Mary is responsible for the overall strategy of P.F. Chang’s beverage program across its 211 U.S. restaurants. She manages the creation of beverage menus, the wine program, drink innovation and development, wine education and bartender training.
ITM: It’s P.F. Chang’s 20th anniversary this year. Are you doing anything special to celebrate?
MM: We are – it’s been a busy and exciting year for us. We introduced seasonal menus earlier this year and are currently featuring a fall menu that highlights the best flavors of the season, from dishes and desserts to cocktails. All of our seasonal dishes include suggested wine pairings, and fall’s featured cocktails include an Apple Cinnamon Martini, Ginger Jalapeno Mule and Rum Chata.
ITM: ITM recently covered the grand opening of your first airport terminal location in Atlanta, Ga. How is it coming along? Are you planning to open more airport concepts?
MM: The airport is an exciting location. We’re busy from the minute we open our doors ‘till closing time! We’ll be learning a lot about how to best serve our busy airport guests and airport operations in Atlanta, and see where we might go from there.
ITM: Your specialty drink list is so fun, fresh and interesting. How do you come up with the ideas?
MM: Our goal with our specialty cocktails is to offer fresh, innovative cocktails using premium spirits and mixers that reflects our restaurant’s style. We often like to take a classic recipe and put our own spin on it.
ITM: I love the categories on the wine list. The whites, for example, are “fruity, floral, tangy and creamy.” You’ve long been an advocate of wine with Asian food. Did P.F. Chang’s always have a lot of wine selections, or did the number of wines grow with the concept?
MM: Wine has always big a big part of the dining experience at P.F. Chang’s. We started with an extensive wine list, with all wines offered by the glass. Our philosophy has always been to offer quality wine that our guests can truly enjoy. Our current list consists of wines that are familiar as well as a fair number that are considered new discoveries for many, and we offer a few that are higher-end for those looking for a really special experience.
ITM: What is the bestselling category in the group?
MM: Traditional Chardonnay and Cabernet have been the top sellers for our restaurants. But many consumers are looking beyond, and exploring new varietals and new blends. We’re seeing people experimenting with different, lesser-known varietals such as Garganega, Albariño, Moschofilero, Tempranillo and Carménère.
ITM: Educating and training for that many restaurants must be a monumental task. How do you manage it?
MM: Training is the most important and the hardest part of my job. We’re always searching for new ways to teach and excite our teams about wine. We’ve done everything from group training to posting quick tasting notes online. But I find the best way is still one-on-one training. Nothing takes the place of tasting with someone and talking about his or her thoughts on the wine. I try to always take a few minutes to taste and talk about wine every time I’m in one of our restaurants.