Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Roses are Red, Table for Two

RMGT Article published February 2012

From up-selling to oysters, how romance can raise revenue.

You can almost predict the encroaching night of service months in advance. Every reservation is for two. The new parents have splurged on a babysitter for their first night out in months. The fawning lovebirds are pawing at each other between courses. And the old curmudgeonly couple are struggling to converse, much less refrain from bickering. Regardless of age or palate, they are going to expect … no, demand, that every detail match their eager expectations. This Hallmark holiday can make any restaurant manager nervous.

“It's important to have simple, delicious, and memorable food because as we all know in this industry, Valentine’s Day is one of the ‘rookie nights’ that we get throughout the year,” says Chuy Galvan, sommelier at SIP at Flavor Del Mar restaurant in Del Mar, California.

Galvan says that to keep these “rookie” guests coming back for more, you need proper service, good value, and tables turned at a good pace so the following diner isn’t forced to wait.

Bernard Sun, corporate beverage director at Jean-Georges Management LLC in New York City, uses “lots of heart-themed items like red cocktails, Château Calon-Ségur, and Rosé Champagne” to deliver the wow factor to guests on Valentine’s Day.

Guests’ high expectations can also be used to your advantage. What started off as the Christian feast of Saint Valentine in the Middle Ages has evolved into a showering of handcrafted chocolates, overpriced roses, and candle-lit dinners. The pressure is on guests to impress their dates, and they don’t want to appear cheap. So do them a favor, and help them look like pros. I have three words for you: upsell, upsell, upsell.

“When you offer items that have fantastic price-to-quality ratio, upselling will take care of itself,” Sun says.

Besides featuring quality products, train your entire front-of-the-house staff to offer beverages to start. With this routine, Champagne, beer, or cocktails should almost sell themselves. This is a foolproof way to increase the per-person check average by anywhere from $15 to $35 depending on what is offered.

Another idea to increase sales is to offer menu pairings. “A great chef should be able to create a menu that is ideal to pair with wine,” Galvan says.

If possible, offer a standard and premium menu and wine pairing. People like to think they are in control, but they also don’t want to make too many decisions. After all, they are there to enjoy themselves and indulge. People also like to feel entitled to luxury. On a celebratory occasion such as Valentine’s Day, selling luxury should almost come naturally.

Now, are you ready for a shocker? Sex sells. I know, I know. Crazy, right? Embrace it and emphasize the aphrodisiac ingredients or courses on your menu. The classic aphrodisiac is said to awaken and stir feelings that would be inappropriate to act upon in a public restaurant. The mysterious side effects of aphrodisiacs increasing the libido have been touted since the ancient Roman scientist and historian Pliny the Elder’s classic, Natural History.

“Like many things, the effectiveness of aphrodisiacs can be very individual,” says Amy Reiley, a Master of Gastronomy and aphrodisiac advocate. “Give me some oysters and Champagne, and I’m yours for the night. But that doesn’t work for everyone.”

Reiley does recommend keeping meals relatively light, with simple tricks like swapping out beef and lamb shank for wild game. While it even sounds sexier, wild game pairs well with a wide range of wines, both red and white.

“I think beverages are a huge part of the romantic meal experience,” Reiley says. “You’d be surprised to discover how many aphrodisiac properties there are in certain wines (mostly qualities of aromas) that can enhance the experience.”

Although the list is quite long, some of my favorite aphrodisiacs from Reiley’s website Eat Something Sexy were chocolate (of course), oysters (duh), sea urchin, lobster, mussels, figs, avocados, pumpkins, truffles, vanilla, ginger, honey, saffron, nutmeg, licorice, and lavender.
It is interesting to learn that the word aphrodisiac stems from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Apparently, ancient Greeks believed that potions made from seafood enhanced arousal, since Aphrodite emerged from the sea. Hence, the cliché pairing of Champagne and oysters!

Valentine's Day has become one of the most successful nights of the year for restaurants around the world. If your restaurant staff puts in half the effort of its romantically inclined guests, everyone will walk away happy. By upselling menu pairings and embracing creative aphrodisiacs, your efforts will be rewarded with greater numbers and eager return business. Just ask Pliny the Elder.

New Movie Lifts Lids on Master Sommeliers

The article published January 23

A new film about to be released shines a spotlight on the gruelling world of the Master Sommelier qualification – an exam less than 200 people have ever passed.

Somm tells the stories of Brian McClintic, Dustin Wilson, Ian Cauble and DLynn Proctor as they prepare for the entrance exam for the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Described as ‘the new rockstars’, ‘prophets’, ‘egomaniacs’, and ‘sickly gifted’, the four Americans go through ‘thousands and thousands of hours’ of wine tasting, wine theory and practice.

The trailer is reminiscent of The Apprentice and dozens of other reality TV shows, Somm – as sommeliers are sometimes called in the US – showing them in the depths of despair, as well as approaching what they concede is a ‘brutal’ ordeal with masochistic relish.

‘Somm highlights not only their extreme level of commitment but the all-encompassing effect it has on their lives,’ Geoff Kruth, chief operating officer of the Guild of Sommeliers says.

The film also features interviews with some major wine producers, including Andrea Cecci of Tuscany, Hano Zilliken of Saar in Germany, Paul Graf von Schönborn of Schloss Schönborn, Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena, and Wilhelm Haag of Fritz Haag in the Mosel.

As to whether the four hopefuls are ultimately successful, nothing is being given away.

The film, directed by Jason Wise, does not have a release date yet, though it is slated to premiere on the East Coast. Wise has submitted it to the Tribeca and Edinburgh film festivals.

‘The acceptance rate [for festivals] is incredibly low but we’re hoping for the best,’ he said.

Wise remains enthusiastic about its potential. ‘I have been overwhelmingly surprised at the response we’ve had since the trailer was released, with over 15,000 unique page views within the first two days,’ he said.

In the UK, Master Sommeliers contacted by were positive about a film which may lay to rest some misconceptions about their profession.

Ronan Sayburn MS, wine director at Hotel du Vin, said, ‘Demystifying wine is good for the industry as a whole’ – although he firmly denied any pretensions to star status: ‘Maybe I feel like a rock star for about ten minutes when I’m decanting a bottle of Latour, but not at two am when I’m polishing glasses. In the Court of Master Sommeliers, we try to teach humility.’

Gerard Basset, Master Sommelier and Master of Wine, said, ‘I’m an aging rock star. There are certainly some parts of our lives where you are like a rock star, travelling a lot, visiting vineyards and working late at night.’