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What are You Changing in 2024?

What are You Changing in Your Restaurant or Bar in 2024?

by David Klemt

Restaurant owner reviewing their menu

More fun with AI-generated images. That’s quite the busy bar setup.

Toward the end of last year, Nation’s Restaurant News identified what changes operators chose to make after analyzing their operational data.

The publication surveyed hundreds of operators about how data drove their decisions. This survey was an element of their year-end report, Market Leader Report: The Data-driven Restaurant.

As one would imagine, this report focuses on data collection, analysis, and usage. However, NRN‘s report doesn’t just address the importance of data collection in the F&B space. Rather, they seek to understand if operators are collecting the “right” data; whether they can optimize the data they collect; what metrics they’re tracking; and how they’re acting on all that data.

Simply put, it’s an important report addressing a topic crucial to today’s restaurant and bar operations. Those who want their own copy of The Data-driven Restaurant can download it free here.

While entire report is valuable, the focus of this article is one question and the answers provided. Below, to provide context, is a breakdown of the survey respondents.

The Who

Most of the respondents identified as independent restaurant operators.

  • Indie: 37 percent
  • Chain (franchisee): 21 percent
  • Chain (company owned): 18 percent
  • Multi-concept: 15 percent
  • Single-site operator: 6 percent
  • HQ or brand level of foodservice company: 3 percent

By a slim margin, most survey respondents categorized their restaurants as full service or casual dining.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fewest respondents operate in the upscale or fine dining category.

  • Full service / casual dining: 30 percent
  • Fast casual: 28 percent
  • Quick service: 20 percent
  • Midscale / family dining: 15 percent
  • Upscale / fine dining: 7 percent

The What

So, what question caught our attention at KRG Hospitality?

“In the past 12 months, which initiatives did your organization undertake after analyzing data?”

NRN conducted this survey in November 2023. Not surprisingly, respondents mostly made changes to their menus after reviewing their data. Streamlining menus and adjusting prices were two of the biggest operational trends last year, as many operators are no doubt well aware.

That theory is supported by the survey results. Below, the top four answers to the question above.

  • Changed menu prices (48 percent)
  • Removed items from or added items to our menu (47 percent)
  • Improved the way we trained our staff (26 percent)
  • Adjusted our loyalty program’s rewards and/or incentives (24 percent)

Honestly, it’s heartening to see that training is among the top-three data-driven actions operators took last year. And, of course, it’s not shocking that the menu was the focus of the most attention. Streamlining is an effective way to reduce food and labor costs. Further, pricing is always (please excuse the pun) on the menu.

Our question is: What changes, if any, do you plan to implement this year now that we’re headed into Q3?

The What: The Sequel

If the menu received the most attention after operators reviewed their data, what received the least?

Well, it appears marketing fell to the wayside, along with the kitchen. The following are the bottom four answers to the question in the section above:

  • A/B tested marketing campaigns and increased ROI (6 percent)
  • Changed specs on our kitchen equipment or technology (10 percent)
  • Identified lapsed customers and marketed to them (11 percent)
  • Increased throughput in our kitchen during peak periods (13 percent)

Now, I’ll concede that one marketing action found itself in the middle of the pack when it came to this survey question. Upon analyzing their data, 18 percent of respondents identified new potential guests and marketed to those people.

Still, in comparison to making changes to menus, the fewest respondents took marketing action or made changes to the kitchen directly.

Does this mean that menu changes have the greatest impact on guests and ROI? Well, that’s possible. However, I think something else is at play.

Personally, I think collecting data is the easy part. At this point, most platforms serving our industry are collecting data for operators.

But tracking the correct metrics, analyzing the associated data, and knowing what to do after analyzing said data? That’s difficult. It can be overwhelming, which is why it’s so important to build and implement the proper tech stack for a specific concept. This is why one of the services we offer our clients is tech-stack development.

Further, the tech stack needs to be built around an operator and their leadership team. If nobody knows how to use it or what to do with the data they’re collecting, it’s useless.

Image: Shutterstock. Disclaimer: This image was generated by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system.

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Woodford Reserve 2024 Derby Bottle

Woodford Reserve Unveils 2024 Kentucky Derby Bottle

by David Klemt

Woodford Reserve 2024 "Adorned with Flowers" bottle

Commemorating the 150th running of the iconic Kentucky Derby, Woodford Reserve’s 2024 Derby bottle is now available for purchase.

In keeping with tradition, the bottle’s label features a Kentucky artist’s work.

For 2024, Woodford Reserve collaborated with artist Wylie Caudill, who crafted the painting “Adorned with Roses.” The art is a clear nod to another tradition: adorning the winning horse with a garland consisting of hundreds of roses, the Derby’s official flower.

This should grab an operator’s attention for a few reasons. To start, some operators enjoy collecting bottles. So, they can now get their hands on this annual release.

Further, it’s time to start thinking about this year’s Derby, which takes place on May 4. Millions of people watch the Kentucky Derby every year. Operators need to ensure their Mint Juleps and riffs are dialed in, including the appropriate drinkware.

Impressively, while it has been postponed twice, it has never been cancelled.

Traditionally, the Derby is run on the first Saturday in May. The race was run in June in 1945 due to World War II. And in 2020, Covid-19 restrictions pushed the race to September. Incredibly, a world war and a pandemic couldn’t thwart the Derby.

2024’s race is the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby. It stands to reason that even more people will show an interest in watching and celebrating this year’s race. Woodford’s commemorative bottle at least be on the back bar of any venue running a Derby promotion. It would also make for a great raffle item on race day.

Finally, we celebrate International Whiskey Day this month. The more special edition whiskeys available on March 27, the better.

