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
“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
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
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.”
KITCHEN TO BAR
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.”
SEEING IS BELIEVING
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
“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.