Cheers-Oct 2016

Cheers is dedicated to delivering hospitality professionals the information, insights and data necessary to drive their beverage business by covering trends and innovations in operations, merchandising, service and training.

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Page 18 of 35 19 October 2016 • $105 bottle of 2006 cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley's PlumpJack. Most of the wine sales are by the glass. To help guests and servers navigate the wine selection, P.F. Chang's 40-bottle list is broken down by reds, whites and sparkling, and then further separated by each bottle's dominant fl avor or mouthfeel. There's fruity, fl oral, tangy or creamy whites; and lush, soft and tangy, rich and spicy, or powerful reds. Sparkling wine has its own category. Melton says she aims to include something interesting with each bottle. "Nothing makes me happier than when someone says that the fi rst time they had a certain wine was at P.F. Chang's," she notes. Beer can be another point of differentiation. Like many other chain restaurants, P.F. Chang's requires all of its locations to carry a set list of domestics and imports—the Coors Lights, Tsingtaos, Dos Equis and Budweisers of the world. But beyond these brand-name staples, a P.F. Chang's can fi ll out the rest of its beer selection with its own choices, up to 25 total brews. The average price for a beer at a P.F. Chang's is $6. Melton encourages locations to serve what's local and what's hot. This is why the three P.F. Chang's in Boston frequently pour craft from California, she says. Beers from the opposite coastline certainly aren't local to Beantown, which makes them new and exciting to consumers in Boston. How does P.F. Chang's staff in Boston know which craft beers are trending in California? That's where training and input from the bar teams across the country comes in. When a P.F. Chang's updates its drink menus, its beverage staffers will email the proposed beer alterations to Melton. After a few emails back and forth to fi ne-tune the list and balance the beer styles, she will print the new menu and distribute it to the restaurants. Working with all 211 U.S. locations, this process takes about fi ve weeks, she says. EDUCATING THE TEAM P.F. Chang's also ensures that servers are up on beer styles and trends, such as California-style IPAs, sour beers, what foods they pair well with and so on. "It's the hardest part of my job," Melton says, "making sure that people are educated." To accomplish this, she'll hold workshops in the restaurants, bringing together servers and brand managers. This is particularly important today, with so many new craft brands and styles of beer and spirits popping up every year. Melton also educates P.F. Chang's employees with a weekly company newspaper that covers topics such as how tequila is made. She also circulates videos among staffers to help bring everyone up to date on useful knowledge and trending topics. It's not easy to keep up on all the new spirit brands and expressions on the market. "I think there are 850 brands of vodka alone. When I bartended, there were only two top- shelf brands: Stoli and Absolut," Melton recalls with a laugh. "Obviously we have an amazing amount of spirits out there for the public now." The wave of fl avored vodkas and whiskeys that swept through the industry in recent years helped bartenders and consumers create fl avorful cocktails with less preparation time. But many bar and restaurant customers now tend to prefer real and fresh fl avors in drinks. In addition to more authentic spirits, mixers and juices, Melton says, "I'm noticing more bartenders bringing out fl avors with real herbs and fruits." Not that you can't take shortcuts or use some commercial products. Melton has P.F. Chang's working with mixers such as Perfect Puree. The Napa Valley-based premade mixer company produces purees from raw fruit, picked fresh from around the globe. Melton also believes that bitters are a great way to add real fl avors to drinks. "It opens up a whole new spectrum in cocktail creation," she notes. "And there's a lot of fun fl avors out there now in bitters." SEEKING NEW SPIRITS With the consumer interest in new, craft and small-batch spirits, Melton puts in ample hours sampling products as potential additions to her menu. What does she look for? With rum, for example, Melton tastes for the right level of sweetness and molasses fl avors. She avoids rums that have too much heat. And when sampling tequila, she tries to pick out the earthy and salt notes. With gin, Melton seeks herbaceousness, which is why P.F. Chang's uses Plymouth gin, she notes. The chain's Honey Thyme G&T, for instance, uses Plymouth gin, honey water, fresh lemon juice and Fever Tree tonic water, garnished with a sprig of thyme. "I like gin that tastes like gin without knocking your socks off with juniper berries," Melton says. "I like premium spirits that are made true to form and have classic fl avors." All her hard work sampling and experimenting with craft spirits pays off when Melton's cocktails appeal to guests. Quality cocktails and spirits are much on consumer's minds these days. This can be tied to craft beer's boom, Melton believes. Both categories encourage drinkers to experiment across styles while also educating themselves along the way. "People today want to taste what's different and new to them," she explains. "And they want more than just a drink. They want to hear a story and become in the know." At the same time, Melton does not lose sight of all the guests who simply want to order a Bud Light. "I think there's room for both," she says. "Nothing makes me happier than when someone says that the fi rst time they had a certain wine was at P.F. Chang's." — Mary Melton, P.F. Chang's beverage director

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