Learn more about this year’s Woodford Reserve Derby bottle below. Cheers!

Woodford Reserve Releases 2024 Bottle Celebrating 150th Anniversary of the Kentucky Derby

Bottle features the art of Kentuckian Wylie Caudill 

Versailles, KY (March 5, 2024) — Woodford Reserve®, the Presenting Sponsor of the Kentucky Derby®, is honoring “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports®” with the release of its 2024 commemorative Derby bottle.

This year’s special release celebrates the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby® and features the artwork of Kentucky native Wylie Caudill, known for his bold, repetitive patterns, and his signature roses. His painting, “Adorned in Roses,” depicts a racing thoroughbred covered with red roses, with a background of multi-colored roses.

The one-liter bottle retails for $55 and is available for purchase globally. A special presale on ReserveBar begins March 5. It also is for sale at Woodford Reserve Distillery and in the Woodford Reserve online store starting March 5.

“Wylie’s artwork embodies the spirit of Woodford Reserve, the liveliness of Churchill Downs during race day, and the heart of Kentucky,” Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall said. “We’re thrilled to have a Kentuckian’s artwork on our bottle during this monumental year.”

Caudill grew up drawing and painting in Cynthiana, Kentucky. During college, he spent his free time creating chalk drawings, leaving his mark around campus and leading to his title ‘chalk guy’ among locals. He expanded his public street art to painting murals in Lexington after college, and many of his murals can be seen across Kentucky today. Caudill also created the Official Art of the Kentucky Derby for Churchill Downs for the 150th Derby, marking the first year that Woodford Reserve and Churchill Downs used the same artist.

“As a Kentucky native, I am honored to be a part of this milestone celebration,” Caudill said. “I have painted my signature roses many times over the years, but this one is truly special. The colorful roses symbolize the diverse Derby fans from around the world, connecting people beyond the track.”

Woodford Reserve’s Derby bottle has been an annual collector’s item anticipated by bourbon and racing fans since 1999.

About Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve, “Presenting Sponsor of the Kentucky Derby,” is crafted at the historic Woodford Reserve Distillery, tucked in the heart of thoroughbred country in Versailles, Kentucky. A National Historic Landmark, the Woodford Reserve Distillery represents craftsmanship with a balance of historic heritage and modern practices. Woodford Reserve is a product of the Brown-Forman Corporation, a premier producer and marketer of fine quality beverage alcohol brands including Jack Daniel’s, Finlandia, Korbel, Tequila Herradura, Old Forester, Sonoma-Cutrer and Chambord. Please enjoy your bourbon responsibly. To learn more about Woodford Reserve, visit us www.woodfordreserve.com  or check us out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/woodfordreserve.

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 45.2% Alc. by Vol., produced and bottled by the Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles, KY ©2024

Disclaimer: Neither the author nor KRG Hospitality received compensation, monetary or otherwise, in exchange for this post.

Image provided by Woodford Reserve

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This Design Prediction has Our Attention

This Restaurant Design Prediction has Our Attention

by David Klemt

All of Hospitality Design‘s recently revealed 2024 restaurant design predictions are compelling but one in particular really stood out to us.

That’s not to imply that the other predictions are “less than,” of course. Each trend prediction, put forth by highly regarded designers and architects, provides insight into the direction of restaurant design.

As an example, the image atop this article references one of the trend predictions Dala Al-Fuwaires. Per the House of Form owner and principal, retro design is experiencing “a fresh transformation.” In particular, according to Al-Fuwaires, designers are giving materials such as glass brick or block and dark wood tones a modern spin.

Another trend prediction comes from Larry Traxler, the senior vice president of global design at Hilton Hotels & Resorts. Traxler has said in the past that hotels aren’t “just hotels” anymore.

For 2024, he foresees foodie tourism driving significant changes to restaurant and hotel design. Speaking with Hospitality Design, Traxler points to “connection to the outdoors, farm-to-table concepts, biodynamic farming features, biophilia, and bold uses of color and art to create a memorable environment to connect with the food and culture where these hotels are located” as growing trends.

Another trend prediction involves restaurants and kitchens. Specifically, Gulla Jónsdóttir, the owner and principal of Atelier Gulla Jónsdóttir, believes we’ll see more open kitchens in 2024. As Jónsdóttir explains, this design feature creates a more engaging dining experience.

Ed Ng, the founder of AB Concept, has a simple but exciting trend prediction: more concepts embracing secret menus.

But there’s another 2024 prediction that really captured our attention.

Pop-up Collaborations

Operators who put in the time, energy, and strategy to develop buzz around their restaurant experience several benefits.

The most obvious, of course, are increases in traffic, revenue, and profits.

There’s also the recruitment benefit. A restaurant generating local and regional buzz will likely find it much easier to recruit new team members. That is, of course, if ownership and leadership are also generating positive word of mouth in the area.

However, there’s another perhaps lesser-known benefit of developing and operating a cool concept: opportunities to collaborate.

According to Dan Mazzarini, creative director and principal at BHDM Design, hotel groups will seek to partner with local restaurants (and bars, I assume) for pop-ups. These will be on hotel property and will help to provide guests a deeper sense of place during their visits. Another benefit will be locals viewing hotels that partner with independents in the area as respectful of the community.

Most KRG Hospitality clients are indies, regional concepts, and boutique hotels. Consequently, we find Mazzarini’s prediction to be the most captivating. However, each of these trend predictions seem likely to come to fruition.

Image: Ekaterina Astakhova on Pexels

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Update Your Margs with Mezcal and Sotol

Update Your Margaritas with Mezcal, Sotol, and More!

by David Klemt

Contraluz Cristalino Mezcal bottle on a drinks tray

We all know how to make a classic Margarita, so for this National Margarita Day we want to put some new recipes and ingredients on your radar.

