December 19th, 2018 | By Mike Raven
Recorded live at the Hard Rock Cafe, Louisville, Kentucky, by Mike Raven along with IMI Agency’s Account Manager for Hard Rock International, Evan Traub.
A special thanks to the management and staff at the Hard Rock Cafe Louisville for their hospitality during our visit.
Photos by dna Hospitality LLC
Mike Raven: Though it is not new news, congratulations on your appointment as Director of Beverage Operations at Hard Rock International. What was your background before this position?
Brittany DeLoach: Thank you! I joined Hard Rock International as Director of Beverage Operations in October 2017. Prior to overseeing Hard Rock’s beverage program, I worked for 13 years in a variety of beverage positions at Bloomin’ Brands restaurants. This is where I received plenty of operations experience with bars, how to set up a bar, and I did openings for them. That’s where I met Leigh Merritt, who is currently my boss today. She really mentored me through the beverage industry and brought me into some projects that she was working on as the Director of Beverage. Prior to Bloomin’ brands, my first job was a hostess at age 16 for a small mom & pop restaurant in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.
MR: Nice background in national accounts.
BD: Yes, a good variety, all in wine, cocktails and beer, so it was good.
MR: What changes have you made to the HRC beverage program since coming onboard?
BD: We spent a good amount of time in the beginning getting to know the brands and operations. What that identified for us was that there was a large opportunity to simplify the execution of beverages behind the bar. So that was our biggest focus from the beginning – to get everybody to a great baseline and provide a more simplified execution, which will really give us a great runway for innovation in the future. For our first menu print, I have helped restructure the award-winning drink menu and place a greater focus on 16 signature cocktails. This approach allows Hard Rock to implement new flavors and twists to classic cocktails, while maintaining consistency.
MR: Sounds like a great start.
BD: Yes, and we really focused on a cocktail menu to create an authentic beverage experience that rocks. We work to ensure that our offerings address guest preferences, align with Hard Rock’s classic persona, are reflective of our cafe locations around the world and are consistent across all locations.
We are continuously attending conferences to learn what ingredients are on the rise and are always thinking of how we can blend those trends with our Hard Rock personality, whether it’s through presentation or flavor. For example, this past June, Hard Rock Cafe created the Rockin’ Fresh Margarita, which features our own Southwest spin on the classic margarita, and added a Sparkling Berry Sangria that is light, refreshing and female-friendly.
MR: There’s been a lot of talk about alcohol-free cocktails. How does that segment work for you?
BD: Our alcohol-free, or our Alternative Rock, section does really well for us, especially over the summer when kids are out of school and everybody’s traveling to destinations. That’s normally where we see the sales of our Alternative Rock cocktails really spike. Overall, our guests truly enjoy some fruity-based cocktails. This is one section we’re actually looking at getting a little bit more involved in for 2019.
MR: Is the Hurricane still the big drink?
BD: Hurricane is our number one and our signature. It is a guest favorite! Most of our signature cocktails are featured in the Hurricane glass. It’s the one that is the most iconic to guests traveling to different locations and wanting to take the experience back home with them and be able to remember it.
MR: I know we touched on the core focus and direction of Hard Rock Cafe beverage program. Do you want to add to that?
BD: Overall, we want to create authentic beverage experiences that rock! So it mimics exactly, in general, what we want to do for our guests all around. We want the flavor and presentation to have that WOW factor that makes you want to purchase the glass, take it home with you and remember your experience.
MR: With top locations throughout the world – Times Square, Hollywood Boulevard and London – what are some unique ways you capitalize on these markets?
BD: It’s an interesting question and it’s going to be a big focus for us in 2019. We are always looking at opportunities with locations around the world. There are plenty of opportunities for our local cafes to capitalize on their markets, and many have activated and executed their own offerings to have a bit of fun with their menus. For example, Hard Rock Cafe London created four American and British-inspired cocktails to celebrate the recent royal wedding. Hard Rock Cafe New York also created themed cocktails for patrons visiting New York City on New Year’s Eve.
