Hotel F&B Observer Blog

Hotel food and beverage professionals share experience, skills and commentary. These hotelier blogs reflect a variety of unique career perspectives and real-life workplace stories, observations and opinions.

Stay Tuned

What do you get when you challenge a foodie to create something outside of the box for an inside of the box kind of event? You get Gilligan’s Island, I Love Lucy, Kung Fu, Bonanza, Chips, Shirley & Laverne, Happy Days, Hawaii Five-0, and Green Acres.

When you enjoy a challenge, planning custom events can be exciting. Each one of the aforementioned classic TV shows channeled great food station, at the Wyndham Gettysburg hotel which proved to be a wonderful success for the Gettysburg Hospital Auxiliary Fundraiser this year.

Having previously worked with the client, I asked that they trust and allow me to provide something different. The client’s theme, a “Blast to the Past” gave the spark that ignited the fire.

Executive Sous Chef Andy Ernst and the Director of Banquets Gene Davis accepted the mission, and the three of us relived TV shows we enjoyed and produced food, service, and décor to heighten the experience. Read more of this >>


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Molecular Mondays

At Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we are committed to providing our guests with great service and great value. We also strive to provide a unique experience in our F&B venues.

We are always striving to incorporate new ideas and trends for our local clientele, including the authentic and global flavors looked after by today’s more adventurous taste palates while maintaining a balanced mix relative to our market.

By definition, molecular mixology is a special practice of mixing drinks using scientific analysis and techniques to understand and experiment with cocktail ingredients on the molecular level. The purpose is to manipulate ingredients and create new flavors, feelings, textures, and visuals which enhance the drink and make the consumer’s experience more interesting. Read more of this >>


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Covet the Oenophile and Cater to the Casual Drinker

Revenue from alcoholic beverages in your hotel dining room, lounge, patio/pool bar, spa/salon and banquet functions is a major source of income for your establishment. This revenue stream should not be taken lightly in your efforts to improve your profitability.

Consider the following:

  • Have dinners with wine pairings sponsored by a vintner as a way to entice local residents to frequent your F&B outlets. Engaging the interest of local patrons will increase your potential to encourage local groups to schedule their events at your facility.
  • Feature local micro-breweries in the same manner as above.
  • If the mini-bar becomes obsolete, which appears to be the case, make sure that late-arriving guests and/or “night owls” have access to adult beverages through room service if your F&B outlets are closed.
  • Use social media connections to keep your local customer base informed of upcoming specials and events.

Cultivating a relationship with your local population becomes a viable source of revenue and future guest referrals.

Have any of you implemented anything similar in your facility and, if so, what were the results?


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Food and Wine Pairings are Dead!

Since I’ve worked in restaurants and learned about food and wine, I have come to realize that wine pairings are as old as the dust that comes out of the dining chairs at the Ritz. They are an antiquated idea that no longer applies to the average diner today. I usually suggest a nice bottle of wine to guests, rather than a flight of wines. I believe that guests can get more enjoyment out of a single bottle for the duration of their dining experience. Wine pairings often distract from the complex cuisine that is being served in today’s top restaurants.

I recently experienced two fine dining restaurants in Chicago, one for a friend’s birthday where we were allowed to bring our own bottles of wine. There were a total of 8 of us in attendance. We thought the appropriate 12 bottles of wine would do the trick. Meticulously studying the menu online and consulting with friends who had dined there recently, we brought several wines that would work.

The usual bottles of Champagne, Riesling, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, and other suspects, like older Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, Gewurztraminer, and dessert wines were available. We opened and poured the wines with each course as we pleased and attempted to decide which was the best pairing. The results were hit or miss. Even the lightest of wines did not stand up to the complex dishes, and the bolder wines overpowered other flavors.

In the end, we would have had more fun keeping it simple and staying with the Champagne throughout most of the meal, sneaking in one red and dessert wine.

At another occasion, the menu was specifically created to highlight the wines. There was too much attention to the dishes and somehow the wines were lost in the pairings.

At NoMI, we offer an à la carte menu , and occasionally a guest might request a tasting menu with wine pairings. I like to ask what they usually like to drink and pair accordingly because sometimes the menu is mostly white wine driven and the guest likes to drink red.

Other times when I approach tables for a wine order, I get a similar question, “What would you recommend to go with our food? We are having fish, pork, lobster and beef.”

They expect a magical bottle to pair with everything. If it were up to me, I would drink Riesling or Champagne with everything, except most people don’t want that.

