Two industry heavyweights took the stage during the 28th Annual Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show last month in order to share their expert insight with independent owners, operators, manager and other service professionals from all aspects of the hospitality industry.
Jim Koch took the stage clutching a Sam Adams glass filled with one of his famous brews and announced, to the cavernous, standing room-only auditorium that he had possibly imbibed more than his fair share of beer. This was, however, absolutely understandable and possibly necessary. “You can’t really speak about the beer business if all you have to drink is water,” Jim said proudly, “Fish do unspeakable things in it – I wouldn’t dream of touching it.”
You may be think you know about Jim Koch. Maybe you know that he still travels to Bavaria each year to handpick the noble hops used in his beers. You may even know that he created a program to provide consulting services and microloans to small businesses. But did you know that Jim Koch posed for a picture atop Mount McKinley, the highest mountain peak in the United States and North America, after a climb that took two weeks? And did you know that at least one beer came along? “At this transcendental moment,” said Jim wistfully, “there’s a beer can there. It was destiny.”
Every eldest son of the Koch family for 170 years has run a brewery and Jim is doing the family proud. He started Sam Adams in his kitchen in 1984, when craft brewing was referred to as microbrewing. Out of the 30 or so craft brewers trying to make it during that era, two remain, Sam Adams among them. Jim raised $240,000, got two employees, rented a truck and used shoe boxes as an accounting system. In such an incredibly competitive business, the craft brewing legend was able to break down what it take to remain and thrive: “There's two things we really need to do to be successful: we need to be great at making great beer and we need to work our butts off to sell it. And if we do those two basic things we will be successful.” America is creating a beer culture and Jim Koch is, indisputably, leading the charge.
Nick Shepherd is a name that should resonate instantly with bar and restaurant owners but for those who can’t place it, Nick is the CEO of TGI Friday’s. While one may be tempted at first to label Friday’s as simply another chain of restaurants offering little in the way of innovation, Jon Taffer was quick to heap praise on the company during his introduction of Nick Shepherd. “Friday’s,” Jon stated confidently, “invented contemporary mixology” and has the greatest bar heritage of any major chain. The CEO of Friday’s is also someone Jon looks up to, a fact that no one should take lightly considering the source.
When Nick took the stage he first outlined the TGI Friday’s strategy for rebranding – reinventing, really – their stores from neighborhood restaurant to the best corner bar. The three maxims strictly adhered to are simple but powerful: 1) Know what business you are in; 2) Make your bartenders heroes; and 3) Be really local. As everyone in this industry knows, 60% of all bars fail every year so to make it, a bar must be great.
What makes a bar great in the eyes of Nick Shepherd and Friday’s? It’s a great place with great products, great promotions and great people. "We're not looking for unprofitable perfection, we're looking for profitable excellence," says Nick, and that excellence extends directly to Friday’s bartenders. It’s very rare that the company hires someone specifically for a bartender position. The normal progression tends to be hosting, waiting tables, cocktailing at tables in the bar area and then bartending. This attention to recognizing potential bartenders and developing them is evident in their promotions, and it’s very evident that Friday’s has put their faith in the bartenders.
Nick showed a few commercials and they all had one thing in common: the food is not the focus. When the decision for rebranding was made, Friday’s truly made the bartenders their heroes. Friday’s bartenders are the focal point of their new commercials and the recurrent themes of smooth day to night transitioning, fun and exciting happy hours and high energy nights at Friday’s bars drive the point home: Friday’s is the best bar in your neighborhood.