MR: You must spend a lot of time doing research for the global aspect of the beverage program.
BD: We did a lot of research and worked with some great partners on identifying, by country that we operate in, what their highest-ranking flavor and cocktail trends are. Then we compared those to help us identify what would be part of the future of our beverage program. As a restaurant that prides itself on fresh and flavorful ingredients, the biggest global challenge we face is produce accessibility and identifying partners who could meet our needs and guest demands. For example, limes are an essential ingredient in many of our beverage recipes, and the team collaborates with field operators to ensure the ingredients are fresh and streamlined throughout each region.
MR: What do you look for when identifying cocktail, beer and wine selections for your cafes?
BD: When we are looking at these, it’s a couple of different things. We definitely look at flavor trends that are going on throughout the industry but we also look at them globally, to see what flavors are popping in different countries so we can make sure we’re relevant to European consumers, as well as in Asia and Dubai. It’s looking at what our consumers really like to drink. Beer is a big one for us; we are getting ready to re-launch our beer program this December. We worked with our supplier partners to identify beer trends going on. We paid attention to our European and North American cafes as well as franchise owners. To be quite honest, they all drink the same, for us, in the beer segment.
Evan Traub: Would you like to touch on the localization of craft offerings or the beer cocktails that are potentially in the works?
BD: For this recent December 5th release, we are focusing on a national beer launch. Then for 2019, we will have our regional beer program rolling out where each cafe will select, based off of their region, some of the more relevant crafts. We are also working on some beer cocktails for summer. We are actually going to show one of them at the Taste of the NFL event at the Hard Rock stadium in Miami this November.
MR: Earlier this year, you reopened a new property in Atlantic City. What’s unique about this location?
BD: Hard Rock Cafe Atlantic City is the only cafe in New Jersey and has been present in Atlantic City for more than 20 years. The cafe features the newest design style, latest technology and is a 22,360 square-foot, state-of-the-art cafe located inside of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. That location actually has three separate bars for the cafe. It has a beautiful location right on the boardwalk looking over the Ferris wheel, and the doors open up to the outside. It’s a beautiful hotel and casino combination that is open 24 hours a day. So it has a late-night menu and a breakfast component as well as the normal lunch and dinner. We put a fun brunch program together for that one, with a signature BBQ Bloody Mary and a passion fruit mimosa – it was a fun one to work through.
MR: This sounds like a very time-consuming process to go through.
BD: It’s not at all. I think for me, one of the most exciting parts is that we have a great beverage team. We have Jacqueline Laverde, who focuses on the cocktail side, and Katherine Cook, who focuses on the beer side for me. They’re both passionate about it and that’s one of the great things about this team, as we’re striving to have an expert in each segment with myself focusing on the wine.
MR: How does IMI Agency help you with your process?
BD: IMI’s expertise helps us in many ways. Through the iManagePROMO contest website, they help us bring a lot of these promotions and the beverage programs to life, as well as help with our supplier partners. They also help us navigate legal channels, such as with the Atlantic City opening, looking at different promotional offers that we might want to execute, what’s tolerable, what we can do. They help with some of the research internationally with what’s permissible in different markets.
MR: What are some unique ways you train your teams about beverage?
BD: We strive to provide a solid foundation for all our Hard Rock locations; therefore, we developed a proper protocol for our beverage team to ensure appropriate execution. For example, Hard Rock Cafe created a Regional Beverage Manager position in North America and they are tasked with making sure each location is complying with our high standards of handling ingredients, as well as accurately speaking to patrons about the recipes. This also helps support consistency and quality of products, and has been a huge success.
Additionally, we conduct trainings in person with our Regional Beverage Managers and feature them in our internal newsletter, which includes information surrounding cocktail recipes, techniques and pairings. We also implemented short videos for our staff, featuring our new recipes and offerings, and highlighting proper techniques and pairings. Regardless of cafe location, information is always available to help educate and train our staff, which simply creates success.
