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All Back Issues » September/October 2010

FAME and Fortune
Fairmont generates high sales with an enduring low-profile cocktail program.
By Michael Costa

Fairmont cocktail program
PLOT TWISTS: Fairmont does not mandate a core cocktail menu for properties participating in the FAME program; individual hotels may choose from a pool of approximately 100, in addition to adding their own.

Fairmont cocktail program

Fairmont cocktail program

Fairmont cocktail program

Fairmont cocktail program

Fairmont cocktail program
[Drink photos by Genevieve Shiffrar]

Fairmont cocktail program
FAIRMONT’S COCKTAIL IMAGE: Beverage consultant Kathy Casey, who helped develop the FAME program, says cocktails are Fairmont’s F&B flag to wave, a focal point of refined hotel luxury. The caliber of drink

Fairmont cocktail program
SHAKE IT UP: FAME’s core principles have proven successful outside of North America, especially at Fairmont’s Middle East properties such as the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr. The use of regional ingredients like curry syrup and coconut powder in the hotel’s signature cocktails have been a hit with customers and helped give the property a distinctive local identity.

Fairmont cocktail program
COLD, HARD NUMBERS: FAME has accounted for approximately 25,000 cocktails sold at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler in Whistler, Canada, since it launched there in 2008. Some properties, such as the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, can add a cool touch to special events with one-of-a-kind ice bars.

In the 1964 comedy Dr. Strangelove, Peter Sellers’s titular character is incredulous after learning about a secret “doomsday machine” built by the Soviet Union as a deterrent to nuclear war with the United States. “The whole point of the doomsday machine,” he posits, “is lost if you keep it a secret!”

The basic idea is analogous to the real world of branded F&B programs: If the customer doesn’t know about it, how can it be successful?

Fairmont appears to have the answer. Their training and execution-focused FAME cocktail program has helped increase liquor sales and elevate customer feedback across each of the 37 properties where FAME is in place. Now in its fourth year, it has outlasted many other visible, front-of-the-house F&B rollouts throughout the industry.

“We don’t have a zillion tent cards around or neon lights flashing for certain drinks. It’s more about what we do and being consistent and sensitive to what the guest wants,” says Thomas Klein, California regional VP, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, and GM of the Fairmont San Francisco.

FAME stands for Fairmont Artistic Mixology Experience, but the program “is primarily known as FAME internally,” says Mariano Stellner, corporate director of F&B, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. “To guests, we refer to it as Fairmont Mixology.”

Those guests might not see the FAME name—although it has appeared on menus at a few properties—but they have noticed the quality of the drinks. Since FAME launched in 2006, cocktails developed through the FAME program have accounted for:

  • Up to 38 percent of all liquor sales at Fairmont, depending on the property.
  • Approximately 38,000 cocktails sold and $430,000 in revenue at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria, Canada, in 2009.
  • Approximately 25,000 cocktails sold at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler in Whistler, Canada, since 2008.
  • Over 7,000 sales of the three most popular cocktails at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler in 2009—the Pomegranate Cucumber Mojito, the White Pear Cosmopolitan, and the Strawberry Vanilla Drop.
“We’ve been able to increase prices by offering such a great product, and we’ve seen many guests order a second cocktail,” says Sarah Wark, assistant director of F&B, Fairmont Chateau Whistler. The average price for a Fairmont cocktail now ranges from $12 to $18, and up to $22 in cities like New York.

As a chain, Fairmont isn’t really known for branded F&B. Instead, each hotel is defined by its location: regionalized menus, a heavy focus on local ingredients, and showcasing in-house culinary talent. In that sense, no two Fairmonts are alike.

FAME represents the first time Fairmont launched a cohesive beverage program across multiple properties in the company’s history, and one reason cocktails were chosen as the focus was because “Fairmont has sort of a cocktail image. If they were going to pick an aspect of food and beverage to make a corporate program, this would be it,” says Kathy Casey, an independent consultant hired to help develop and oversee FAME through her Seattle-based company, Kathy Casey Food Studios, and its beverage arm, Liquid Kitchens.

A “cocktail image” can probably be defined as an F&B reflection of refined hotel luxury— relaxed, cerebral, high quality, and consistent. “Many of our hotels have incredible locations and incredible bars, so a classic cocktails theme is befitting of those locales,” says Stellner.

While handcrafted cocktails are standard at many hotels today, that wasn’t the case in 2006. Fairmont was among the first—some might say the first—hotel chain to implement a handcrafted cocktail program system-wide, and it was the brainchild of Serge Simard, Fairmont’s VP of F&B before Stellner, now Fairmont’s Regional VP, Africa.

