VIBE Vista Awards Honor Popular Promotions

Winners of the 2012 VIBE Vista Awards were announced at the 2012 VIBE Conference held March 13-14 in Las Vegas. In this final installment, we’ll profile the leaders behind award-winning promotions programs.

In this issue, we’ll take a look at the award-winning promotions from Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar and Marriott International’s JW Marriott Camelback Inn. Applebee’s took home the top spot in the Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator segment, sponsored by The Boston Beer Co., while Camelback Inn won the Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator segment award, sponsored by Finest Call.

Congratulations to all of the winners! We look forward to seeing the 2013 entries.


Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar

Implementing a successful promotion is no easy feat, but when you’re rolling it out across more than 1,800 restaurants and requiring each location to track sales weekly, such a daunting task could prove disastrous.

Not so for Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar, which launched its six-week “Get It All!” program in January 2011. The program aimed to increase total beverage sales, raise average guest beverage sales, introduce and drive sales of the new SkinnyBee Margarita, Long Island Iced Tea and Mojito, and provide staff training and education on the beverages and responsible service.

This was the second contest of its kind, designed based on discussions with members of the company’s franchise advisory council, explains Brian Masilionis, senior manager, beverage. It launched in mid-January to welcome guests back afterApplebee's the busy holiday season. “The beginning of the year offers a unique opportunity to promote robust winter flavors alongside low-calorie food and beverage,” he says.

Nearly all (97%) of Applebee’s locations took part in the program, totaling 1,810 restaurants and 40 franchise groups. Their results? Total beverage sales increased by 6.6% — just over $7 million — during the six-week program, far exceeding the company’s 4% goal. Plus, total beverage sales per guest increased nearly 12%. And the new SkinnyBee drink line introduction was so successful that it now holds a permanent place on the menu.

Throughout the program, total beverage sales and guest traffic were tracked and ranked weekly for each participating restaurant through a custom web portal. Each franchise group reported the data, which then was drilled down to each individual restaurant. The portal allowed participants to view weekly rankings, tips for higher TIPS, staff training documents and educational materials on featured beverages and brands.

The rankings board was “a critical driver of competition between GMs and franchises, and one of the main reasons for such a high success rate.”

“As you can imagine, with 40 franchise groups and over 1,800 restaurants participating in this promotion, communication was key,” Masilionis says. “The iManagePromo platform provided the infrastructure to manage each franchise group individually as well as the national promotion as a whole.”

In addition, the web portal featured a customizable area in which each franchise group communicated the details of their incentive to their GMs. This area included news/weekly updates, promotion details, a restaurant leaderboard, brand education materials and a discussion board for team members to share tips and discuss the contest.

Participants received staff training and education on the program’s featured beverages through server training cards, back-of-house posters and the Get It All web portal, which housed fun facts, interactive polls, brand education, specialty drink preparation and a discussion board.

“In addition to training materials being posted on the website, we sent out back-of-house posters and server cards to each restaurant,” Masilionis explains. “With the right message, these traditional measures are still highly effective. A personal video message from [Samuel Adams’ CEO] Jim Koch to our team was a great addition.”

As a reward for their hard work, all franchise groups that increased sales over the same period in 2010 earned an educational trip to Boston for a top employee. During the trip, employees enjoyed the duck tours, a behind-the-scenes tour of Fenway Park Concessions and a visit to the Samuel Adams brewery to meet Jim Koch. The six highest-performing groups each received a trip to France, which started in Cognac with a two-day visit to Grand Marnier and a two-day trip to Angers, the home of Cointreau.

Through education, high-quality drink offerings and an innovative web portal filled with tools for success, Applebee’s saw great success in increasing beverage sales at each of its locations — a promotion that hopefully will keep guests coming back for more.


JW Marriott Camelback Inn

While bourbon makes its mark every May at the Kentucky Derby with the famed Mint Julep cocktail, four months later, halfway across the country, a group of restaurants and bars celebrated the spirit and achieved great sales success.

The JW Marriott Camelback Inn, located in Scottsdale, Ariz., celebrated National Bourbon Heritage Month by hosting seven different promotions or events across its sprawling 125-acre property throughout September.

The events attracted both locals and hotel guests who enjoyed handcrafted bourbon cocktails and learned more about bourbon and its history in America’s cocktail culture, explains Beverage Director Trudy Thomas, who joined the Camelback Inn four years ago.

The spirit holds a special place in the heart of Thomas, who grew up in Kentucky among the bourbon distillers; their work has inspired her career in the drinks-making business.

Guns n Roses

The JW Marriott Camelback Inn's Guns & Roses cocktail.

“As a Kentucky native, I have a self-proclaimed mission to ‘convert the world to bourbon, one person at a time,’” Thomas says. “Part of that is to bring more drinkers, especially women, to bourbon and also recognize American’s ‘true spirit.’”

So she, with supplier support, planned a month of events that included a Women & Whiskey Dinner, four Saturday Bourbon Schools and even bourbon-inspired spa treatments (such as a 60-minute Hot Toddy Body Treatment or a Mint Julep Manicure).

To kick off National Bourbon Heritage Month, Thomas organized the inaugural Bartender’s Bourbon Battle — the first of its kind in the state. Fifteen of the state’s top mixologists, each representing a different premium bourbon brand, battled to the end in front of 150 patrons. In addition to $5 fall cocktails and $5 appetizers throughout the event, guests could sample the bartenders’ creations and vote for the People’s Choice “Best Bourbon Cocktail” by making a donation to the Children’s Miracle Network Charities ($1 equaled one vote; the evening raised nearly $1,000 for charity). The event — which ended up being Thomas’ favorite — was successful not only because it showcased the broad range of the brown spirit but also because it showcased the immense talent of Camelback’s bartenders as well as those around the area. In fact, it was such a success that the next event already is scheduled for late August, as a pre-Bourbon Month kickoff.

Throughout September, restaurants and bars throughout the Camelback Inn greeted guests in for bourbon cocktails. For example, guests could “Kick Back with the Bird” every Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. with a Wild Turkey sampling at BLT Steak. Not only could they sample the new Wild Turkey 81 and American Honey, but they also could try the bar’s Guns & Roses cocktail, which was part of the fall [email protected] Happy Hour Menu.

Another happy hour special featured local artists on-site creating Maker’s Mark-inspired works while guests sipped on $5 Maker’s Mark cocktails created by Thomas herself. The final Thursday happy hour celebration concluded with the artists auctioning off their pieces, with half of the money raised going to the Children’s Miracle Network Charities.

Nearby, at the three-meal Rita’s Kitchen, it was “5 O’Clock Somewhere,” as the restaurant rolled out new bourbon cocktails to complement breakfast, brunch or lunch. This included the breakfast treat Peach Paradise Bellini (bourbon, prickly pear, white peach puree, Santa Margherita Prosecco) or the brunch-inspired Bourbon Milk Punch (Maker’s Mark, Kahlua, nutmeg, milk and housemade chocolate-dipped bacon).

Throughout it all, guests — locals and travelers alike — learned about America’s native spirit while helping the hotel and its outlets increase its local following, media reach and drink sales. Other Marriott International hotels are hoping to build on this trend as well and have expressed interest in joining Camelback in this year’s celebration, Thomas says.

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