Refreshing and reimagining an existing concept is a daunting undertaking. The Irvine Marriott tackled this risky task (and more) recently.
The hospitality giant took on a second project while they renovated and reworked their existing YNK lounge, building out a speakeasy inside the Irvine Marriott kitchen.
We spoke with Garrett Schott, the property’s director of food and beverage, to get his take on bar renovation, reimaging a concept’s theme, building a bar in an unusual space, and much, much more.
First up, we asked Schott about YNK (“You Never Know”), an intimate space important to the Irvine Marriott brand.
What prompted the decision to review and renovate YNK?
After taking the lounge to so many different locations around the world we decided to focus the beverage program on the classics with rotating specialty cocktails. Ensuring YNK’s constant relevance is extremely important.
Why was a speakeasy theme selected for the refresh?
It’s a small space and we wanted to make it feel like an office in your home. Creating a Mad Men feel but also stay very warm and inviting. It also fits the classic cocktail theme.
A 100-drink menu is impressive. How long did it take to train the bar team? What did training entail?
Training is an ongoing process and hopefully never ends. The ability of our mixologist consultants [to travel] the globe and see new techniques give us the ability to keep YNK in constant training mode.
What’s the average pour cost for YNK?
We would never kiss and tell but we give our guests a great end product at a great price point. So, whether you’re coming in for one or a few, you never leave feeling beat up over price. It was important for us to ensure pricing was always considered as “perceived value” when spending time at YNK.
Which mixologists were selected to create YNK’s ten new signature cocktails?
The EAG (Ellis Adams Group) team collaboratively researched their favorite classics and made sure we were staying true to the essence of the original recipes for each drink.
How long did YNK’s renovation take?
It was roughly a 90-day process to do the switch to where YNK sits today, but we believe it is an ever-changing process and never ends.
What challenges did you have to overcome to renovate YNK?
Probably the biggest challenge would be bridling the creative process. Allowing for the space to continue to evolve is important for what YNK is as a concept.
What marketing and promotions campaigns are planned for YNK now that the renovation is complete?
We are excited about the launch of a new social campaign kicking off in October, with a real focus on the holidays.
How has YNK’s renovation and updated menu been received by guests?
People are loving the new feel of the space and cocktails. We have many loyal followers who come on a regular basis. It’s nice to see people that enjoyed YNK before the renovation come to love the new YNK 2.0 just as much.
Check this out: When to Open the Second Location of Your Bar
Our next goal with YNK is to continue to introduce ourselves to those who haven’t experienced YNK before, continuing to build our following of regulars that call YNK home.
Next, The Butchershop. The counterpart to YNK, The Butchershop is a much more secretive bar with an even more intimate atmosphere. Those who want to experience this unique bar must inquire about its location to gain access…inside the kitchen.
The Butchershop’s unusual location delivers a guest experience that’s different than most. For example, guests are given blankets because the temperature is just 62 degrees. Perhaps equally as surprising as its location is The Butchershop’s price tag.
Giving up kitchen space to a bar is an interesting decision. What prompted the decision to create a hidden bar inside the hotel’s kitchen?
Here at Irvine Marriott, we are all about innovation and creating revenue-generating spaces in under-utilized areas throughout the property. Here, we have an original dishwashing area for pots and pans or a space that was once used for prep cooking in the early ‘80s, sitting vacant. The air conditioning blows at a consistent 60 degrees and the flooring is a traditional back-of-house terracotta tile, and stainless-steel hood vents and fixtures are throughout. Very reminiscent of a traditional butcher shop. A decision was made to turn the space into something unique and a wow factor for clients looking to book catering business. Once we saw how popular the space had become and the demand for the space to be activated and open to the public, is when we made the decision to create an amazing seasonal drink menu, true to the craft cocktail art form, and go live with the concept.
What unique challenges did you face during The Butchershop’s buildout?
The space itself needed minimal preparation. Build out mostly consisted of removing wall tile to have the walls prepped for graphic decals. Painting, lighting, wiring for a POS station, and FF&E.
How long did The Butchershop’s buildout take, and how much did it cost?
Buildout took approximately 60 days and a total investment of approximately $13K.
Who was selected to create the cocktails for The Butchershop?
Collaboration with our amazing bartending staff with guidance and supervision from our on-property Beverage Supervisor & Mixologist Aaron Paley.
Open just two days and 12 hours per week, how do you keep the costs associated with operating The Butchershop under control?
