Selling spirits in the hotel environment in urban centers has gotten much more competitive, as cocktail-centric bars have become an important part of dining and drinking tourism. Keeping customers around and even getting non-guests into hotel bars is getting more attention, and the approach by the W Hotels won them the 2014 VIBE Vista Award for best hotel, cruise line or casino spirits program, presented by Tito's Handmade Vodka.
An integral aspect of the W Brand, the growth of in-house cocktail culture combines expert mixology and culinary innovation. The chain’s passion for design, fashion and music set the stage, but cocktail culture fuels the social energy and highlights their signature Living Room lounge as the conceptual and philosophical heart of the hotel.
W Hollywood Living Room Lounge
To make changes required to upgrade and garner more attention for the program, W decided to elevate the food and beverage experience and become known as a leader in the industry. They also aimed to Increase the energy and buzz in the hotel, stimulate sales in the Living Room by providing an elevated selection of cocktails and spirits, and to provide a unique and memorable beverage experience to guests that strengthened their connection with the W Brand and Starwood Hotels as a whole. They also sought to leverage the Starwood Beverage program and capitalize on W specific beverage partners for events and activation, and as they put it, “re-vitalize the “B” in F&B by creating W specific programming, rituals and standards focusing on all key touch points.”
To do so, each participating unit developed a 10 cocktail list: four consistent cocktails chosen during training session; four cocktails from pre-approved list chosen by each hotel team; and two “local/regional” cocktails chosen by each hotel team.
To develop the drinks and reinforce training requirements, a two day, in-person training session was conducted at W Washington D.C. and led by the Starwood Hotels North America Corporate F&B team and well-known William Grant and Sons bartender Charlotte Voisey.
Every participating hotel sent two representatives to attend. Voisey prepared each drink as tasting portions for all attendees to sample which then allowed them to select which four cocktails to feature at their hotel. After tasting all 20 cocktails, every attendee voted on their top three favorites which determined the four consistent, mandatory cocktails now present at all participating W Hotels.
During this training, a sizzle reel featuring Voisey was created and later distributed to the participating hotels for them to share with associates not at the training. A full program manual was also created and distributed which included steps of service, operational details, specs and ordering information, recipe cards and cocktail images.
W Hotels wanted to enhance their position as the place to go for a great cocktail. By reinventing the Living Room cocktail culture, the hotels are able to keep guests in-house as well as attract external guests to offer a premium beverage experience.
With the program’s launch in Atlanta, a market with three W units, each property held an event focused on their passion point (film, art or music) while also featuring the new cocktails. Car services were available to shuttle any guest between locations to promote responsible drinking and insider room rates available for partners and attendees. The results proved important, with positive effects on Living Room bar revenue and incremental F&B profits.