Instead, I suggest “Mood Pairings,” wines that best fit the mood you are in when you eat. Would you eat something you are not in the mood for if you had the wine first? Realistically, the Sommelier has already put wines on the list that complement the menu, ambiance, and service of the restaurant.

I seek out boutique wineries, cult classics, and collectible European wines. Sure, some food and wine pairings are car crashes. But most of them work if you keep it simple.

A table will enjoy a really cool Zinfandel with a great story more then the suggested wine pairing from Dolcetto di Dolgiani. You could upsell a cult wine over the by-the glass pairing.

TRU restaurant in Chicago is offering a Sommelier Tasting Menu, where the food is not listed on the menu, only the wines to come. The Chef will send out the courses based on the Sommelier’s wine flight. The response has been overwhelming for them, learning that most of their diners are interested in the pairings, but also make their food decision based on the wines first.

I still have a great deal of love for matching great wines with food and experiment as much as I can. However, I want people to understand that pairing beverages with their food is done at almost every meal of your life. If you like Cinnamon Vanilla Coffee with scrambled eggs, beer with pizza, or have ever drunk whole milk with dinner, do you really care if a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir will pair best with your fish?


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Wine Cost Control

At the heart of wine cost control, a bottle accountability system provides the information needed to properly evaluate results. Too much energy is replicated by top wine professionals. They frequently classify wines by region, color, grape, vintage, vintner, ratings, and other critical evaluation criteria. These are the essential elements required to select and categorize the wines.

Once you have chosen a base wine list and send it to food and beverage control, I’d allow a different view. The highest volume of wine sales is found in pouring wines and house wine by the bottle. These wines compete directly with beer and cocktails for profits. Wines sold by the glass should be consistently drinkable and profitable. If you buy a 1.5 liter bottle of wine for $12 and pour ten five-ounce glasses at $6 each, you’d expect a 20% cost percentage.

To the opposite side of the wine spectrum, we find low volume, top vintage boutique bottles purchased in limited quantity and priced to yield a decent dollar markup. Some of my successful clients simply double the price they pay for these bottles. This would imply a 50% cost of goods sold.

Should these two wine classes be mixed on your books?

The pouring wines will turn many times in one year and many of the premier wines won’t sell for over a year (sometimes never). Restaurants may store wine for favored clientele. Some restaurants will buy young wine at auction and let it age over many years. These wines do not belong in the same category as the pouring wines.

An article entitled “The Best Restaurants For Wine Lovers” is featured in the current issue of Wine Spectator magazine (with category lists of the 3,955 award winners). The award winners are also featured in the dining guide which is formated by country and region. You can find lots of winners in major American cities. New York has the most winners of any city with 196.

Some of the wines which may distinguish a Grand Award winner from an Award of Excellence winner are featured in an August 3, 2007 Wall Street Journal article “First Growths Make Their Debut” written by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. The 2004 first-growth Bordeaux wines are the focus. They mention the significant drop in price for first growth wines in 2004 vs. 2003 (one of the finest vintage years).

I recommend four categories: pouring wines, popular bottle wines, premier wines, and investment wines. The popular bottles and pouring wines need to be priced to hit a good cost percentage. A $12 dollar bottle should be sold for at least $30 (40%). I recently enjoyed a well paired wine for $30 at my favorite restaurant. The next week, I found the bottle for $9 at the local wine shop (30%). If you help your customers with the pairings, you can charge more per bottle.

Don’t fall into the trap of required wine purchases. Let’s say you sell a phenomenal Cabernet Sauvignon for $200 per bottle. If the boutique vintner wants a minimum order of 5 cases per year at $1,200 per case, your cost is $100 per bottle (50%). At year end, you’ve sold only 1 case. The remaining 4 cases are in inventory at cost. Do you continue to purchase the annual minimum of 5 cases? Over time, this purchase activity will become perilous. Paying $6,000 to a supplier for wine which generates $2,400 in sales is a mistake.

Storage of high priced wine is a major issue. The security needs to be the primary focus. Two of my clients had vaults with doors similar to those seen in a bank. In addition to security costs, the storage needs to be climate controlled. If these vintage wines are moved too often or are kept at improper temperature and humidity levels, they will lose their value.

