2011 VIBE Vista Awards Honor Best Beer Programs

At the 2011 VIBE Conference held March 8-10 in Las Vegas, we celebrated the winners of the VIBE Vista Awards. In a series of VIBE Spotlights, we’ll profile the winners in each category. This week, we take a look at the winning beer program from Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, which took home the VIBE Vista Beer Award for the Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator segment, while Caesars Entertainment received top honors for Beer Program in the Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator category; both categories were sponsored by MillerCoors. Congratulations to both!

Caesars Entertainment

VIBE Vista Beer Program Award, Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator

Since its inception in 1937, Caesars Entertainment has figured out the right formula to running a successful and entertaining business. Sometimes that formula is so intuitive that it doesn’t take much brainstorming, which is why Caesar’s beer program is one of its most profitable elements.

With 50 casinos around the world and 150 food concepts that sell beer, Caesars stimulates guests by hitting all of their senses, tempting them not only with great-tasting brews but also with visually intriguing point-of-sale materials.

Chris Picone

Chris Picone, beverage director for Caesars Entertainment, accepts his VIBE Vista Award for Beer Program for Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator, sponsored by MillerCoors.

“We’re all about visuals. If we’re going to list the beer, it’s not just about listing the name. We try to incorporate the frosted mug — that sensory appeal that will hopefully help direct the customer to buy an alcohol beverage or buy a beer — to order something,” Chris Picone, beverage director for Caesars Entertainment, says.

To do this, Caesars' brand aesthetic focuses on coupling beer-centric promotions with popular sporting events. For the NFL’s “Now…Get in the Game” promo, Caesars partners with MillerCoors to offer giveaways for player merchandise (where legal) and collectible logo glassware while featuring meet and greets with professional football players at some locations.

“Beer is all about fun for us,” Picone explains, noting that it’s the quality and value offered that keep guests choosing Caesars properties over the competition.

It’s this innate understanding of what its customers want that keeps Caesars' beer program performing at its best. Imbibing guests have myriad options to quench their thirst, as well as to satiate their need for entertainment. From St. Patrick’s Day block parties to Uno de Mayo — a pre-celebration for Cinco de Mayo — to a fall Oktoberfest party and outdoor beer-pong tournaments, Caesars has tapped into a truly successful operation.

Caesars Entertainment

Outdoor beer-pong tournaments are just one of Caesars Entertainment's popular block-party promotions.

“For us, it’s about enhancing the guest experience through unique offerings and promotions. We want our business driving healthy top-line growth,” Picone says. “Beer provides us with a vehicle to provide that profitable offering based on how we position it in our operations."

From high-visibility block parties to high-end beer pairing dinners that “add a new twist and flavor to the consumer,” Caesar’s success is the product of smartly orchestrated events that cater to all guests. With a little luck and a lot of guts, Caesars found its niche in a sometimes overly saturated beer market, seeing sales of featured beer brands increase by 30.3%.

“In today’s environment, people are not willing to take risks. They want to do what’s proven successful and what’s safe instead of trying new things,” Picone explains. “We always want to create something that is unique. We don’t want to do programs or create offerings that everyone else is doing. When people walk into one of our casino properties, our end goal is that their experience will be nothing like they ever had before.”

With a steadfast philosophy and strong core partner relationships, the Caesars experience is truly just that — one-of-a-kind.

Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery

VIBE Vista Beer Award, Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator

Ragtop Red Ale. Mother Martha’s Pale Ale. Stacks Pale Ale. Powerhouse Pale Ale. Fun and imitable, these are merely a few of the unique brews at four (La Jolla, Calif.; Arlington, Va.; Pittsburgh; and Cleveland, respectively) of the 34-unit Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery locations.

It’s not just catchy names that attract guests to Rock Bottom’s beer menu — it's the personalized touches added to each brew. Accounting for 85% of alcohol sales, beer at the Louisville, Colo.-based Rock Bottom requires thoughtful ingenuity and a dedication to quality that often is missing from other restaurants and bars.

But because Rock Bottom also doubles as a brewery, it manifests itself as a unique binary that represents the best of both worlds, offering fun pub fare while featuring beers exclusive to each Rock Bottom location.

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery

Andrea Johnson (center), beverage manager at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, accepts the VIBE Vista Award for Best Beer Program for the Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator segment, sponsored by MillerCoors.

“One thing that is unique,” Andrea Johnson, beverage manager at Rock Bottom, explains, “is each location has their own beer list. We brew all the beers in-house, choosing local ingredients with each location having up to 25 location-specific beers per year. “

However, Rock Bottom standard ales grace the menu annually, including the American Dream India Pale Ale, the amber-colored Rocktoberfest for fall and the Fire Chief Ale. Again, the duality is pervasive for the Rock Bottom team, this time uniting the Fire Chief Ale with a charitable cause. Each location helps raise money via beer sales and food promotions, donating a minimum of 10% of sales to a local fire-related charity.

Rock Bottom Restaurant and BreweryBy educating guests, Rock Bottom unveils its many sides, garnering a large beer-drinking audience through its quarterly chef and brewers pairing dinners, complete with hand-crafted beers, for $35 per person, while gaining loyal customers who stop by for its monthly beer-tapping parities that introduce new brews to the menu.

Beer-tapping parties include a complementary 10-ounce taste of the beer for each customer present during the first hour, where legal, plus a brief lesson about the beer.

“The brewer walks around talking about the flavor profile, the brewing process. It’s a beer education,” Johnson says.

Matriculating at Rock Bottom, truly an institute of higher learning for beer lovers, starts with a knowledgeable and passionate staff, who enter into a two-week training program to learn about all facets of the Rock Bottom institution.

An enthusiastic staff is the pièce de résistance. In fact, Johnson says this explains why Rock Bottom is continually on top of the beer pyramid.

“If the staff is behind the beer, then simply suggesting it at the table is the most powerful piece.”

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