MR: Are IPAs still the driving force in the business?
BD: For us, most of our consumers tend to go towards the American light lagers. The IPAs are definitely still there and we are actually adding Lagunitas IPA on tap this December. We feel, from a trend perspective, it is still there.
MR: Earlier this year, you used IMI’s iManagePROMO platform for an international contest and are launching another one shortly. How did it go?
BD: It was fantastic! The contest was souvenir glassware sales. We saw an increase in sales over the same period in the previous year. And yes, it really gave our team something to focus on. The tool, iManagePROMO itself was awesome because it was a one-stop shop for operators to log in and they could see where they had to hit goals by each week, so they could really start planning. And they could track accurately where they sat each week. So we are excited to be able to launch the next competition this December, which will run for another eight weeks focusing on souvenir glass sales, beer sales and featured cocktail sales.
MR: So the program must be user-friendly to get so many people involved and get them excited about things. Is it easy for them to use?
BD: It’s very easy for them to navigate. We used it for both our North American and European cafes. It provided weekly updates in a seamless process, which allowed our team to focus on weekly goals, resulting in an ample amount of success. It was a smooth process to execute and we look forward to launching another international contest soon!
MR: Can individuals look at their sales compared to others, to see where they stand?
BD: Yes, they could see all cafes that were participating in the contest.
Evan Traub: As they go forward and do additional contests, they will be able to utilize that same website and refer back to old contests or look at who won and who was a top contender. It continues to build in this one place where they’re familiar with where all the materials are located.
BD: We also had two great posters made by IMI that were hung in back of the house to support this past contest, as well as the new contest coming, which helped communicate everything.
MR: Nothing like a little spirited competition to get everyone fired up, right?
MR: How old is the Hard Rock company?
BD: Hard Rock is 47 years old. It was founded in 1971 in London, England and from there it began its global expansion in 1982. There are now 185 cafes in 74 countries.
MR: That’s a lot of Hurricanes! What’s the future hold for HRC?
BD: I think it is a really exciting time for Hard Rock as we approach 50 years. The most exciting thing about Hard Rock for me, as we evolve the future of the beverage program, is that the staff and guests have such a huge amount of passion and excitement for this brand. Hard Rock Cafe will continue to focus on creating new, unique limited-time cocktails at cafe locations. Hard Rock guests should expect to see continued innovations throughout the year with a focus on new flavors, upgraded presentation and subtle twists on our classic and signature cocktails. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, we will build out our beer, wine and Alternative Rock programs.
MR: The classic artwork, guitars and costumes – it’s all a major part of Hard Rock Cafe. You can walk around and see everybody from my generation to now. Let’s talk a little about that.
BD: The memorabilia is a huge part of it! It was an awesome experience to take Evan through the vault. (The vault is explained in the next question.) Everyone seems to have his or her own favorite piece of memorabilia. It’s the largest collection of music memorabilia in the world, with more than 81,000 pieces, all owned by the Hard Rock International. Each cafe has memorabilia that is relative to the city it’s in.
MR: You can see, where we are here in Louisville, we’re sitting under the Dixie Chicks; Willie Nelson has a whole wall of stuff; there’s the Charlie Daniels Band – I definitely see the relevancy to the locations. So this “vault,” as you call it, is it where they keep everything before it is shipped to the locations?
BD: It’s a full operation. It’s where they store everything but also, when a piece is assigned to a location – whether it’s a hotel, casino or cafe – the vault’s team designs how it will be framed there, its background and everything. A full-time staff oversees all aspects of the Hard Rock collection, from the initial procurement of an artifact to its maiden installation at a Hard Rock location.
MR: Wow, that’s a lot of moving parts.
BD: They’re a pretty impressive team.
MR: Brittany, you have been a gracious host and a pleasure to work with during this photo shoot and interview. Thank you!
BD: Oh, it was fun. Thanks for having me in in the Mix!