Creating a winning wine list to use as a sales tool is the job of specialists. Too often, I find my customers lamenting the spoilage of expensive vintage wines. These discoveries often occur when the beverage manager leaves the company. The successor manager goes to the cellar and identifies old legacy wines and clears them from the list. Better to move a slow mover for a huge discount than wait for really expensive vinegar.


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Purple Feet

I want my feet to be purple. As “crush” nears, my inner winemaker awakens and longs for the purple stain of Pinot juice on my feet. The smells, a luscious blend of olfactory delights wickedly mixed by Bacchus himself… the damp terrer, a crisp morning fog, beads of sweat from the picking crews, the freshly plucked grapes. It all comes together and hits your mind like a freight train….. it’s time to make some wine.

Until recently, my fantasy of making wine was an effort in imagining myself as Mike Girgich, a whimsical genius winemaker holed up in my reclusive château surrounded by the tree covered hills of St. Helena only to come out as the harvest beckons me in my dreams. Like a mystic, knowing when to pluck, designing blend profiles as I fish for bass in Lake Barryessa, catch and release of course.

My feet, stained purple from my ancient wine-making ways are a symbol to the rest of the world that I have again created something special, something that will add to my already storied legend.

And then I am awakened by my three year old son, Kai, who has decided that 4:30 am is a perfect time for pancakes. Alas, it was only a dream. The emptiness left as the fact that I am not a famous winemaker (or a winemaker at all) is quickly filled up by the joy of cooking with Kai, my inquisitive future famous chef of a son.

But all is not lost!

By now many of you have heard the buzz about a company called Crushpad. If not, check out www.crushpadwine.com. They have dreamed long and hard along with me on how to become a winemaker, and they came up with a great and amazing idea. Here is a quote from their website on what they are all about:

“Who is Crushpad anyway? Well, we’re a combination of wine industry veterans and technology industry refugees that want to liberate winemaking from the stereotype of the 5th generation wine family living on the chateau with the Golden Retriever. By bringing winemaking to the city, augmenting it with education and support, and taking care of the time-consuming parts, we want to enable anyone with a serious interest in wine to participate in the magic of winemaking.

And winemaking is magic. Although the process is somewhat understood, there is something very personal and very rewarding about squishing some grapes, turning it into wine, and then sharing this with the world. Until you’ve done it, it seems like some abstract thing that you could never do well. Once you’ve done it, you can’t imagine not doing it. This is a warning – Winemaking is Addictive.

Some people want to make enough wine to create a full-time profession out of it, but most of you have day jobs. And that’s our primary focus – enabling people with day jobs to make wine for both personal and economic reasons. Crushpad was created out of our own experiences – taking a two hour lunch to zoom up to Napa to check on sugar levels, staying up until midnight cleaning the press, waking up at 5AM to punch down and then speeding down to a sales call with grape skins under your nails – it’s a bit much even for the diehards. So what if we provided a convenient facility and online tools that enabled people from all over the world to make wine and spend as much or as little time as they wanted without fear that the fermentation was going to get out of control? While we’re at it, why not educate people and help them connect with folks with similar interests. Finally, if we’re doing all this – why not help people from across the country that want to turn their passion for wine into a business.

So that’s how we got here. And we’re happy we are.”

I have met the team at Crushpad and have toured their gigantic new digs near the ballpark in San Francisco. I have to say that they are simply an amazing team, full of energy and enthusiasm–very contagious.

Now my dream has changed. No longer a reclusive winemaking denizen holed up in his or her château I am now able to actually make this happen! I am looking forward to buying my first barrel, and getting my feet purple (ok , not really using my feet… but you understand!).

Check them out at www.crushpadwine.com or their swanky new web 2.0 online winemaking community www.crushnet.com.

Crush away!


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Fine Wine at Your Fingertips

With just over 1,500 selections of wine, 25,000-plus inventoried bottles, 26 years as a Wine Spectator Grand Award Winner, and, being home to 3 of the 138 Master Sommeliers in the world, the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, can safely consider itself on par with other notable properties. Any wine aficionado or casual drinker coming to the property would be safe to assume that the fine wine they want is within the grasp of their fingertips.

Andrew McNamara is one of the three Master Sommeliers on property. Besides creating wine pairings and wine education, Andrew is responsible for procuring some of the most sought-after wines on the market. I had a chance to sit down with Andrew to discuss the process. The following notes are paraphrased from our discussion.

With your interactions with the hotel’s clientele, is there a typical “MO (modus operandi)” of someone who drinks wine? Do you see a difference between now and a few years back?

