Workhorse Drink Menus

Many hotel bars employ the traditional hotel beverage menu: a ubiquitous black leather binder with tan pages and black print that lists house cocktails alongside liquor brands. But while this is an easy menu template for hotel operators to develop and follow, it isn’t necessarily the most beneficial design for their bottom line.

“Those menus don’t work, or if they do, they work marginally well. The main reason is that a guest can’t decipher anything,” says Mark Vidano, vice president of operations for MarkeTeam, the Mission Viejo, Calif.-based beverage promotions development firm. “Sure, guests know what a Cosmo is and that Ketel One is good vodka in a Cosmo, but once you get outside that and try and market, say, a Chilly Willy or throw in different brand, ingredients and mixes, a consumer doesn’t know what that drink will taste like. They have no clue what to expect … so they go with their old standbys.”

When guests fall back on their standby drinks because a menu is confusing or unappealing, operators lose a valuable opportunity to steer a captive audience toward the drinks they want to sell.

The best way to pry guests away from their old standbys is to go the visual route. Industry leaders have determined that photographs are the optimal selling tools for hotel bars. Whether operators showcase the drinks in the pages of a bound book or highlight a select few cocktails on a table tent or recipe card, images move drinks off the menu. A recent consumer survey of 1,000 adults conducted by Next-Level Marketing for the Nightclub & Bar Advisory Board found 68 percent of respondents want to see drink descriptions and 41 percent want drink photos on menus.

Hyatt Hotels and Resorts discovered the value of images when it developed two prototypes to replace its classic leather-bound book menu with a photo-driven, album-style binder menu and a second, more contemporary copper leather binder, with two to four drinks pictured per menu page. Both prototypes use vivid color photography and brief descriptors to get customers curious about the menu in a way the previous book never could.

“Photographs get the customer to ask more questions,” says Hyatt’s corporate beverage director Barry Prescott. “And it gives the customers an idea of what they want off the beverage list. Then, by the time the cocktail server gets to them, they can close the deal.”

Hyatt also placed an emphasis on visuals for its Diamond Cocktail Series recipe card campaign, which has been used to promote 12 top-selling cocktails since May 2008. “The recipe cards are placed on a wooden display easel on tables in the lounge with the recipe cards rotating quarterly and featuring four drinks at a time,” says Christine Smith-Hill, premier account manager at MarkeTeam, which created the recipe card campaign with Hyatt. “The program was developed with the idea of interaction between the guest and server. Guests are encouraged to take home the recipe cards so they can make the recipe at home.”

Far from being solely interactive, menu photography also can steer clients toward drinks that net operators the largest profits, as witnessed at each of Station Casinos’ 11 Las Vegas locations. “The big challenge for us is that we have complimentary cocktails, so we have to bridge the gap and get people to buy into a premium or ultra-premium brand and get out of the complimentary drinks,” says John Arishita, Station Casinos’ corporate director of beverage operations. “We’ve been doing that by creating features on menus. Anything that is photographed or highlighted is called the Mixologist Series, and all of those are premium or ultra drinks that entice people to spend into the menu.” So far, the format has proven successful: Arishita reports a 12 percent increase in sales for Mixologist Series drinks.

In addition to developing photograph-heavy menus and promotions like recipe cards, hotel operators can employ a standardized menu to increase profits. In the first year that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts implemented a standardized menu, beverage alcohol sales increased 15 to 20 percent. Standardizing helped Disney drive volume, streamline companywide inventory and capitalize on a signature drink by creating brand awareness.

“Our signature drink, the Magical Star Cocktail, dominates the sales, accounting for over 15 percent of the drinks offered on the beverage menu,” says Brad Ward, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts’ beverage sales and standards manager. “The top 10 drinks account for over 65 percent of the sales from the beverage menu. By advertising the Magical Star in every location and giving it top billing, we can drive huge volumes.”

Disney Resorts also has created a successful menu format that keeps sales numbers high without strongly promoting alcohol, a position in keeping with the company’s family-focused audience. “We do not use table tents, ambassadors, posters, neon signs, etc., to promote alcohol. Instead, at our pool bar locations, we use a menu that looks like an oversized mouse pad on the bar tops and tables, and overhead signs behind the bar,” says Ward, adding that although the resorts offer full bars, the simple, 12-item poolside menu drives the bars’ volume.

Whichever route operators take to increase profits, the most important thing a hotel bar can do is make its menus visible. It sounds obvious, but MarkeTeam’s Vidano says he watches operators make this error again and again. “If a bar does have a bar menu, it might only have two out,” he says. “Those things should be everywhere a customer [can] get to — at least one on every table, and at the bar itself, there should be one menu for every two seats. Then, if you are engineering a good bar menu, you hopefully are moving people where you want them to go,” he says. NCB

Menu Format Pros & Cons

When it comes to choosing a drink menu format, operators must consider both their clientele and their business goals. Here are some pros and cons of three popular drink menu formats to help you select a menu that’s right for your bar.

Table Tents
Pros: Ideal for pushing sales of one or two featured cocktails, beers or wines; servers can be trained to point to the table tent and discuss the featured items with guests.
Cons: Small size limits the number of drinks an operator can highlight with an image and descriptor.

Bound Books
Pros: Highlights multiple drinks through photography and/or descriptive menu listings.
Cons: Exterior may not be as visibly striking or attention-grabbing as other formats.

Pros: Advantageous for a poolside setting or family resort scene where alcohol sales aren’t emphasized.
Cons: Needs replacing regularly from wear and tear; materials used will determine how often replacement is necssary. Small size makes it difficult for one menu to market to multiple customers.


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