Insiders' Insights on Success From Three of the Top 100 Venues

David Henkes and Donna Hood Crecca of Technomic, Inc. hosted an impressive panel for the 2013 Nightclub & Bar Top 100 super session. For those who may be unfamiliar with how the Top 100 are chosen each year, the methodology is rather straightforward: an online survey and secondary sources are used while triangulation and estimation are utilized when necessary. In addition, for venues to have received any amount of consideration by Technomics, Inc. for Top 100 honors this year, they must have seen over 50% of their sales from alcohol, been open the full calendar year in 2012 and be independent oriented.

The midpoint of revenues determine the final ranking. It’s obvious from the numbers that just what factor drove sales in 2012 as the Top 100 saw 69% of their revenue from spirits. With an average growth rate of 8.2%, things looked more promising in 2012 and major metro areas clearly dominated the Top 100: 28 venues are located in California, 21 in Las Vegas, 10 in both New York City and Miami and 8 in Chicago. According to David Henkes and Donna Hood Crecca, a sharp focus on the fundamentals coupled with a fresh approach proved to be the winning combination to make the 2013 Top 100 list.

The panel for 2013 NCB was made up of Sharkeez owner Greg Newman who operates several venues throughout southern California, Property Mixologist Mariena Mercer of Chandelier Bar at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas and Ben Galatz, Director of Nightlife Operations for ROOF on theWit located in Chicago, IL. While the businesses the three panelists operate and manage are clearly different from one another, diversity in entertainment and atmosphere is one common denominator.

Titular Sharkeez properties offer a Surf-Mex feel while their Sandbar stores deliver full service dining and mixologist-driven cocktails amidst a Day of the Dead theme and their Panama Joe’s venues are a hybrid of Sharkeez and Sandbar. Chandelier Bar inside The Cosmopolitan is a three-tiered setting offering “regular” cocktails on the first level, a focus on molecular mixology on the second level and bubble-forward drinks (they make their own energy drinks, for example) on the top level. ROOF, being a single location, varies their entertainment:  “Every day is different than the day before,” says Ben Galatz, “but we try to capture the same target demographic.” For instance, ROOF shows movies on Mondays, has an acoustic night on Tuesdays, features an open format with DJs on Wednesdays and, of course, there are high-energy parties on Fridays and Saturdays. Each panelist agreed that transitioning between daytime and evening requires a menu that works for both segments and striking a balance between music volume and light levels. Noting possibly the most important key, Ben Galatz urged owners and operators to “Understand your brand to transition your day to your night seamlessly.”

Along with understanding the brand, the panelists pointed out that knowing how to effectively promote and use social media remain important. Mariena Mercer is lucky enough to have access to The Cosmopolitan’s PR team while Greg Newman named his preferred social media. “Facebook and Instagram are still top of the list, Facebook in conjunction with Instagram," he said. However, instead of focusing on how to use social media to drive customers to your venue, Greg, Mariena and Ben seemed more concerned with responsible usage. Upon being hired by a Sharkeez property, employees are required to “friend” or add management so they may monitor content. The Cosmopolitan uses classes to teach responsible use of social media while ROOF employs a Social Media Manager.

New products tend to be exciting and, clearly, logical when it comes to attracting customers. Mariena focuses on seasonal menus and new products that serve customer needs, allowing different mixologists to create different cocktails. Ben says that ROOF attempts to offer both well-known and unique but approachable ingredients in order to put their own twist on menu items. Greg suggested teaming up with vendors to come up with new items but warned against products too complicated for a particular venue as that only serves to increase labor costs.

While perhaps not everyone shares an ambition to make the Top 100 list, it’s fair to say that every owner, operator and manager would like to increase revenue. Each of the three panelists put forth suggestions regarding what to focus on going forward in 2013. Mariena notes that partly due to television shows like Mad Men, classic cocktails are on an upswing in popularity and gin seems to be experiencing a revival.  Find a way, then, to make classic spirits relevant. Greg has noticed that Fireball is blowing Jägermeister out of the water this year and that vodkas remain the hot spirit in Sharkeez locations. Ben feels that training and giving each staff member the proper tools to do their jobs and promote the venue will be keys to success in 2013. Mariena sums it up perfectly when it comes to a bar, club or restaurant staying true to its brand, being relevant and reinventing itself: "Don't be afraid to march unabashedly to the beat of your own drum." Don’t be afraid, indeed.

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