Beverage operations in hotels have seen a complete transformation in design, menu and customer mix as they reposition themselves as the central hub and place to connect for their guests and local community. They have become one of the best opportunities for hotels to grow revenue and their reputation in their neighbourhood and beyond.
One of the first hotels in Canada to design its food-and-beverage operations around its front desk and central lobby was the Four Seasons in Montreal. Opened in 2019, Marcus Restaurant and Lounge’s trendy and vibrant design and unique cocktail and beverage program attracts a strong and loyal customer base in Montreal (80 per cent) versus hotel guests (20 per cent). “We offer our customers three different experiences all within the same space,” explains assistant director, Food and Beverage Johan Monterrat.
When the Sheraton Centre in Toronto began to re–imagine its public food-and-beverage spaces five years ago, it took a very beverage-centric approach to its two unique operations — 43 Down and Dual Citizen. “We wanted to transform our front lobby into an open-concept community hub for our guests and locals alike. Named after its 43 floors, 43 Down is a mixology showcase which is only open five nights a week and is mainly focussed on beverages,” explains Tim Reardon, general manager.
Training and Preparation Are Key
The key to effectively managing a busy beverage program with a complex product mix is training and preparation. “With an 80/20 split of beverage to food revenue at 43 Down and 65/45 beverage to food split at Dual Citizen, ensuring we have the best trained and guest-centric mixologists and baristas is key to our success,” explains Reardon.
To serve the highest-quality cocktails in its very high-volume Marcus Lounge, the Four Seasons, Montreal uses a unique Cocktail Lab system. “We consider the cocktail program to be more like a kitchen working with spirits, so just like in a kitchen, most of the setups are prepared before service in a controlled environment to ensure consistency and quality. Nearly every part of the cocktails we serve, from the homemade ingredients and infusions to the crystal-clear artisanal ice are made in-house,” explains Monterrat. Led by Jonathan Homier, Bar Preparation supervisor, the laboratory includes a complete ice program with all the necessary tools (chainsaw, bell machine, ice pick, ice buffer, et cetera).
Utilize All the Senses
Today’s cocktails are much more than beverages. Often served filled with smoke, flames, dry ice, beaten egg whites and garnished with edible flowers and artistic foods, they appeal to all the senses.
At 43 Down, the ‘Under the Dome’ cocktail ($30) arrives at the table in a glass-enclosed birdcage that’s filled with sweet apple-wood smoke. Showy and aromatic, this boozy cocktail is a well-balanced blend of Buffalo Trace, Maraschino liqueur and Dillon’s vermouth.
The Four Seasons Montreal is known for its iconic cocktails including ‘Forbidden Fruit’ ($26), a vodka-based multi-layer cocktail whose ingredients include shavings of the ‘illegal’ Tonka Bean. It’s topped with an egg-white foam with the Marcus logo dusted on top. Capturing more than 35 per cent of the restaurant’s total cocktail sales, its showiness makes it an Instagram favourite with more than 70 per cent of customers snapping a picture of it.
As well as appealing to their senses, Marriott Pinnacle Vancouver’s Showcase Lounge appeals to its customer’s sense of adventure. “Our ‘7 Wonders of Voyage’ campaign takes our customers on a global voyage to the Seven Wonders of the World. Each unique cocktail reflects the flavours, colours and spirit of each destination,” explains Sebastian Jenkins, restaurant and bar supervisor.
Mixing it Up
The product mix of beverages sold has also changed significantly in recent years. All across Canada, beverage directors agree that the most significant trend has been the growth of high-quality tequila and mezcal. “One of the greatest success stories over the past few years has been the explosion of tequila and mezcal. The trend in agave spirits right now is toward an appreciation for quality, similar to Scotch and high-end wines,” explains Reardon of Sheraton Centre, Toronto.
One Hotel, Toronto has seen similar changes in its product mix. “At One Hotel, Toronto we feature 18 different tequilas, all of which follow best sustainability practices in their own production, a value which is equally important to us,” states Steven Minor, Corporate Beverage director at SH Hotels & Resorts.
Another significant trend is the growth of zero-alcohol or lower-alcohol cocktails and other beverages. Lower-alcohol-by-volume (ABV) beverages use fortified wines and/or zero-proof liquor alternatives to create imaginative and refreshing cocktails with the same flavour profiles but no alcohol. “Our Spirit-Free No-Groni is an excellent example of a classic cocktail made with spirit-proof gin yet offers all the unique flavours of its classic cousin,” adds Kristi Grotsch, director, Food & Beverage, Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. In a similar move, One Hotel, Toronto has added health- and elixir-driven beverages as more customers look to support their health and wellbeing.
Private label and branded canned beverages are also beginning to emerge. At Hockley Valley resort, an independently owned resort near Caledon, Ont., executive director of Operations Juliano Baldassarra states, “We have created our own private-label canned bubbly beverages which are very popular.”
The Marriott Pinnacle in Vancouver has also recently rolled out branded canned specialty cocktails. “We know our guests’ preferences so create and seal their favourite beverage with a personalized label so it is ready for them on their arrival,” explains Sebastian Jenkins, restaurant and bar supervisor. “We also brand our ice cubes with the Marriott M, making our bar an extension of our brand.”
Innovation in Room Service
At the Four Seasons in Toronto, room service has become an important extension of its guest’s experience. “To allow our guest to enjoy the interactive elements of our cocktails in the comfort of their rooms, we provide them with all the mixology tools, including a shaker, jigger, specialty glassware, ice, garnishes and of course the ingredients. We also include a QR code to showcase a brief instructional video,” explains Grotsch.
Its sister property, Four Seasons Montreal, used changes in its room-service program to also achieve its zero-plastic and sustainability goals. “We replaced the traditional single-serve liquor bottles with 375 ml bottles which can then be enjoyed by multiple guests,” explains Monterrat. “We have had positive comments from our guests as they see the sustainability value in it,” he adds.
Hockley Valley Resort uses a different room service model in its suites, offering an honour bar system which includes locally produced Adamo wine. “It is more of a value-added program which adds a unique experience for our guests,” states Baldassera.
The future of the beverage, and in particular cocktail, market remains robust. “We believe that cocktails and hotels lounges and bars (if not already) will be a destination on their own. Cocktails will remain impressive and elevated, reflecting their local neighbourhood and season. Cocktails, including spirit-free, will become something you can enjoy anytime of the day, or year,” explains Grotsch.
Minor sees chefs and beverage directors continuing to work closely together to cross-utilize their products, minimize waste and infuse fresh and vibrant flavours into each of their programs. “The key to running a successful and progressive beverage program is to be more sustainable in every aspect of your program and guest’s experience,” he states.
BY MORAG MCKENZIE