The cocktail recipes below swap out the tequila for mezcal and sotol.

For a quick refresher, all tequila is mezcal in a technical sense. Mezcal is made with agave plants. Tequila producers use a specific agave plant, Blue Weber. Further, tequila must be produced in one of five Mexican states: Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, or Tamaulipas.

Then we have sotol. You may have seen sotol thrown in with agave spirits on cocktail or spirits roundups. To clarify, however, sotol is a typo of shrub known as the desert spoon, and it’s not an agave plant.

So, all tequila is mezcal, mezcal is agave, and sotol is…sotol.

Swap Out the Tequila

Being National Margarita Day, you certainly need to have a classic Margarita on your menu. It’s all the better if your bar team makes them so well and so consistently that really, your top-selling Marg is one of your signature cocktails.

That said, it’s also a good idea to play with classics to give your guests new drinks to discover. The two recipes below are two great examples of riffs on the classic Margarita that should get your and your bar team’s creative wheels turning.

Allow me to introduce you to Contraluz Cristalino Mezcal and Nocheluna Sotol, if you’re not already acquainted.

Contraluz lays claim to the title of “world’s first cristalino mezcal.” Made from 100 percent espadín agave, this is a crystal-clear, small-batch reposado mezcal. On the nose, expect aromas of agave, along with citrus and floral notes. You may also detect smoke, cedar, and honey. In terms of flavor, Contraluz delivers notes of vanilla, clove, cacao, and cooked agave, with a sweet, long finish.

The second cocktail below is made with Nocheluna Sotol, which is crafted using 100-percent wild sotol from Chihuahuan desert. This particular sotol is the result of a collaboration between a fourth-generation master vintner, and a master distiller.

A unique spirit, Nocheluna delivers a delicate balance of sweet, herbal, dried fruit, and mineral notes. These notes come through via both the aroma and taste, although you may detect oak and smoke as well. Interestingly, Nocheluna says the finish may include a taste of pecan wood, along with wet earth.

 

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A post shared by Nocheluna Sotol (@nochelunasotol)

But Wait, There’s More!

Along with Contraluz and Nocheluna, you’ll see three bottles that may be new to you below. The Light and Soul cocktail calls for Alma Finca Orange Liqueur, Nixta Licor de Elote, and HAGAVE Spiced Nectar.

The first is an orange liqueur produced by the same company that makes Montelobos Mezcal. The second liqueur, Nixta Elote, is essentially liquid elote seasoning, and it comes in a fantastic corn-shaped bottle. Finally, HAGAVE is exactly what it says on the label: a premium, spiced agave mixer.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely plan to get my hands on each of these bottles. Just imagine what you can do to engage with your guests by introducing them to a crystal-clear, artisanal mezcal, an expertly crafted sotol, and liquid elote in a corn bottle.

Cheers!

Contraluz Cristalino Mezcal, Light and Soul cocktail

Light and Soul

  • 2.0 oz. Contraluz Cristalino Mezcal
  • 0.5 oz. Alma Finca Orange Liqueur (or a triple sec or different orange liqueur if unavailable)
  • 0.5 oz. Nixta Licor de Elote
  • 1 oz. Lime cordial
  • 0.5 oz. HAGAVE Spiced Nectar

Place a large ice cube or sphere in a rocks glass. Add all liquid ingredients to a shaker filled with ice. Shake well, and strain into the prepared rocks glass. Garnish with a dehydrated lime wheel.

Nocheluna Sotol cocktail, the Sotolita

Sotolita

  • 1.5 oz. Nocheluna Sotol
  • 1.0 oz. Triple sec
  • 1.0 oz. Fresh lime juice
  • 1.5 oz. Apple juice
  • Apple slices to garnish
  • Chiltepin salt for rim (sea salt blend with chiltepin peppers)

Prepare a rocks glass by adding quality ice and rimming it with chiltepin salt. Add ice to a shaker, then add all liquid ingredients. Shake well, then strain into the prepared glass. Garnish with an apple-slice fan.

Images provided by LaFORCE

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Did This Beer Win Super Bowl LVIII?

Did This Beer Win Super Bowl LVIII?

by David Klemt

A pint glass overflowing with beer

Now that the Super Bowl is over, behavioral insight platform Veylinx is revealing the impact on brands that advertised during this year’s big game.

If Veylinx sounds familiar to you, you may be a regular KRG Hospitality news reader. Last month we looked at their dive into alcohol-free canned cocktails. Last year, we shared a Veylinx report with a focus on whether Super Bowl ads really work on consumers. And in 2022, Veylinx wondered if the interest in zero-proof drinks was all hype or worth leveraging.

This month, Veylinx is at it again. This time, however, they’re revealing which brands—those that advertised during Super Bowl LVIII—saw the biggest ROI. For context, a 30-second spot during the big game cost approximately $7 million this year.

That’s a ton of cash to shell out in the hopes of seeing a sales increase on- and off-premise.

Speaking of on-premise, Veylinx’s findings should be of interest to operators. The beer that Veylinx says “won” the Super Bowl will likely be top of mind among your guests who watched the game and the accompanying ads.

So, it stands to reason that they’ll either expect to find that beer on a menu. Likewise, they may be swayed to order the beer if they see it when scanning a bar’s taps, menu, or fridges.

With that in mind, operators may want to watch their sales of Michelob Ultra.

Study Methodology

For their latest report, Veylinx used similar methodology to their Elixir non-alcoholic canned cocktail study.

