Hotel Howls With Gourmet Hot Dog Success
Hilton Sandestin's Picnix unleashes best-selling themed menu yet.
If the yearly themed menus at Picnix Poolside Market at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa were to strut in an F&B competition analogous to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, based on sales, this year’s gourmet-groomed dogs would win Best in Show.
The property, managed by Sandcastle Resorts & Hotels, is situated near Destin in South Walton, Florida. Its vital stats include 602 spacious accommodations, more than 40,000 square feet of meeting space, a spa and state-of-the-art fitness center, six onsite dining venues—including the Emerald Coast’s only AAA Four-Diamond steakhouse, Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood—and more. Tucked into this heady lineup of offerings is the super-casual Picnix, located between the resort’s two outdoor pools and open from March 1 through October. Each year, the venue uses a different F&B hook with broad appeal but creative detail.
Among Picnix’s breakfast and deli sandwiches, wraps, salads, kid-friendly snacks, Pizza Hut pizza, and ice cream treats and soft-serve yogurt, that hook has been set in the form of a new menu. Nine gourmet hot dog options range from a German Dog with sauerkraut, onions, and stone mustard; to a Greek Dog with feta cheese, Kalamata olives, onions, tomatoes, and tzatziki sauce. Other options include the Philly Dog, Chicago Dog, BLT Dog, and more. This “Dog House” menu (see sidebar for full descriptions) is alongside on-the-go noshes such as the Picnix Club Sandwich and the Italian Beach Club Sandwich.
From the introduction of the menu on March 1 through July 28, Picnix sold 2,241 hot dogs. Per sales numbers from the resort, the majority of those hot dogs were either plain or build-your-own style (27.76%). The most popular was the Chili Dog (17.98%), followed closely by the Chicago Dog (17.14%). For all dogs, Picnix offers a choice of All-Beef, Andouille, or Bratwurst. All-Beef is by far the most popular option (79%), followed by Bratwurst (16%), then Andouille (5%).
Market trends have made the hot dog the perfect vehicle for sales at Picnix.
“Clientele has shifted, across the industry,” observes Executive Chef Dan Vargo. “Yes, we have a big group business and cater to business functions, but we have such a large volume of families coming in. We have to offer something that appeals to a wide range of people. For families, hot dogs are a natural homerun.”
Flavor profiles for the dogs hail from all over.
“Of course, sauerkraut and mustard are synonymous with Germany, just like jalapeños, pico de gallo, and queso fresco are with Mexico,” Vargo says. “Slaw and barbecue are a staple for the South. Our Greek Dog has feta cheese, olives, and tomatoes—something different you’d never think to put on a hot dog, but when you try it, it goes so well,” he says. “The Street Dog is another big one, from the Northwest. We try to branch out and show regionality from around the U. S. The hot dog is synonymous with American cuisine, and all the regions of the country have their own takes on it.”
The right balance of far-out and accessible—and practical—has benefited the hot dog program. Getting too carried away with toppings didn’t make sense, well, for menu items that guests are literally carrying away.
“When we were doing the menu, we looked at the perception of gourmet versus non-gourmet,” says Vargo. “We’re taking it from the approach of what is creative and unique. I’ve seen industry trends where people are pairing some pretty crazy stuff with hot dogs to make them heightened and elaborate, like truffles and fois gras. We wanted to keep that out of the fray, because how many people is that going to appeal to? There are people who love fois gras and higher-end items. We wanted to approach ‘gourmet’ in the sense of being creative and giving them a flavor profile that’s unique to a certain region.
“Everybody’s had sauerkraut on a hot dog; that’s nothing new or inventive, but having that offering for them is part of giving a broad range of flavor profiles they might be in the mood for.”
The inspiration at Picnix doesn’t come from other restaurants at the resort; it’s self-contained creativity. Picnix is freestanding, with its own designated staff. “Of course, with a property this big and the number of venues we have, there is cross-utilization of stuff,” Vargo notes. “The andouille sausage we use is unique to Picnix. The bratwurst we use, we keep that separate from the other bratwurst we serve in banquets or that we might run in other outlets—just so that the product itself is unique. The components are all done for that kitchen, in that kitchen. It operates as a freestanding restaurant.”
Vargo says Picnix P&L “wraps up into” the P&L of the Barefoot’s Beachside Bar & Grill, a restaurant overlooking the beach, in an open-air space. “The inventory and ordering and all that comes through the hotel and comes out of the same pool, but the cook who does Barefoot’s isn’t also doing Picnix, which has a designated cook prepping the hot dogs.”
Currently, the resort promotes the hot dogs only on the property, says Angela Vaughn, director of marketing. “We use popup banners in high-traffic areas and at the concierge desk,” she says. “In the past, we have only had themed menus at our property for special events.”
In determining how to price the dogs, Vargo says they did comps of how other places in the area were pricing, also taking into consideration that the Hilton Sandestin is a resort. “We want to make sure we meet our profit margin and we’re at a competitive price range, not pricing ourselves out of the market and driving guests off-property,” he says. “We want to keep them here, maximizing revenue while also giving them value so they spend their money with us.”
The resort changes the menu theme at Picnix each year. “Out of the last three years, this has by far been the most successful of the themes,” Vargo says. Revenue has seen a “noticeable uptick, mainly because of the price point. Last year, we were doing pizzas and tacos and some other things. Because the price point was so low, the menu cost was lower. We definitely have a better revenue capture out of the hot dog sales.” In fact, Vargo predicts that next year, they’ll do something similar, with a few tweaks and refinement. “We’ll do some investigating into where we want to take it to generate revenue and still offer people something unique that makes them want to stay on the property.”
Sidebar: Dog Show
Some are versions of tried-and-true hot dogs, while others go a little rogue. Here is Picnix’s menu of dogs:
Chilli Dog $8
Chili, queso cheese, onions, and jalapeños
Southern Dog $8
Coleslaw, onions, and BBQ sauce
German Dog $9
Sauerkraut, onions, and stone mustard
Chicago Dog $8
Green pickle relish, onions, tomatoes, pickles, pepperoncinis, and mustard
Street Dog $11
Herb cream cheese, grilled onions, and peppers
BLT Dog $10
Bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo
Mexi Dog $8
Queso cheese, onions, jalapeños, and salsa
Greek Dog $10
Feta cheese, kalamata olives, onions, tomatoes, and tzatziki sauce
Philly Dog $8
Grilled onions, peppers, mushrooms, and provolone cheese
Build Your Own $10
Choose your dog and up to 4 toppings