Midscale Bars are Important
Sure, a lot of midscale hotels don’t have bars and restaurants. But thousands do. However, they don’t have the high profile of bars in larger and more luxurious hotels. You may not see the term “mixology” on their menus and you probably won’t have the privilege of paying $14.00 for a cocktail. But the bars in this segment of full service and select service hotels are active because midscale hotel guests drink too.
The chain operators understand this. Four Points by Sheraton has its great Best Brews program. The Courtyard by Marriott Bistro’s bar/cocktail focus has expanded. Starwood’s Aloft brand showcases a bar-centric lobby with w xyz bar. Clarion’s new Bistro-C is bar-centric. Embassy Suites is using training as a tool to attract guests to their revenue bars, after they partake of the complementary beverage reception. And Holiday Inn is laser-focused on bartender training.
Likewise, suppliers understand the math. There are more midscale hotel bars than upscale hotel bars. For example, a Travelocity search for Chicago turns up 197 midscale hotels versus 54 with more stars. Some of the midscale hotels don’t have bars, but the large majority in this list do. In Dallas, the number was 170 to 35; in Los Angeles, 148 to 64; and in Oklahoma City, it’s 42 to 2. Is more booze sold in midscale bars in aggregate than in upscale bars? Take away banquets and catering – and full bottle wine, perhaps – and the answer is a resounding “maybe.” Midscale bars are important.
Midscale Bar Training is Even More Important
The midscale hotel bartender needs more training focus than the upscale hotel bartender. There are many reasons for this, the most obvious of which is that the more experienced bartenders gravitate to the greatest income/tip opportunities. In fact, your midscale bar may be your bartender’s first bartending job. Beyond that, in some hotels, the bartender has duties outside of bartending, outside of serving food, making and serving drinks, cashiering and cleaning the bar.
In one midscale consulting assignment, I discovered that the lead bartender’s only other bar experience was with a bar whose primary business strategy was “low prices,” which is probably fine for that bar. No surprise that the client featured drinks with plastic cups and low prices – which points to one more challenge with midscale: Managers may not be proficient at bartending or bar marketing strategy.
Another midscale client tested quite a few bartenders and discovered that they were pretty knowledgeable when it came to the basics, “Bartending 101,” if you will, including topics like bar safety, what’s required in their jobs, and the importance of quality. But when it comes to the more technical aspects of bartending, “Bartending 102,” if you will, more training is required. In a multiple-choice test, more than a third didn’t select the right answers for the formula for a “balanced cocktail,” how to set up a Boston Shaker or the process for how a spirit is made.
But “what if you train them and they leave?” No one answers that more succinctly than legendary trainer Jim Sullivan (sullivision.com), “What if you don’t train them and they stay?” Midscale bar training is even more important. Here’s the great opportunity with the “under-trained” – a little attention goes a long way. Measurable results will be seen quickly.
It’s Not Just About Training
So, what should midscale hotels do? To find out, I interviewed a beverage and bar expert who’s done a lot of training in the midscale hotel arena, Brittany Chardin. Brittany is a certified spirits professional, a certified sommelier with certifications from Cornell in Food Service Management, and she is USBG Atlanta chapter founding president and current vice president of the Southern Region.
Among Brittany’s insights is the observation that midscale hotel bartenders aren’t necessarily worse, but the midscale hotel bar customer is far more informed than ever before. She explains that “Bar 101” doesn’t cut it if your customer has passed “Bar 103.” She’s right, of course. Besides training, she talks about cocktail menus and wine lists – they’re often nonexistent. She speaks of one midscale hotel that added a wine list on the back of a new menu, and sold its first full bottle of wine in years, just within hours of introducing that list.
Another low-hanging fruit opportunity is described by Chardin as “line of sight.” She suggests, “Just take a few minutes to look at your bar the way your guest sees it. Arrange the back bar so that it promotes your offerings and looks great at the same time. Remember that you’re selling Scotch, Bourbon and Vodka – not glassware! And while you’re at it, let the customers see the tools of your cocktail trade. Display an attractive bowl of fresh fruit, and lay your tools out to signal the guest that you know how to make their favorite drink.”
I’ll add one more opportunity: If your corporate or franchise headquarters offers a beverage program with promotional materials, get them and use them. Chances are the investment in a single promotional piece is tens of thousands of dollars. How do you pass that up?
After all, it’s not just about training.