Foodservice forum: Alcohol

What are some of your more prominent alcohol-selling sites? 
Bruno Pelletier, drinks ambassador for Searcys: Our more prominent sites are naturally our flagship restaurants: the St Pancras Brasserie and Champagne Bar and Searcys at the Gherkin. Both have strong drinks offering at the bars – we have recently reopened our Iris bar at the Gherkin with a new selection of cocktails, while St Pancras is home to the longest champagne bar in Europe which is renowned for its extensive list of champagnes and sparkling wines that prove popular amongst our guests. St Pancras was the original bar to introduce the press for champagne button!

Anthony Boyton, senior operations director for Sodexo Live!: Our most prominent sites are Bateaux, The Wallace Collection and The Royal Academy of Art.

What drinks are your best-sellers?
Pelletier: Our best-selling drink is champagne – we are known for it! Searcys is intrinsically linked with champagne, with the first mention of Searcys own cuvée dating back to 1893!

Our bespoke Searcys Selected cuvées have seen a phenomenal success across all venues, while other irresistible champagnes include Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, as well as Veuve Clicquot Rosé. We are also driven by sustainability and are proud to be serving Drappier Carte d’Or, which we’ve been serving in restaurants and events for several years.

The busiest champagne selling venue is obviously St Pancras Champagne Bar by Searcys. Across our business we have sold over 6,000 bottles of Searcys Brut and 1,000 Searcys Rosé since we reopened the businesses at the end of March this year – in total 11,000 between events and the restaurants sales.

Boyton: It varies site by site, but it’s essential to ensure that the offer reflects the need of the guest and the core banding of the venue. For example, the Wallace Collection is home to one of the most extensive collections of French art outside of France. Therefore, both the food and drink within the restaurant on-site need to reflect the French theme. Our wines are predominantly French in origin and naturally complement our offer. As the Wallace is primarily a daytime venue, it’s important we can offer a range of quality wines by half bottles.

The Summer Exhibition is currently on at The Royal Academy of Art. This is one of the social events of the year in the art world, providing artists with the opportunity to display their work at such a prestigious venue. Within the exhibition itself, we operate a gin bar that enhances the social theme of the exhibition, and we feel it is the perfect offer for a central London art gallery.

How important is speed of service?
Pelletier: Quick and efficient service is important, especially now as post-lockdown customers are more demanding than ever. To keep the service as quick as possible, we are focusing on best-sellers, product training, better organisation behind the scenes and management presence on the floor.

We have also launched pre-bookings for drinks packages, like our champagne trios, online. These are doing extremely well. This summer we have also done a wonderful Drinks Passport for Le Grande Unlock, which is a selection of beautiful cocktails and champagne by the glass, available for the staycation crowd over summer months.

Boyton: Speed is critical, whether you are enjoying a seated lunch or dinner through to a bottle of beer before a football match. We are lucky enough to provide all options of alcohol service, including high-end cocktail lounges, cafés, restaurants and kiosk catering within stadiums. The key to a quick service is ensuring that the offer is fit for purpose concerning the client’s needs and the facilities you have available.

What foods go well served with alcohol?
Pelletier: For us, there is a champagne for any dish – it can be enjoyed with starters, mains and desserts. There are so many different champagne flavours, so it goes well with everything and our drinks team are always on hand with suggestions. A sec, for example, like Taittinger Nocturne, is perfect with dessert, while the crisp notes of Searcys Selected Cuvée pairs well with fish and a Veuve Clicquot Rosé with duck or cold meats.

Champagne is also great for cocktails. A very good example is our Searcys 1847, made with a mix of Grey Goose vodka, Grand Marnier and elderflower liqueur, topped with Searcys Selected Cuvée Brut and 23ct edible gold leaf. This will be our signature at 116 Pall Mall. 

At Searcys, we pride ourselves on our product knowledge and we launched the UK’s first Champagne School in 2018. Since reopening, we have restarted our Champagne Masterclasses, which includes a three-course tasting menu paired with champagnes. We run them twice a month and they have been a sell-out so far.

Boyton: All foods go well with alcohol, they are natural partners. The vast majority of wines have their regional roots in complementing the local food on offer within each region globally. There is always a great pairing available for any food, be it a dry glass of sherry to go with something simple such as olives, through to a chilled tawny port with a decadent chocolate dessert.

What one tip would you offer on getting your alcohol offer right?
Pelletier: Make sure it is priced correctly, focused on margin, but also have a good look at your range, and maintain a balance between branded and craft, independent producers and suppliers. Also, it is important to offer a good, varied choice of drink options that change seasonally to keep up to date, but are carefully curated to match the target audience. Presentation is key, from glassware to garnishes to colours in the glass. It heightens the guest experience and looks great if they want to share on socials.

Boyton: Ensure you have quality available at every price point. Your house wine should be the best wine available at that price point, all the way up to your high-end burgundy whites or clarets.

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