When doing any endeavor such as a craft bar speakeasy, we are doing it for the ability to create very unique experience for our guests, and for the love and art of Food & Beverage. We live to create amazing memories.
Guests who want to experience The Butchershop must inquire as to its location. Given that it’s a bit of a secret, are there any marketing campaigns and promotions planned to support the venue?
We are just getting started in that arena and have partnered locally with neighboring businesses and Destination Irvine. I am a firm believer in word of mouth, however, The Butchershop can be found on Instagram and reservations can be made at https://www.thebutchershopoc.com/.
How has The Butchershop been received by guests so far?
Two words: blown away. Guests find it so intriguing to venture to the back of house to be surprised by the space and the creativity. The space is such an intimate setting that allows a group of people to really enjoy themselves and interact with #thebutcher. Our mixologist can assist guests in [creating] their own cocktail or choose from the great seasonal options we have handwritten on the wall. If your cocktail is good enough, we will even let you name it and put it on our menu.
Check this out: What This Secret Cocktail Club Can Teach About Guest Experience
Lastly, we asked Schott for his best tips on menu reprogramming, controlling costs, working with distributors and brands, hiring and training, the guest experience, and buildouts.
As food and beverage director for a major hotel group, what are your best tips for revisiting and refreshing cocktail menus?
- Invest in the best quality ingredients.
- Showmanship creates an experience. It’s not what you do but how you do it.
- Consistency is paramount.
- Be bold. Be daring in how you create your interpretation of classic cocktails.
- Be relevant. Have menu items that can reach all demographics. Source as locally as possible.
- Design your cocktails around your concept and food.
- Money isn’t everything. Of course you want to turn a profit. However, with concepts such as The Butchershop it’s about sharing the passion for making great craft cocktails with everyone.
What are your top tips for controlling pour, labor and other costs?
- Measure every drink.
- Staff to business needs and listen to your team’s and customers’ feedback.
- Utilize your existing resources and use your beverage vendors as partners.
- Be a bold leader and rely on your training, experience and confidence.
What are your best tips for working with alcohol distributors, brands, ambassadors, and sales reps?
They are there to help you be successful with your beverage program or beverage campaigns. It’s a win-win relationship. Never sacrifice your integrity but leverage them as resources to help bring in unique products, menu and printing resources, and glassware and other tools. The better relationship you have with your vendors and brand ambassadors, the better your program will be.
What’s your approach to recruiting, hiring and training bar staff?
For hiring, it’s about passion, personality, a willingness to listen and learn, and a desire to make people happy through great food and beverage. When recruiting, word of mouth from those who work in the industry and utilizing relationships and networks. Also, frequenting establishments that are well known for reputable beverage programs and see if their talent is looking for more. Steal shamelessly.
How do you approach bar training?
Training is ever constant and ongoing.
- Read everything you can get your hands on from those who have done the leg work for you already.
- Beverage is an art and a science. The more you can understand how a certain type of spirit, wine or beer is produced, the better you can be able to pair it with other spirits, herbs, teas and syrups, etc. to create complexities and ultimately have a cocktail be an expression. If music is what emotion sounds like, a well-made cocktail is what emotion can taste like.
- Success is never final. A cocktail, like a beverage program, can always be improved upon. Constantly strive to improve upon the ways things are being done. The worst thing that can be said or practiced is “We’ve always done it this way.”
What are your top tips for managing guest expectations and delivering the best possible guest experience?
Anticipation and personalization are key. We live in a world where everything is for the masses. The more you can personalize an experience to someone’s unique pallet or tastes, the more special it becomes. They appreciate the effort that is made to get to know them on a more personal level and also to build a relationship. After all, hospitality is all about building relationships and creating memories.
Another important aspect is responding to cues from our guests. For example, if you notice a guest remove the lemon peel from their smoked Old Fashioned, inquire as they may have preferred orange instead. Pay attention to the subtle details and respond accordingly.
What are the top lessons you’ve learned from undergoing a renovation and building out a new, exclusive bar space?
- Stick with your vision and strategy. Don’t give up because it isn’t going the way you had planned in the first month or the first quarter. Success, like most anything truly valuable in life, is built over time.
- Utilize existing resources as much as possible and collaborate with your team to build and promote creativity. Often, someone in our group has a wild idea but because we collaborate and share inspiration the idea takes on traction of its own and grows organically.