A mix of 50 percent men and fifty percent women participated in the study. All 1,604 participants were US residents aged 21 or older. Looking deeper into the participants, the age breakdown is as follows:

  • 21 to 27: 30 percent
  • 28 to 43: 25 percent
  • 44 to 59: 25 percent
  • 60 and older: 20 percent

Like the Elixir (a fake brand invented by Veylinx) study, participants bid on products with their own money. The auction mix consisted of products that advertised during Super Bowl LVIII and those that did not advertise during the game.

Study Results

Among all viewers of Super Bowl LVIII, brands that advertised during the game saw an average lift of 16 percent.

However, those brands saw the biggest boost in demand—24 percent—among men. Gen Z followed, with demand in advertised brands growing by 11 percent. Among women, brands that advertised saw just a nine-percent boost in demand.

While Doritos Dinamita was the number-one brand among all viewers in general, and men and Gen Z in particular, Michelob Ultra is a close second. Interestingly, the beer brand was the top-performer among women in terms of demand growth.

For those wondering, no alcohol brands were among the top three performers for Gen Z.

So, operators who have noticed in uptick in Michelob Ultra sales may have Super Bowl LVIII to thank. If that’s the case, if sales of Michelob Ultra have increased in bars and restaurants since this year’s big game, it appears that yes, Super Bowl ads still work on consumers.

Image: cottonbro studio on Pexels

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The Batching Superpower of Sūpāsawā

The Batching Superpower of Sūpāsawā

by David Klemt

A bunch of limes and lemons

One of our favorite products from WSWA’s Access LIVE 2024 event in Las Vegas can save operators and bar teams time and money.

Access LIVE, the annual Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of America (WSWA) event is always chock full of notable items. However, this one in particular stood out to me and my colleagues.

Coming out of Deluxe Distillery in Belgium, Sūpāsawā Seriously Sour Cocktail Mixer is here to make lives easier.

Of course, it’s not surprising that this mixer is so impressive. Sūpāsawā is produced alongside high-quality stablemates, after all: Blind Tiger Handcrafted Gin, Mary White Premium Vodka, and Yusibi Honey Based Aperitif.

 

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A post shared by Supasawa (@supasawaco)

In short, this innovative mixer can replace citrus. Importantly, it’s also widely available around the world. Speaking to the core of our audience and clients, it’s available in Canada and the US. When I asked about availability in the US, I was told it’s in 30 states currently.

Operators in the UK, Europe, Australia, and many more regions should also be able to get their hands on Sūpāsawā.

So, what is this magical mixer, exactly? It’s a simple and clean stand-in for expensive and time-consuming citrus.

Deluxe’s super sour mixer is distilled water, citric acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, phosphoric acid, and succinic acid. The liquid is crystal clear, aroma-free, and an incredibly convenient substitute for lemons and limes.

Real-life Scenario

Consider the following real-life hypothetical that shines a light on Sūpāsawā’s real-life benefits.

Let’s say someone hires an operator for a catered event. Included in this event is bar service, and involves more than pouring wine and beer.

Along with a handful of calls, the client and their guests expect a signature cocktail. Well, batching a cocktail or two ahead of the event would be a smart move.

However, we all know what that means: purchasing and juicing citrus. And we also all know what else that means: labor costs for all that prep.

What if one bartender or bar back could batch a cocktail in less than five minutes? Yes, I’m talking under five minutes for the entire batching process.

That scenario is nearly identical to Deluxe Distillery’s Access LIVE 2024 situation.

Deluxe showed the convenience and superpower of Sūpāsawā at their booth via batching. According to the bartender and ambassador who prepared the standout cocktail, he added all the ingredients—including the super sour mixer—to a jug, shook it, and it was ready to go in less than five minutes.

Real-life Benefits

Does this mean you’ll never have to buy lemons and/or limes again? For the vast majority of bars, no. However, the more drinks you can make with Sūpāsawā, the more you can plan for and control the cost of citrus.

Per Deluxe, operators can expect to save 15 minutes per liter of citrus juiced. The distillery also says each bottle of Sūpāsawā represents 35 pieces of fruit an operator won’t have to purchase. On average, a single cocktail requires just 20 ml of Sūpāsawā, or 2/3 of an ounce. With each bottle coming in at 700 ml, that’s 35 individual cocktails per.

When I asked about unit cost at their Access Live 2024 booth, Deluxe said operators can expect a price of $9 per unit. People who do the math can see the benefit of getting their hands on Sūpāsawā for individual, kegged, and batched cocktails.

In terms of storage, the slim bottle can last for about two years unopened. After it’s opened, Sūpāsawā should last for up to a year. Compare that to the two- to three-day shelf life of lemon or lime juice.

Notably, using Sūpāsawā leads to consistency. Because it always tastes the same, drink consistency is improved. And, of course, using this super sour mixer leads to producing less food waste.

Click here to learn more about Sūpāsawā and what it can do for an operator’s bar program, catering, and bottom line. Oh, and click here for recipes. Cheers!

Disclaimer: Neither the author nor KRG Hospitality received compensation, monetary or otherwise, from Deluxe Distillery, WSWA, or any other entity in exchange for this post.

Image: Irina on Unsplash

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WSWA Access LIVE 2024: Product Roundup

A Few of Our Favorite WSWA Access LIVE Things

by David Klemt

Sepulto Mezcal bottle

We attended WSWA’s Access LIVE 2024 event in Las Vegas, Nevada, and found quite a few products we think will pique the interest of restaurant and bar operators.

Agave spirits, perhaps unsurprisingly, seemed to dominate the floor. In particular, tequila was very well represented.

However, we also found notable vodkas, gins, whiskeys, sake, liqueurs, zero-proof beverages, and more. Below, several portfolios and items that really stood out to us.

