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11.2005

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Article By: David Singer

AS THE HOLiDAYS NEAR and the New England weather turns to its usual snowy state, 'tis the season for heavier dishes and big red wines to grace our tables and warm our souls. In a bygone era, the end of the meal was when the cigars came out and the cordials, cognacs and ports arrived. Indulging in an after dinner drink in a large snifter is a great way to end the meal, yet these libations don't sell the way they once did. Regardless of anyone's opinion on smoking, there certainly seems to be a parallel between the ban on smoking in restaurants and the decrease in consumption of after dinner drinks. Whatever the reason, 25-year-old single malts, vintage armagnacs, and rare bourbons can easily gather dust on the shelves without some creative selling techniques and a well-educated staff. From a business perspective, after dinner drinks are very profitable and it's a shame to think that patrons may not even be aware of them as an option.

In looking at the staff, bartenders and retail sales people have a distinct selling advantage because the bottles are right there. A bottle that is prominently displayed on the back bar or store shelf is an open invitation to a sale after the question of "What's that one?" is asked. For some reason patrons are less intimidated by the complexities of the myriad variations of spirits, which is to our advantage. Also, the bottles themselves are often visually unique, thereby inviting interest.

In restaurants, consider encouraging bartenders to give a small sample to the client who has expressed interest in a particular bottle. This 1/5th of an ounce investment into your program can lead to some very profitable results - not to mention generating client loyalty. Featuring flights in varying styles is also an excellent opportunity to move more product. Highland versus Islays scotches, barrel-aged rum versus bourbon, colheita versus vintage ports, and all three levels of Grand Mariner are but a few enticing flight options. For servers, show or re-educate them on the classics - this will always lead to positive results. After one staff training I performed, the Sauternes sales with the Foie Gras dish jumped remarkably, as did the recommendations I gave that went with the cheese course. It never ceases to surprise me how remarkable the effectiveness of the staff "buy in" is when they can taste the product through the magic of food and wine pairings. And as staff memories can fade, the old standby of pairing drinks with the dessert menu is one of the easiest ways to keep staff fresh. Chocolate is always a challenge, not only because of its difficultly in pairing but because of the many different styles it comes in. Ports, oloroso sherries, banyuls and its lesser known cousin, maury, are good places to begin. These pairings are certainly not limited to restaurants; the tasting note cards can be edited to include your retail staff's favorite choices with dessert.

Retail can be a little more difficult because - with a few exceptions - retailers do not seem to do too many spirits tastings. In this situation, staff education is even more of an important selling tool. A client looking for a certain producer that is not available is an easy way to lose a sale. Knowing the style of the producer via theory and tasting, while being able to confidently recommend another brand, can save the sale and perhaps create a repeat client.

Restaurants and retail stores can also partner together to form a very lucrative situation with a little creativity. For example, a producer sponsored Scotch nosing at a restaurant can be assisted by marketing from the retail outlet. The restaurant, in turn, during the tasting can state that any of the products tasted and enjoyed during the event can be purchased at the retailer's store. Another joint marketing tool is to feature dessert recipes created by the pastry chef that can be done at home with pairings available at the retailer. In short, the opportunities with some thought and joint commitment are endless.

In this fast-paced world we live in that is constantly getting faster, the time to retire and smoke a cigar from our past has been lost. For our physical health this is a good thing, in our mental, not as much. To take the time and truly dine, relax and look for other means of continuing the gastronomic bliss of a good meal with good friends can easily continue after dessert with education and a little creativity.

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