It’s easy for hotel F&B directors to feel overwhelmed with the variety of glassware required for a higher-quality bar, let alone for the hotel’s restaurants, room service and banquet facilities. Smart managers develop a manageable defensive, or cost-driven, strategy. This involves the very real issues of breakage, storage space, display space, the seemingly infinite number of dish racks required for specialty glasses, and the labor cost of hand-polishing shapes that refuse to dry without spots. And let’s not forget portion control.
I’m going to ask you to suspend these concerns–we’ll come back to them–in favor of an opposing strategy: the driving rationale for glassware selection should be to maximize sales. That’s right; disregard cost and convenience, for the time being. I propose that the correct glassware selection can reinforce your competitive position in the marketplace, improve guest satisfaction, and increase your check and profits.
I’m betting that you’ve already adopted a similar strategy for your product line: you carry products that help maximize sales. But you’re not selling just beverage products, you’re selling a beverage experience, and the glassware may be as important to that experience as the product itself.
How important? Some say that the shape of the glass can actually affect aroma and taste. This shouldn’t surprise us. The traditional shapes that we use today were developed centuries ago. The first foot-stem-bowl wine vessel was probably created in the 15th century. The beer mug is likely older. Snifters, the preferred vessel for brandy (and recommended for certain beers), almost certainly date from the 18th century. Why have these glass designs stayed with us so long if not for the fact that they enhance the experience?
Fast forward to the current day. Glassware exists for virtually any beverage variation. Riedel and Glencairn offer glasses designed exclusively for sipping single malt scotch. The Sam Adams beer glasses have laser etchings on the bottom of the glass “to create bubbles for constant aroma release.” Ravenscroft’s Amplifier line of wine glassware will “magnify the bouquet of any wine.” Additionally, Riedel, which makes a glass for practically any varietal, has conducted tasting seminars since the 1990s to prove that its glassware enhances both the aromas and flavors of wine. Their rims are sized to deliver each wine to the optimal regions of the tongue, and their workshops reinforce the point with tongue maps.
What about the science? Does the glass really affect the flavor? The evidence is unequivocal, maybe. Gourmet famously debunked the Riedel wine glass claims in its August 2004 “Shattered Myths” article. Few other studies seem to support claims about enhanced bouquet and flavor. The “tongue map” is urban myth, plain and simple. But creating myths and debunking myths go on, and wine lovers continue to walk out of Riedel seminars astonished by the perceived influence of their glassware.
“So what?” you say.
Good question. You manage a bar, not a science fair. You’re less concerned with chemistry and more concerned with the guest experience, a profitable guest experience.
Here are my suggestions for your consideration:
- Use premium glassware for premium products, or ultra-premium glassware for ultra-premium products.
- Use glassware to introduce drama. The right match of premium beverage and premium glass is sexy. You’ll know it when you see it.
- Make glassware a competitive advantage of your bar by selecting the right glasses and then teaching your bartenders the stories behind them. The glassware styles and shapes–much like the spirits, wines and beers you sell–have stories. Whether it’s the beer stein (created to stave off the plague) or the modern-day champagne flute (developed in Italy in the 16th century), your bartender’s knowledge and storytelling ability will go a long way to support that premium price.
Now for the very real, practical challenges mentioned at the beginning of this article:
- Minimize the impact of additional glassware by focusing on a few product categories that you wish to promote, premium or ultra-premium, of course.
- Calculate the glass cost for drinks you want to upgrade with premium glassware. Use the same ROI analysis you do for many of your other expenses and promotions but break it down. Estimate the number of drinks you’ll get over the realistic lifetime of a single glass; divide the glass cost by that number and add that to your cocktail, wine or beer cost. How much do you need to add to the price of the drink to achieve the margin you wish?
- Track sales; consider bartender incentives. If successful, expand the strategy to more categories.
Which glassware is the right glassware?
I recommend that you put together some customer focus groups. I think both you and your customers can have some fun with this.
- Seat your invited guests in a room and tell them that there’s a game afoot: whoever comes closest to guessing the prices of the drinks you’re about to show them wins a prize (dinner for two, etc.).
- Have a server bring a prearranged set of four drinks, all identical except for the glassware: four glasses of red wine, four scotches neat, four of your signature cocktail, four draught beers–it doesn’t matter. One of the glasses used should be your current glass, and one or two should be glasses you propose to use.
- Then ask the group to estimate the price for each, with no information except what they see. They should write the answers down on a form you provide. Next, repeat with four more drinks.
- Do this a few times with the items you’re considering for an upgrade, and pretty soon you’ll know which glassware selections add the most perceived value.