Casual-dining operators can boost their check average by training servers to focus on hot post-meal drinks Sponsored by TASSIMO PROFESSIONAL.
“One of the great sales opportunities in a restaurant meal is to add a dollop of satisfaction at the end,” says Tom Pirko, president of Bevmark, a beverage consultancy in Santa Barbara, Calif.
And premium hot beverages — typically alcoholic, but not always — he adds, could be the post-meal pizzazz needed to boost long-static check averages in casual-dining operations.
“Consumers are bored and searching for different experiences,” he says. “And when you look at what’s going on with spirits and craft beers, it’s logical to think there’s an opportunity for hot after-dinner drinks.”
That opportunity will yield little, however, unless servers are trained to sell hot beverages and bartenders are given proper equipment to make them, he says.
“The restaurant has to invest in its people and its equipment,” Pirko says. “If bartenders will learn how to make those drinks, consumers will learn how to drink them.”
Paul Paz, a 35-year veteran waiter and consultant, believes premium hot beverages would sell better if servers simply pitched them along with or in place of desserts.
“The problem is simple: the waiter never brings it up and so the guest never thinks of it,” says Paz, also the founder of WaitersWorld.com. “Tableside merchandising should be put out there as consistently as you would a greeting.”
To be successful, Paz insists sales pitches be intentional and specific about products. Generically offering “an after-dinner beverage” may yield only a request for low-dollar hot drinks. So he directs restaurants to supply printed after-dinner drink lists and table tents servers can hand to guests and allow them to read as they make suggestions.
“Studies always show that when people hear and see the suggestion, such as when a server points to it on the menu, there’s a much greater possibility of a sale,” Paz says.
What must follow, however, is friendly and informative salesmanship without the pressure to buy.
“It elevates the value of the drink when you have a story behind it,” Paz says. “The trick is to balance the story with the technical details of the drink. Describe only a few flavors as you give the story of what’s in it.”
Pirko says it this way: “The primary function of service staff is not to carry dishes. They’re marketing and sales people who are there to educate people about cool stuff.”
Equip and train to sell
Bartender and consultant, Troy Sidle, sees hot beverage sales as a huge revenue opportunity for casual-dining operators as long as bartenders adjust their thinking about what they can prepare.
“Hot beverages are really a challenge when 90 percent of what a bartender obsesses over is getting a drink as cold as possible,” says Sidle, partner in Alchemy Consulting and the Manhattan bar, Pouring Ribbons. “It’s counterintuitive for a bartender to say this, but where hot drinks can go wrong is when you add too much booze. It’s much more intense when it’s hot, so you have to do a lot of adjusting.”
Sidle instructs clients to draw on the proven hot beverage canon first before getting creative. He places all premium hot beverages in four basic categories:
1. Hot toddies: A blend of whiskey, brandy or rum, hot water, spices, citrus and other flavors.
2. Coffee drinks: A base of good coffee blended with whiskey, brandy or rum, sweet ingredients and a float of whipped cream.
3. Mulled wines: A blend of modest quality wines, fruits, sugars and spices that are heated as a batch and served hot.
4. Tom and Jerry: A warm eggnog made of fresh eggs and spiked with whiskey, brandy or dark rum. “It takes some finesse to do the eggs properly, so chefs tend get excited about them. Most bartenders don’t.”
To execute these drinks, bartenders need a coffee and/or espresso machine for super-hot water, and a vessel to heat mulled wines. This can be done in the kitchen and held in thermoses at the bar. They also need time to execute such drinks as Spanish coffees, which require additional labor. (For a great how-to video, visit YouTube and enter Huber’s Café: Spanish Coffee.)
“That is a visually stunning drink to make,” Sidle says. “But almost as soon as it’s made, everyone else wants one.”
Especially if Paz is pushing it. When just one guest buys an interesting beverage, he cleverly encourages others at the table to taste it.
“I’ll push two straws together and come to the table talking about ‘the famous extender straw’ that they can pass around,” he says. “That’s entertainment value, an invitation to have fun with a good, hot drink.”