VIBE Vista Awards Honor Alcohol-Free Programs

At the first VIBE Conference, held March 9-10 in Las Vegas, we celebrated the winners of the VIBE Vista Awards. Continuing our profiles of the winners, we take a look at the winning alcohol-free programs. Hard Rock Café took home the VIBE Vista Award for alcohol-free offerings in the Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator segment, while InterContinental Hotels Group, snagged the alcohol-free program award in the Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator category. Both categories were sponsored by Monin Gourmet Flavorings. Congratulations to Hard Rock and IHG!

Hard Rock Café

Hard Rock Café offers an all-inclusive beverage program at its 150 locations, featuring libations that every guest can enjoy. This is most notable in the Orlando, Fla.-based company’s alcohol-free “Alternative Rock” program, a lucrative addition to its menu that offers eight alcohol-free options that are made with the same creativity and ingenuity as its beverage alcohol drinks.

Hard Rock alcohol-free menu

Cindy Busi, Hard Rock’s worldwide beverage director, says it’s important to offer a variety of alcohol-free choices well beyond just the standard soda or water. “We give our guests a great experience with all our cocktails but failed to deliver the same with alcohol free,” she explains. “We changed our position, and focusing on serving our ‘Alternative Rock’ beverages in a souvenir Pilsner, Hurricane, Martini or Margarita glass has elevated the overall guest experience with an alcohol-free beverage.”

Hard Rock CafeThe improved guest experience can be proven in cold, hard numbers: In its first year, 2009, alcohol-free sales grew 1300 percent, Busi says, and there has been an 80 percent growth since last year. Since the inception of “Alternative Rock,” Busi notes, “each year we continue to grow our alcohol-free section without cannibalizing other areas of our menu.”

The alcohol-free additions have helped enhance the brand as well as Hard Rock’s promotions. Every annual promotion features an alcohol-free option. For example, during “The Mas Tequila, Mas Cervesa” promotion with Kenny Chesney’s concert tour, Hard Rock Café featured the alcohol-free Groupie Grind, made with mango puree, Pina Colada mix, fresh pineapple and a swirl of strawberry puree.

For the month-long “Pinktober” promotion in October, Hard Rock locations offer a pink “Alternative Rock” beverage, the Wildberry Smoothie. Proceeds from the drink go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Other promotions that incorporate an alcohol-free option are Hard Rock’s “Ambassadors of Rock” program and the “March on Stage” spring menu promotion. Busi advocates the use of these promotions because they get staff excited about selling alcohol-free drinks, especially when charities and philanthropic work are involved.

With the evolution of its drink menu, Hard Rock Café continues to become a more attractive venue for all guests.

InterContinental Hotels Group

Because InterContinental Hotels Group follows the “Great Hotels Guests Love” motto, the company is dedicated to putting the guest experience first. This is highlighted by its signature alcohol-free smoothie initiative, which targets the nearly 100 full-service company-owned and company-managed IHG hotels in the U.S., including the InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inn Hotels & Resorts and Hotel Indigo brands.

IHG Signature Smoothies

Coming off last summer’s successful sno-cone initiative, IHG saw the upside of offering alcohol-free promotions, which give guests options beyond beverage alcohol. Jean-Pierre Etcheberrigaray, vice president of food and beverage for the Americas, says guests like having choices, and offering selections companywide doesn't need to be a difficult task.

Jean-Pierre IHG“There is a consistency behind the promotion. We make it so it’s simple to execute and to promote,” he says. “We work with different partners to make it simpler.”

IHG teamed up with The Coca-Cola Company in July 2009 for a signature smoothie line, featuring the shelf-stable and frozen Minute Maid Smoothie Mixes, to capitalize on consumer interest on healthy, nutritious drinks that also can be meal substitutes or a snack. IHG uses interesting and eye-catching drink names, like the Power Slim, Early Rise, Singapore Tea, Pick Me Up, MangoAde and Bubble Blower, to show the appeal of smoothies as a beverage that promotes health and its “round-the-clock” appeal. The ability to get the drinks through multiple outlets (room service, poolside or at the bar) and at nearly any time helps drive sales, Etcheberrigaray says. And the smoothie line has been a success thus far; since its July launch, more than 10,000 smoothies have been sold.

IHG educates each hotel about the benefits of its signature smoothies with a promotional kit containing a Blendtec blender, a case of both shelf-stable and frozen Minute Maid Smoothie Mix variety packs and bartender instructions for preparing the smoothies or adding spirits to turn the drinks into cocktails.

IHG smoothie kit

But Etcheberrigaray urges operators to remember that “beverage” doesn’t necessarily mean alcohol and that it’s just good business sense to strike a balance between alcohol and alcohol-free drinks.

VIBE recognizes chain beverage executives for excellence in corporate beverage programs, professionalism and creativity. The VIBE Vista Awards recognize a company’s excellence within its industry segment either Chain Restaurant and Multi-Concept Operators or Chain Hotels, Casinos and Cruise Line Operators.

Winners were selected by a panel of beverage professionals against a specific set of criteria spelled out in the Entry Application. For more information, visit Look for ongoing coverage of the winning programs in future issues of VIBE.

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