Sunday, February 10, 2013

Authentic Products and Why We Select Them


I get bombarded by new products.  I also have customers that make recommendations for my wine lists by making suggestions about “great wines” that they had on vacation.  I often find my staff want recognizable names on the list because it is “easier to sell”. And everyone knows that having a bunch of “-tinis” on the cocktail list or big brand names wine list makes life a lot easier for everyone, but does really make for an interesting selection?  And more importantly what are you paying for – quality or marketing budgets?


I have nine bar managers and a number of other GM’s and managers who all have great experience and get approached by suppliers on a regular basis.  They find wines, spirits or beers that they think might work at their locations.  But part of my job is to review these items and decide if they are really what we are looking for and how they might fit with our program.  One of the continued discussions that we have is about the authenticity of products we carry and the integrity of the producer.  Our clientele is mixed from the not-so-interested-in-what-it-is-as-long-as-it-has-alcohol, to the very discerning.  We have busy locations and therefore have the good fortune to be able to create interesting lists that cover a wide range of products and styles.  But even if you have a more modest list or client base, it is still important in my opinion to consider where your products come from and who is profiting from them. 

Many restaurant s are small businesses, even multi-unit chains, and as such have to deal with the day to day challenges faced by every small businesses.  A lot of craft brewers, wineries and a growing number of spirit producers are also small business persons, who have each taken a risk and made sacrifices to build their businesses, much like you or your company.  Would you rather support someone who can relate to your needs and perhaps understands your situation, or would you rather put your money into products that are target marketed to a certain demographic at a certain price point with a certain profitability paying for a huge marketing campaign?

I am always on the hunt for the best quality products for my restaurants.  Whenever I taste an item, the questions I am asking myself first are, is this better than what I have now, and will it enhance my guests experience?  To answer the “better” part, I look at a lot of factors.  Taste and style are of course primary on the list.  Cost is always a factor but not necessarily the most important.  Who makes it, who imports it and how much is going to marketing (as opposed to actual production), all come into play for me.  This is what I call authenticity.

For the question of will this enhance my guests’ experience, I must decide if it is a product I fully believe in.  Is something I would drink anytime I came to eat at my restaurant?  Part of that belief is to decide what I am paying for.  I am I paying for a lot layers of marketing material; things like big ads, billboards and magazine pages, fancy labels and shippers and TV commercials.  Or am I paying for a lot of production.  By putting more of the revenue into the quality of the base product or to insure the best transportation of the product from production to consumption, I feel that a producer builds integrity into their product.

My chefs work with local farmers and cheese producers, our house beer is made by a local brewer in the next town, we squeeze fresh juice in the bar every morning all because our guests know they are getting a high quality product and because it taste better because we go the extra step to make it so.  We care about the product we serve and it shows and helps to define us and separate us from the big chain locations.  We produce authentic service and hospitality and by using products that come from producers that share a similar philosophy, we feel it completes the circle and builds integrity into every aspect of our service.

There is a lot of pressure to use big names and branded product, but sometime it just feels better to recommend a small winery wine or a spirit that only one producer makes.  These products are unique and different, which is exactly what we want to be.  Our guests often understand and appreciate the approach.  By training our staff to understand this technique and reasoning and then to deliver value-added service, it helps us to routinely enhance our guests’ experience.

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