Building better food and beverage programs by incorporating “the mystique of flavor” was the central theme at the Second Annual Flavor Experience, held earlier this month at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort in San Diego, Calif. Presented by Flavor & The Menu magazine and BSI, Inc., the conference’s speakers placed the latest trends in the ever-evolving world of food and beverage, squarely on the table.
This year’s agenda featured a series of nine inter-active “tool box” programs, several of which focused on beverage menus, fun, and hands-on tastings. David Commer, president of Commer Beverage Consulting, presented a tool box underscoring the role of flavor in constructing cocktails.
“The importance of a good beverage program cannot be underestimated,” he said, “since the very first flavor impression most people get in a restaurant is contained in a drink. It’s worth it to get it right.” A few of his guidelines: “Flavors matter, and cocktails must have balance; cordials are important today and syrups differ in flavor delivery.” And to make his point on the importance of using fresh juices and mixers, attendees were allowed to taste fresh sour mix along with the powdered version.
Another popular tool box involved marketing strategies for operators. Glenn Schmitt, president of MarkeTeam, presided over a panel of savvy chain marketers. Schmitt challenged operators to set a goal of selling two drinks to each guest. He also encouraged them to use menus. “Don’t just say, ‘What would you like to drink?’ You wouldn’t ask them what they would like to eat without handing them a menu.” Also, “its’ not just about serving booze: it’s about zero-proof beverages,” he asserted.
At Chili’s concepts, Schmitt noted that beverage comprises twenty-five cents of each profit dollar. Panelist Stephanie Hoppe, Chili’s director of beverage, discussed the sensations of “two of our big flavor items: Margaritas and fajitas. With the fajitas, you hear, smell and see the product; and the flavor of our classic cocktails is reinforced with ‘splash photos’ on menus–which say fresh, flavorful and active.” She also discussed combining food with beverage-type presentations. For instance, the chain’s “Margarita wings” are served in a Margarita glass.
Smart brand marketing was another hot topic at the conference. General session presenter, consultant Kate Newlin explained why “passion brands” have survived while others failed. “Passion brands endure in the marketplace. One striking example is the Robert Mondavi Winery. It legitimized the California wine industry in the ‘80s and beyond, taking it from the half-gallon of Gallo ‘hearty burgundy’ to where people pay $100 - and more - for its Opus One wines today,” she said.
During the general sessions, a plethora of the latest directions in guests’ food preferences were also explored. For instance, “Baby boomers spend the most money on food, at both restaurants and at home. Since they’re stressed and looking to remove that, they are attracted to places serving ‘Slow Food’ types of dishes,” said Dan Hernandez, director of innovation at Hormel Foods. “Slow-cooked, braised or barbequed meats are a great example of this type of cooking,” he said.
Another group, known as Generation Y, “embrace diversity and like communal eating. With them, items like lettuce wraps where you can select the ingredients, such as you can at places like Chilli’s and PFChang’s, are popular, Hernandez said. And regardless of the group, don’t forget burgers, he cautioned. “The number one entrée item in 1994 and in 2005—is still the burger. But today’s burgers have bolder flavors, spices are being added.”
(Ellie Van Savage is the associate editor for the Adams Beverage Group.)