Sep 09, 2015

“Breaks” Out


By  Ned Barker, CEO, Grill Ventures International

bigstock-Desserts-and-Champagne-for-bus-33725984When making banquet menu recommendations to clients, I often recommend that they promote beverages within the food sections of their menus, including even the breaks section. Why not get the guest thinking about a perfect wine accompaniment or an interactive beverage station while they’re selecting an entrée or perusing reception offerings, or ending a long day of meetings?

You might think, for example, that wine is mentioned often in the dinner and reception sections of most banquet menus. And you’d be right. In fact, a small survey of hotel catering menus shows lots of wine references in the food sections. There are wine sauces, wine vinaigrettes, wine reductions, wine-braised meats, wine chutneys and port wine dates.

Beer and cocktails receive their fair share of mentions too. Beer marinades and beer cheese sauces are plentiful. Beer is also used for braising, and both root and ginger beers receive frequent mention in sauces and such. Cocktails receive fewer mentions – sometimes in reference to an inventive fresh fruit mixture, other times in reference to a type of glass used, say, for a dessert.

shutterstock_247914850Oops. Those aren’t the kind of references I meant. Oh, well.

On the other hand, the beverage presence in banquet menus is becoming more prominent. One simple method I like to use to measure the degree of attention is through page count: How many pages within the banquet menu are devoted to beverage? For my small survey, I selected 10 menus at random, at 4+ star hotels, chains and independents. In all, I looked at 367 pages of menus and found that 42 of those pages, 11.4 percent, were devoted to beverage. Two hotels gave beverage a 20 percent page share.

bigstock-Cocktails-Collection--Mai-Tai-88253552Several of the surveyed menus actively sell wines and cocktails through detailed description. The InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile describes a dozen recommended choices for a “Welcome Cocktail,” while the Hyatt at Olive 8 in Seattle devotes two pages to descriptions of its “Hand Crafted Cocktails.” I was pleased to see that eight of the 10 menus listed essential information about their wines, such as brand, varietal, origin, etc. And I was especially impressed with the Hyatt’s and InterContinental’s detailed descriptions of their wines.

The Hilton San Francisco Union Square goes a step further. Their menu lists recommended pairings for dinner items, and not just for entrées. The hotel suggests wines or other appropriate beverages to enjoy with appetizers, soups and salads, as well. To accompany their Wine Country Dinner Buffet, they suggest that the client “Create the true wine country experience by adding a wine tasting experience for your guests. Our wine experts will guide your guests through special pairings with different varietals.” This is an important idea – it elevates the wine accompaniment from “meal enhancement” to “experience enhancement.”

This last summer, the mid-Atlantic region Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants broke out of the “breaks” box with their “Summer Six Pack”: “Sculpt any meeting by choosing one menu item for each part the day and treat the group with a complimentary menu upgrade.” The upgrade options were especially creative and differed from hotel to hotel.

The “Wrap-Up” feature of the Six Pack, offered at the close of the meeting, presented great options, some with alcohol. Hotel Monaco (Washington, D.C.) tempted with “mint juleps and bite-sized pimento grilled cheese sandwiches as a wrap-up snack.” Other hotels’ offerings included a mini fiesta complete with margaritas; focaccia with summer squash, shaved pecorino and thyme, and Anchor Steam Lager; and Belgian endive petals with Waldorf chicken salad and Prosecco.


The Hilton Union Square offers mocktails with several of its afternoon breaks, and features an “International Bubbles and Bites” break, with choice of cava, Prosecco or Champagne.

Will adding more beverage options to your catering menu increase sales? Perhaps. But how you add them is important too. Even more important is the understanding that the catering menu is more than just a menu – it’s a marketing brochure that showcases your hotel’s culinary, beverage and creative service capabilities. So having a few creative/standout/signature beverages and beverage service offerings, as you likely do already for the culinary side, may not sell more beverage, but it might factor into the reasons for selecting your hotel in the first place.

Give your beverage offerings a chance to “breaks” out.