Cheers!

Portfolio

Deluxe Distillery

This distillery, operating out of Belgium, has some of the most striking packaging I’ve seen in a while. I’m confident in saying that guests scanning a back bar would find Deluxe Distillery‘s bottles intriguing.

More importantly, of course, the liquid is just as outstanding. Deluxe produces three gins under the Blind Tiger label: Piper Cubeba, Imperial Secrets, and barrel-aged Liquid Gold. Their vodka, Mary White, pays homage to a famous bootlegger. And then there’s Yusibi, a honey-based aperitif in a unique bottle.

However, it’s Deluxe’s Sūpāsawā that really grabbed my attention at Access LIVE. This product, available in 30 states in the US already, makes batching not just a breeze but a more budget-friendly proposition. Cost per bottle should run around $9. The prebatched cocktail Deluxe Distillery was serving at their booth took less than five minutes to make.

As far as entire portfolios, Deluxe stood out the most to me.

Agave

Inspiro Tequila

This is clean tequila brand needs to be on your radar. There are currently two Inspiro Tequila expressions, Luna Blanco and Rosa Reposado. Both premium tequilas can be enjoyed neat, and Rosa is rested in rosé wine barrels sourced from France.

Inspiro is woman-owned, confirmed additive-free, certified Kosher, gluten-free, sugar-free, and zero carb. Oh, and the bottles are eye-catching.

Sepulto Mezcal Artesanal

This artisanal mezcal launched at this year’s Access Live event. And yes, this is another case of the bottle catching my eye and drawing me in.

Sepulto is aged for one year in glass, underground. As a result of the distiller’s cooking process, the complex notes of espadín, sahuayo, and papalote agaves come through with each sip. This is definitely a mezcal you’ll want to add to your super-premium agave spirits. In fact, it will be right at home on your back bar and menu next to your Don Julio 1942.

Vodka

Tenjaku Japanese Vodka

Don’t let the clean label fool you: Tenjaku is as fun a brand as it is a premium vodka. Click here to check out their packaging, which drives home my point.

Speaking of premium quality, Tenjaku Vodka is made from Yamada Nishiki rice, which is also used to make some of the best sake in the world. Further, the liquid is filtered not just through birch charcoal but also bamboo charcoal. The result is a vodka that tastes fresh and is delicate on the palate.

Herbesco Pepper Vodka

Looking for a great vodka that can serve as a spicy base for Bloody Marys and other hot cocktails straight from the bottle?

Herbesco Pepper Vodka is made with jalapeño, japones, chile de árbol, and bell pepper. Along with heat, expect herbal, fruity, and even chocolatey notes.

Gin

The Illusionist Dry Gin

Those familiar with Empress are familiar with what gives the gin its hue and color-shifting capability: butterfly pea flower. That botanical is also present in The Illusionist, which comes in a stylish, black Art Nouveau bottle.

Certified organic, The Illusionist delivers more than just visual impact. On the nose, licorice and citrus. Those notes are also present on the palate, along with fruity and floral flavors.

Whiskey

Yame Whisky

This Japanese whisky was introduced to me by Wine of Japan, an incredible portfolio of ultra-premium sake, beer, and spirits. Anyone who wants to add the highest quality sake from Japan need look no further. (In fact, I’ve been looking for a specific sake for over a decade. The VP or Wine of Japan knew exactly what I was talking about and had a sample at the booth. Amazing.)

Two expressions were available to try at Access LIVE, the 10 Year and 15 Year. The 10 Year features a 100-percent barley mashbill and is very easy to drink, delivering notes of vanilla and citrus. Think an easy-sipping bourbon. I found the 15 Year to a bit more complex, delivering dried fruit and grain on the palate. However, I had also sampled quite a few sake before trying this whisky.

In other words, you’re going to have to reach out to Wine of Japan and get tasted on both Yame expressions.

Tenjaku Whisky

There are two Tenjaku Whisky expressions currently: Blended and Pure Malt.

The former is sweet on the nose, with a touch of smoke. On the palate, Tenjaku Blended delivers grain, dried fruit, and a bit of spice.

The latter, Pure Malt, has nutty aroma with herbal notes. Expect wood and vanilla on the palate.

Niche

Wheyward Spirit

I could include woman-owned, operated, and distilled Wheyward in the whiskey category, but it’s too unique for that. The two available expressions are produced by upcycling whey.

Wheyward Spirit, the original expression, can stand in for vodka, gin, rum, sake, and even blanco tequila. The brand itself explains this innovative spirit quite succinctly: “Wheyward Spirit is one of a kind and was designed to take the best elements of vodka, sake, gin, and rum to be both a versatile and sippable clear spirit.”

There’s also Wheyward Spirit Wheyskey. Now that you’re familiar with the original, you can probably guess that this is a whey-based alternative to whiskey. This expression is barrel-aged Wheyward Spirit, and, like the original, is additive-, grain-, gluten-, and lactose-free. When I tasted Wheyskey, it most closely resembled a rye whiskey to me.

Alcohol-free

De Soi

“Savor the flavor, lose the booze, put the ‘fun’ in ‘functionality,’ and embrace the pleasure of restraint,” says non-alcohol brand De Soi.

This range of zero-proof apéritifs is loaded with interesting flavors, such as sparkling Très Rosé, citrusy and herbaceous Golden Hour, and jammy and bitter Champignon Dreams.

Operators looking to add sophisticated and unique non-alcohol beverage options should definitely look into De Soi.

Sparkling Wine

Rozoy Picot

If the production of this French sparkling wine didn’t involve a unique twist, I’m told Rozoy Picot would legally be Champagne.

