No Cutbacks in Quality

When the economy is uncertain, as it is now, operators should focus on how to increase food and beverage sales through creative marketing programs. To address that very topic, I and beverage marketing experts David Brown, vice president of operations support for Houlihan’s; Cindy Busi, worldwide beverage director for Hard Rock International; Matt Durbin, director of brand marketing for T.G.I. Friday’s; and John Lingo, president of A New World Production will present a panel discussion entitled “Award-Winning Beverage Programs to Increase Sales” at International Hospitality Week on Tuesday, March 3. The panel’s goal is to aid operators with ideas on how to get through the tough times by driving beverage sales and profits through effective marketing programs instead of making drastic cuts.

These beverage experts will draw on a wealth of knowledge and experience in addressing this timely topic. For example, I remember a time when former CEO Gordon Bethune of Continental Airlines first took over the struggling airline. The company had cut jobs, eliminated meals and had one of the oldest fleets in the industry. Bethune gathered a few friends (not experts) to come to his home to discuss what people were looking for in a successful airline.

After drinks and pizza, the group came to a conclusion that customers wanted good food, clean planes and great employees. From the information he gathered, he ordered new planes, painted the old ones, offered great meals on flights and gave the employees cash incentives to make the airline’s service outstanding.  

Instead of cutting back, Bethune invested to make the airline profitable once again, and Continental went from being worst to ranking as the No. 1 airline in the nation.  

Restaurants, hotels and bars need to take the same philosophy in order to get through the bad times. Our company was named the Best Company to Work for in Texas in 2008 and we haven’t changed a thing in our budgets, improvements or taking care of our team members.  

In fact, we have spent more this year than ever before on clients, employees and capital improvements to make sure we are offering the best in training, beverage programs and marketing initiatives. It has paid off, and like any company going into 2009, we will have an eye on the economy, but we are not going to cut back on what we do best. Good operators will do the same and will get through the tough times. Now is not the time to cut back on your food and beverage programs. 

“Award-winning beverage programs take great training, constant communication and repetition in order to be successful,” says Busi. Staying true to its brands roots, culture and philanthropic efforts is what sets Hard Rock International’s beverage program apart from others, but that success isn’t automatic. Building a strong foundation on what Hard Rock labels “Kick Ass Service” — authentic, passionate, irreverent, unpredictable and democratic — keeps its beverage programs top of mind, not only to the guests, but also to the staff. 

“Our programs not only meet our guests’ expectations, but blow them completely away,” Busi says. “We like to call them Beverage Experiences that Rock.”  

For 10 years, Lingo has been the co-moderator of The Promo Exchange seminar held during Nightclub & Bar shows and now the mega-event known as International Hospitality Week. In 2009, he’s excited to offer suggestions from some of the most profitable and popular promotions shared over the years during the “Award-Winning Beverage Programs to Increase Sales” session. In addition, he will explain how operators can add profits to their beverage budget using non-beverage materials.  

Editor’s Note: This is the third article in a series of four relating to must-see Millennium Advisory Board Panels to be featured at International Hospitality Week in Las Vegas, March 1 - 4. For more information, visit


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