Andrew: No. Our patrons are anybody and everybody. Wine has become more of a part of everyday life for a number of people. Most of our clientele drinks wine of some sort. In answer to the question on seeing differences, people are more willing to try new things. People may start with a cocktail. By the end of the night they inevitably end up with a glass or bottle of wine.

With people becoming more educated wine consumers, how does this affect your job? Are you beginning to see a wave of clientele that has become more educated than the typical server or store salesperson?

Andrew: A more educated consumer makes it easier because we do not need to go into great detail explaining wine. This allows us to delve much further into the esoteric wines. To answer the second part of this: not necessarily. There is always a hardcore group of wine drinkers. We try to educate our staff to always be ahead of the educational curve.

When people want to enjoy a bottle of wine what, do you see them migrating to (ie. certain varietals, regions or vineyards)?

Andrew: Recently, Pinot Noir has been extremely popular. More people drink red wines. This is sometimes due to things such as health studies. Because of the size of our wine lists, our clientele can experiment. We see the percentage of sales mirror the percentage of various offerings. Essentially, people are ordering a wide variety of selections.

In a lot of people’s minds, a wine has to be expensive and hard to obtain to make it good. What are your thoughts on that?

Andrew: One of my favorite things to do is to find a good wine that is relatively inexpensive. It is hard to do but can be very rewarding. I agree that there are great expensive wines. At the end of the day it boils down to value. Whatever selection you choose you want to be happy with that choice.

If a guest came to the hotel looking for a very rare selection, what would the process be for obtaining that selection (let’s say a rare Chateau Lafite from the early 1900s)?

Andrew: The first step would be to contact one of our suppliers to see if the selection was available. We would also contact the importers or wine estates if needed. If we could not source the selection locally, we would look to certain auction houses. We occasionally purchase wine from auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s. These houses send out catalogs and emails to let us know what will be available for bidding. In some cases, sourcing a selection can take a few weeks up to a few months.

In my capacity I know that certain wines are allocated due to the volumes produced. How are allocations determined?

Andrew: Allocations are mostly determined from traditional purchasing history with a winery and/or distributor. Wineries mainly look at prior dollars spent from the end user (ie. the Breakers). When allocations are made the estate looks at the total portfolio of items. For example, if the estate produces a few grape varietals, they will assess the purchases of all of these. Because of the size and history of our operation we normally have a little more pull in obtaining highly allocated selections.

Do you have a few examples of clients that asked for unique or hard-to-find selections? What was the outcome?

Andrew: One example comes to mind. A few years ago, we had a client who wanted a bottle of a 1899 Chateau Lafite, 1900 Chateau Lafite and a 1947 Cheval Blanc. We had to go the auction house to locate these selections. During the course of one night the client consumed two of these bottles. The bottle of 1899 Chateau Lafite was no good. Just recently we had to procure Marquis De Caceras Gaudium for a banquet event. This is a selection we do not normally have.

If someone reading this article wanted to source out a particular wine selection, what options do they have?

Andrew: They can source selections through a distributor, an importer, the estate, or even speak with our team to help them in their quest.

Finally, if money or availability were not an object, what wine would you love to get your hands on? Why?

Andrew: I would love to have a magnum of a 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild or a 1966 Romanee Conti. These are rare selections that have had rave reviews. Also, the 1945 selection has a “V” on the bottle symbolizing the victory of World War II.


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Power to the Server

Being the dedicated “Foodie” that I am, not only do I love working in the F&B industry, I love going out to eat. But more than that, I really treasure the chance to try new wines.

One thing I seem to notice more and more when I go out is that when I order my dinner, the server will usually recommend a wine to pair with my entree. This is not a selling tactic that I agree with.

What if the server put more of an emphasis on pairing the meal with a particular wine than on pairing the wine with a particular meal? The first thing any guest will order is going to be a drink, and in my fine dining experience that usually happens to be a glass or bottle of some good old fashioned vino. With the right wine in front of a guest, suggestive selling of appetizers and entrees can be made very easy. For example… I’ve just sold a glass of merlot (insert whatever varietal and vintage you prefer.) Now I can easily say that Fresh Mozzarella Caprese and Veal Oscar would pair beautifully your wine.

This is a chance for your servers to shine and also a chance for your guests to feel like they are getting more than just a meal. Oh yeah, it also helps to increase your wine sales and makes for an excellent opportunity to sell whatever menu items you have that you make a higher profit from. Think about it.


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