However, these sparkling wines are blended with terpenes, the aromatic elements of cannabis. (Remember, terpenes don’t contain psychoactive elements, so this product doesn’t get you high.)

There’s a white varietal, Rozoy Picot OG Kush, and a red, Punch Rosé. I can only say that these must be smelled and tasted to be understood fully. Additionally, I can see these performing well at nightclubs as a unique bottle service option.

Image provided by author.

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TOTCF Unveils National Policy Initiative

TOTCF Unveils National Policy Initiative

by David Klemt

Tales of the Cocktail 2023 Singapore x Tales Residency

Yesterday, the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation announced the launch of their Policy Initiative, intended to update outdated labor standards and pay.

Along with advocating for both bartenders and servers, the initiative seeks to raise the subminimum wage to $2.13.

This news comes on the heels of the completion of an in-depth survey. The TOTCF surveyed more than 510 bartenders and other hospitality industry professionals about pay and other compensation.

In particular, more than half of bar workers want employers to provide health insurance. On the restaurant side, servers want to say increases in pay.

There’s much more, of course. Please visit this link to discover the finer details of the TOTCF Policy Initiative. Additionally, you’ll find TOTCF’s press release in its entirety below.

INTRODUCING THE TALES OF THE COCKTAIL FOUNDATION® POLICY INITIATIVE

TOTCF introduces a national initiative aimed at policy change in support of the hospitality community with first priority centered on improving labor standards for bar professionals

NEW ORLEANS, LA (February 13, 2024) — Tales of the Cocktail Foundation® (TOTCF) is pleased to announce the launch of the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation Policy Initiative, a multi-faceted effort designed to amplify and advocate for improved benefits and resources for hospitality professionals in the United States. The TOTCF Policy Initiative – which includes a robust nationwide survey and research project, coupled with support from the initiative’s advocacy committee members and partners – will catalyze an extensive campaign to create policy reform and positive change within the food and beverage community.

“Supporting an industry that has been historically underserved – from lack of industry research, common resources to educate and inform, and funding for coalitions – is crucial in breaking the cycles that have made it difficult to build a lifelong career in hospitality,” said Tales of the Cocktail Foundation CEO Eileen Wayner.

Intended to shift antiquated and subpar labor standards through industry support of positive policy action, the TOTCF Policy Initiative’s objectives include providing resources for employees and employers on labor standards and protections, conducting research and supporting efforts toward effective policy changes, information on healthcare access and benefits, sexual harassment training, and youth worker engagement – all with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion. The TOTCF Policy Initiative, along with its Bar Professional Policy Network Hub, will assist with the organization of grassroots development and advocacy efforts in industry professionals’ local communities, providing opportunities for advocates to be directly involved in policy and reform in their own communities.

“Given our unique position within the industry, we want to offer platforms and resources for productive conversations between policymakers, industry executives, bar owners and operators, and bar professionals, to ensure existing and future policy changes are reflective and inclusive,” said Tammera Catchings, Government Affairs Manager for Tales of the Cocktail Foundation. “For TOTCF, the process begins with supportive research data and intricate data analysis of bar industry professionals and their work.”

The Policy Initiative is centered around improving labor standards for hospitality professionals around the country and supporting increased protections that will help ensure bartending and serving are viable, long-term careers. One of the first priorities of the TOTCF Policy Initiative is to support efforts to increase the subminimum wage of $2.13 for bartenders and servers. Since 1990, employment in the hospitality industry has grown over 85%, while overall private-sector employment grew by only 24%. With more than one in ten U.S. workers employed in the hospitality industry, increasing the wage floor and improving labor standards would significantly improve the well-being of millions of Americans and their families and help reduce long-standing race and gender-based wage inequities.

Launched in spring 2022, Phase One of the Policy Initiative consisted of a robust research project, which culminated with an industry-specific data collection completed by more than 500 bartenders and servers nationwide, targeting topics such as job quality, compensation, tip culture, health benefits, and more. This research, which was analyzed by Dynata, the nation’s largest first-party data company, resulted in a compilation of data that highlights key trends in the hospitality community. By effectively utilizing the survey data to start a progressive dialog amongst hospitality executives, politicians, and advocates, the TOTCF Policy Initiative will encourage significant changes in the economic and labor standards for all bartenders and servers in the country. Research results will be published as analyzed on the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation Policy website in April 2024. In Phase Two of the initiative to support positive policy reform, TOTCF is partnering with Florida International University Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management to conduct further research and analysis into industry labor standards, culminating in research publication at the end of 2024.

TOTCF Policy Initiative Committee Members

TOTCF is pleased to share the collective of industry professionals who are dedicated to advancing and overseeing the Policy Initiative: 
  • Zen Castro: New Orleans, LA – Espiritu Mezcaleria Restaurant, Bartender; BeachBum Berry’s Latitude 29, Bar Back
  • Jayanthi Daniel: Los Angeles, CA – Restaurant Workers Community Foundation, Executive Director 
  • Lauren Darnell: New Orleans, LA – Made IN New Orleans, Executive Director
  • Amanda Gunderson: Los Angeles, CA – Another Round Another Rally, Co-Founder
  • Kaiden Hope: New York, NY – Beam Suntory, Multicultural Portfolio Associate
  • Alex Jump: Denver, CO – Focus on Health, Co-Founder and Director of Operations
  • Jesse Maguire: New York, NY – Beam Suntory, U.S. Trade Engagement Manager 
  • Lynnette Marrero: New York, NY – American Bartender, Mixologist, and Philanthropist 
  • Robin Nance: Albany, IN – Strategic Branding Expert
  • John Reyna: Dallas, TX – Texas Hospitality and Non-profit Law Center, Managing Attorney