“Cocktails should be delivered with consistency, precision, and perfection,” says Simard. “Enjoying a great cocktail is part of a great hotel experience—as much as enjoying a wellprepared dish. Often, people order cocktails not knowing what to expect, but at Fairmont, they know what they’ll get no matter where in the world they are.”

Beyond the goal of consistency, FAME is about removing convenience inventory from Fairmont’s bars—pre-made mixes, juices, simple syrups, etc.—and replacing them with fresh herbs, freshsqueezed juices, housemade bitters, and more.

Casey extends that kitchen-to-bar philosophy to the layout of each Fairmont bartender’s workstation. “I like to take everything out of the bar and totally reset it,” she says. “I typically set bars up for speed and efficiency, like a cooking line.”

Every Fairmont mixologist receives the same back-to-basics education, bar tools, bar setup rules, execution techniques, and handbook to ensure standardization. Bartenders generally aren’t allowed to substitute their own ingredients or shortcuts for classic cocktails—a Moscow Mule, for example—and it’s that mindset that creates a baseline for brand consistency.

Conversely, bartenders are allowed to add their own touches and regional ingredients to signature cocktails at specific properties, such as when the Fairmont Chateau Whistler created Olympic-themed cocktails to complement the nearby Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. The execution, however—measuring, pouring, serving, and using the standardized bar tools that Fairmont requires—is always the same.

“Proper proportions were not a priority before FAME,” says Stellner. “We introduced the lesson of strict adherence to measurements to ensure consistency in our creations.”

According to Casey, the initial hands-on FAME training that she and her associates implemented in 2006 took approximately 10 days at each hotel, with four- to six-hour sessions for each group of bartenders, sometimes working with two different groups a day. One of the first mixologists to go through the FAME program in 2006 was Max Scherff, now assistant restaurant manager at the Fairmont San Francisco. At the time FAME was implemented, Scherff was a bartender with more than a dozen years of mixology experience.

“We’re a hotel that has a lot of long-term employees, and I think some of those folks thought, ‘Here’s a program coming down from corporate. We’ll do it for a little while, and then we’ll move on to the next program,’” Scherff says. “I don’t think they expected it to teach them anything new or useful.”

But Scherff says the long hours and intensity of the training, demonstrating why the bar had to be set up a certain way using specific tools and ingredients, combined with the deep education of cocktail history—like how the Sazerac was born in New Orleans—made believers out of everyone.

In response, the staff buy-in was complete. Their enthusiasm carried over to the quality of the drinks they made, which led to positive customer feedback and increased sales. Stellner says a similar template has unfolded at all 37 properties where FAME was installed.

Five of those 37 Fairmont properties are overseas. While the cultural differences might seem incompatible with a North American cocktail program, especially in places such as the Middle East, Casey says the core execution techniques apply globally, even if the flavor profiles don’t.

A recent FAME session at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Abu Dhabi, in the UAE, proved it. “The preference there is a little bit sweeter. Where the weather’s a little hotter, people drink sweeter drinks and eat sweeter food too,” says Casey. “The cocktails we did there have been so successful. I made some of my most innovative drinks, using ingredients like coconut powder, curry powder, and curry syrup.”

Non-alcoholic cocktails are, not surprisingly, popular in the Middle East. Casey has developed several for Bab Al Bahr, including a Hibiscus Lemonade Fizz, and the “NA’ollywood,” which contains mint, fresh pineapple, lime juice, curry syrup, and coconut rose foam water.

There isn’t a core set of cocktails that all Fairmont hotels must put on their menus, but Casey says there’s a pool of approximately 100 that each hotel can draw from, in addition to adding their own. Casey develops new drinks twice a year for Fairmont, and they are rotated into the core list.

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler is an example of the flexibility each property is afforded. Wark says their lounge menu contains three pages of FAME cocktails: eight rotating seasonal cocktails, eight house-developed “Whistler Originals,” and eight “Classics,” which are comprised of vintage-era cocktails from FAME recipes.

Outside the bar, FAME is moving into banquets and catering too, although it’s not an official branch of the training program yet. Casey says she showed the staff at Bab Al Bahr how to prepare a banquetsized batch of Mojitos, while other properties offer FAME cocktailmaking classes to group clients during site visits, and others have added FAME bar setups to their catering menus.

The evolution of the program continues, and like the cocktail itself, those at Fairmont say the program is built to last. “The only thing that changes is we continue to add new elements,” says Mindi Morin, F&B manager at the Fairmont San Francisco. “But the standards and the way we make drinks haven’t changed.”

Michael Costa brings culinary school education, a background in hotel foodservice, and years of professional journalism experience to his position as Industry Relations Editor for HOTEL F&B.

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