sophisticated in what they are looking for when they dine out. A focused cocktail program is necessary and our strategy revolves around driving our specialty cocktail sales within our spirits mix.”
For instance, when looking at their spirits sales category, of the top 15 items sold at the Ocean Prime concepts, at least five are specialty cocktails. All juices are squeezed to order, and all cocktails are shaken and strained in front of guests. Since beginning their fresh beverage program in 2004, the company has experienced a steady six percent increase in spirit sales company-wide.
Each of the company’s nine concepts develops creative signature cocktails and seasonal features by taking a culinary approach, using freshly hand-squeezed citrus juices and various syrup purees. When developing the individual cocktail menus, the bartenders are included in the process, working closely with management and the executive chef to provide ideas and feedback.
Take the program at Marcella’s. The approach to the development of cocktails there was inspired by Italian flavors, ingredients and spirits. The lead cocktail at Marcella’s is the Strawberry Balsamic Martini (Chopin Vodka, hand-squeezed lime, fresh strawberries, balsamic vinegar, lemon verbena foam). Other Italian inspired cocktails showcased on the menu include the Grapefruit Basil Fizz (Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka, Italian basil and hand squeezed lemon), Whiskey Rosso (Jameson Irish Whisky, passion fruit puree, agave nectar and Chianti Classico), and Tuscan Limonata (Belvedere Citrus Vodka, house made limoncello, hand-squeezed lemon, Peroni beer). The use of Italian ingredients to make the cocktails at Marcella’s make the cocktails “concept correct,” as the company likes to say, an important component when trying to encourage guests to try something new.