Government Affairs Manager

  • Tammera Catchings, J.D., M.S.: Ridgeland, MS – Tales of the Cocktail Foundation
To learn more about the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation Policy Initiative and get involved, join the Bar Professional Policy Network. You can learn more about The Foundation via the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

About Tales of the Cocktail Foundation

Tales of the Cocktail Foundation is a non-profit organization that educates, advances, and supports the global hospitality industry and creates lasting impact in our host communities. Tales of the Cocktail Foundation is the global leader in spirits education and a platform to tackle issues facing the industry. The pillars of the Foundation are to Educate, Advance, and Support the hospitality industry through programs that benefit individuals and organizations in the community and to make a lasting impact in communities that host our events. This year, TOTCF hosts its 22nd Tales of the Cocktail® (TOTC) conference in New Orleans from July 21-26, 2024, and celebrates the theme Inspire.

Image: Cory Fontenot

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Best and Worst Cities for Servers

Service Wins and Woes: Best and Worst Cities for Servers

by David Klemt

Aerial photograph of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at night

A recent survey from gaming industry site Casinos.US identifies the 25 best and two-dozen worst cities for servers in America.

I can share two details about the methodology that Casinos.US employed.

One, they surveyed 2,000 current and former hospitality professionals. And two, they were asked to rate the overall rudeness of their guests on a scale of one to ten. One is the kindest, ten is the rudest.

Further, I can share that the average rudeness of guests being served in the US is 4.9 out of ten. Unfortunately, the three worst cities on the Casinos.US list rank between 7.0 and 7.6 on the rudeness scale. In fact, 22 of the 24 worst cities come in at 5.0 or above.

No city is perfect. The best of the best earns a score of 2.0, with the next best hitting a 3.0. Still, not bad at all.

Sadly, 45 percent of respondents reported finding themselves interacting with rude guests at least twice per day. As far as the worst of the worst, respondents identified “older adults” as the rudest, and Sunday as the day of the week with the most incidents. Do with that information as you will.

There are two sides to the coin, of course. Impressively, 24 percent of respondents “rarely” encounter rudeness from guests. Even better, 28 percent don’t expect to come across rude guests on a daily basis at work. So, there’s some hope out there.

To review the results of this survey for yourself, click here.

The Worst

Alright, let’s get it out of the way. Below, the worst cities in America for servers, according to Casinos.us.

To the right, their rudeness score. Again, the score is out of ten, with ten being the absolute worst.

  1. Washington, DC (4.9)
  2. Orlando, Florida (4.9)
  3. San Antonio, Texas (5.0)
  4. Sacramento, California (5.0)
  5. Columbus, Ohio (5.0)
  6. Buffalo, New York (5.0)
  7. Houston, Texas (5.1)
  8. St. Louis, Missouri (5.1)
  9. Atlanta, Georgia (5.1)
  10. Louisville, Kentucky (5.3)
  11. Miami, Florida (5.3)
  12. Nashville, Tennessee (5.4)
  13. New York, New York (5.4)
  14. Phoenix, Arizona (5.6)
  15. Detroit, Michigan (5.7)
  16. San Diego, California (5.8)
  17. Las Vegas, Nevada (5.8)
  18. New Orleans, Louisiana (5.8)
  19. Milwaukee, Wisconsin (6.0)
  20. Providence, Rhode Island (6.3)
  21. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (6.3)
  22. Jacksonville, Florida (7.0)
  23. Cincinnati, Ohio (7.0)
  24. Virginia Beach, Virginia (7.6)

This list, if accurate, leaves me with one question: What’s going on, Virginia Beach? Sheesh. Calm down—your side of ranch isn’t that important, I promise.

It’s tempting to label this a tourist issue. Well over 10 million people—nearly 20 million in 2019—visit Virginia Beach annually.

And, hey, look at the rest of the list; it’s loaded with destination cities that draw millions upon millions of tourists each year.

However, when you look at the list of the best cities for servers below you’ll find more destination cities.

The Best

Now that we know the worst, let’s check out the best.

The cities below rank the lowest as far as rude behavior from guests.

  1. Dallas, Texas (4.8)
  2. Minneapolis, Minnesota (4.8)
  3. Boston, Massachusetts (4.8)
  4. Birmingham, Alabama (4.8)
  5. Salt Lake City, Utah (4.8)
  6. Los Angeles, California (4.7)
  7. San Francisco, California (4.7)
  8. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (4.7)
  9. Raleigh, North Carolina (4.6)
  10. Riverside, California (4.5)
  11. Kansas City, Missouri (4.5)
  12. Seattle, Washington (4.5)
  13. Charlotte, North Carolina (4.4)
  14. Richmond, Virginia (4.3)
  15. Cleveland, Ohio (4.3)
  16. Indianapolis, Indiana (4.2)
  17. Chicago, Illinois (4.1)
  18. Denver, Colorado (4.1)
  19. Portland, Oregon (4.0)
  20. Tampa, Florida (3.8)
  21. Hartford, Connecticut (3.8)
  22. Austin, Texas (3.8)
  23. Baltimore, Maryland (3.7)
  24. Memphis, Tennessee (3.0)
  25. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (2.0)

Philly may be the City of Brotherly Love but the Steel City, Pittsburgh, is the best for servers in terms of guest behavior. At least, according to Casinos.US.

If you live in one of the cities above, go out to bars and restaurants, and aren’t a jerk to your servers, congratulations on being a decent person.

Takeaway

Let’s say you’re an owner, operator, or leadership team member. And let’s say you operate or work in one of the cities above, whether the best or worst.

