Selling out sponsorships, the just-completed VIBE conference (held in conjunction with the Nightclub & Bar Show) has managed to push forward new ideas and interesting possibilities at a time when chain restaurants are struggling to understand the seismic changes in the economy.
Are the Millennials set to start spending big? If so, what do they want, and do even they know the answer to that question? Will craft beer, or cider, continue to challenge the big brewers? Will new serving formats, like bottled cocktails or wines on tap, solve some of those nagging loss and efficiency issues? Is social media activity more trouble than it is worth?
While no one expects final solutions to be settled at a conference as large as VIBE, the swiftly-changing beverage landscape did place various attendees at different places along the spectrum, with some operators distilling their own spirits, and others wondering if creating cocktails on tap would allow them to raise the quality and consistency level of their drinks. Which is the point of a conference like this, after all: to pose as many questions as it answers, so that decision-makers fully understand what saying "No" really means.
Take the session orchestrated by Doug Frost, MW and MS, on tap wine. At the session, in addition to hearing about the operator problems and opportunities from an experienced hand such as Marl Melton of P.F. Chang's, and to find out what the costs and challenges operationally will be from those who make and service the wines, the proof was in the glasses: three wines served twice each - once from a tap system and once from bottles. The verdict wasn't unanimous but an informal analysis of the response in the room indicated that tap wines won the room and some significant converts. Many for the first time were encountering wines served through such a system and few had sampled wines side by side.
Similarly, at a Stephen Beaumont-hosted cider tasting, six of the widely-available brands now surging through the US market were offered in a group. Tastings like these are essential when making decisions about the next operational or product step, but the opportunities are woefully few, which is why both sessions were standing-room-only.
Both beverage-focused sessions and those designed for more global thinking had one goal: whatever you are thinking, think again. Change is constant, mistakes frequent, but a refreshing group look at your business can do wonders for the top and bottom line.