If your service team routinely on edge, regularly upset, find out why. Leaders look out for their teams and strive to provide a healthy work environment.

I’m not saying you need to get into the details of their personal lives. What I am saying is that if there are issues in the workplace, you need to get to the bottom of them. More importantly, you then need to engage the team and get their feedback.

How do they want guest issues handled by the leadership team? Are their problematic regulars who need to be “fired” to protect the team? Some guests simply aren’t worth the revenue and tips in exchange for the emotional and mental distress they’re inflicting on the team.

That is, however, something that must be discussed. Most importantly, when the feedback is taken into account and a procedure is put in place, leadership must adhere to it and act accordingly. Any deviation will result in a loss of trust, and that will decimate team morale even more quickly than an encounter with a rude guest.

Lose trust from your team, lose the business.

Image: Venti Views on Unsplash

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Pizza Today Reveals Top New Cheeses

Pizza Today Reveals Top New Cheeses for 2024

by David Klemt

Cheese pull from cheese pizza

Pizza Today‘s informative 2024 Pizza Industry Trends Report is full of useful information, from top styles and toppings to new cheeses guests can choose.

Two weeks ago we did a deep dive into the top eleven pizza styles going into 2024, per Pizza Today. Click here to read that article.

Last week we checked out what the pizza publication had to say about top pizza styles by region. Additionally, we looked at the top toppings nationally and regionally. You can read that article here.

Now, we’re going to talk about what Pizza Today has learned about the top cheeses operators are putting on their menus.

Top Pizza Styles, Nationally and Regionally

Before we jump into the cheeses, a quick recap of the top pizza styles in America.

  1. New York
  2. Traditional American
  3. Sicilian
  4. Deep Dish
  5. Neapolitan / Napoletana
  6. Chicago Thin / Tavern-style
  7. Detroit
  8. Grandma
  9. California / American Artisan
  10. NEOpolitan / Neo-Neapolitan and Chicago Thick (tie)

And now, the top trending pizza styles.

  1. Detroit
  2. Deep Dish and Grandma (tie)
  3. Sicilian
  4. New York
  5. Chicago Thin

Finally, the top pizza styles by region. For a more detailed explanation of each region, click here.

The West

  1. New York Style
  2. Traditional America
  3. California/American Artisan
  4. Sicilian
  5. Neapolitan

The South

  1. New York Style
  2. Traditional America
  3. Sicilian
  4. Deep Dish
  5. Neapolitan

The Midwest

  1. Traditional America
  2. Chicago Thin
  3. New York Style
  4. Deep Dish
  5. Detroit

The Northeast

  1. New York Style
  2. Sicilian
  3. Traditional America
  4. Neapolitan
  5. Grandma

Top Pizza Toppings, Nationally and Regionally

We’re almost to the cheeses. First, a recap of the most popular items to put on top of cheese.

Well, unless we’re talking a stuffed pizza. Click here and scroll to Deep Dish to see what I mean.

Now, the top toppings across the US.

  1. Pepperoni
  2. Sausage
  3. Mushroom
  4. Extra Cheese
  5. Bacon
  6. Chicken
  7. Onion
  8. Red/Green Bell Pepper
  9. Ham
  10. Black Olives
  11. Meatballs
  12. Canadian Bacon
  13. Jalapenos
  14. Pineapple
  15. Beef
  16. Basil
  17. Banana Peppers
  18. Fresh garlic
  19. Tomatoes
  20. Spinach

Below, how toppings break down regionally.

The West

  1. Pepperoni
  2. Sausage
  3. Mushroom
  4. Chicken
  5. Bacon

The South

  1. Pepperoni
  2. Sausage
  3. Mushroom
  4. Extra cheese
  5. Bacon

The Midwest

  1. Pepperoni
  2. Sausage
  3. Mushroom
  4. Bacon
  5. Onion

The Northeast

  • Pepperoni
  • Sausage
  • Mushroom
  • Extra cheese
  • Bacon

Top “New” Cheeses

Okay, so we’ve reviewed top pizza styles. We’ve done a recap for toppings.

So, what are some of the top “new” cheeses going onto those pizza styles and being covered in all those toppings?

It may seem odd the refer to the cheeses below as “new.” In this context, “new” means, “not mozzarella” or “not provolone,” for the most part. Or, if you’re in St. Louis, “not Provel.”

  • Ricotta
  • Cheddar
  • Fresh Mozzarella
  • Goat Cheese
  • Parmigiano Crema
  • Cotija Cheese
  • Scamorza
  • Vegan Cheese
  • Blue Cheese
  • Feta

Guests love personalization, and they love the opportunity to try new foods and new takes on foods they know.

Scamorza

For the most part, you’re likely familiar with all the cheeses above. However, if you’re like me, you may be unfamiliar with scamorza. If that’s the case, I looked into it for both of us.

Like mozzarella, scamorza is made from either stretched cow or water buffalo milk cheese curds. This cheese originates from Italy and comes in two styles: scamorza bianca or and scamorza affumicata. The former is white or natural, while the latter is smoked and brownish in appearance.

Further, bianca is a mild, somewhat sweet cheese. Affumicata, being smoked, delivers a more savory and, as one would expect, smoky flavor.

Vegan Cheese

If you aren’t offering vegan or plant-based cheese for your pizzas, you may not know what brands to use.

Well, don’t worry. I’ve also done some legwork into this topic.

Brands to check out are Violife, Diya, Chao, and Miyoko’s. As plant-based alternatives become more commonplace and expected by guests, I expect more commercial vegan-friendly cheeses to become available. Perhaps we’ll see some at this year’s National Restaurant Association Show.

Image: Pablo Pacheco on Unsplash

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