Raising the Bar: Coverage of the 2016 Nightclub and Bar Show in Las Vegas


Beer instead of water? Dirt in your tequila? These and other drink trends were front and centre at the 2016 Nightclub and Bar Show (NCB) held March 7 to 9 at the Las Vegas Convention Centre.

The annual event, which brought together expert mixologists, owners, managers, suppliers, educators and media from around the world, was a one-stop shop for new ideas, products, inspiration and best practices in the beverage-service sector. Emerging trends this year included new celebrity brands, big data analytics, social media, enhanced customer service, elevated food and beer pairings and a plethora of innovation.

A growing cast of sports and entertainment icons are joining the ranks of Mike Weir, Sammy Hagar, P. Diddy, 50 Cent, Dan Akroyd and Wayne Gretzky. Chazz Palminteri, Axwell, Alesso, AC/DC, Ron White and Alex Meyundo added their names to the top shelf of the back bar this year, but by far, Number Juan Tequila stole the show in terms of taste, with co-owner Ron White joking, “It’s so good, whatever we don’t drink, we sell.”

Already savvy on social sites? Big data is trending and return on investment in social-media campaigns shrinks if companies aren’t accessing the rich data and analytics hidden within each channel. If you aren’t already engaged in social media it can be very daunting. In her session, Brittany Oat from New York-based bSocial Strategy recommended not trying everything at once, but rather, pick one platform and focus on it. “Love it or hate it, get control of your Yelp! page,” she said. “Everyone is on it. Secure it, respond to feedback and reward your fans.”

“The Internet of things” is coming to a bar near you. Berg, a cutting-edge system that combines inventory control and point-of-sale information wirelessly, is equipped with inventory control, POS and temperature monitoring all available to a smartphone or wirelessly on your wrist.

Jesse Greenleaf from Duke’s Waikiki, Hawaii summarized the essence of his philosophy for repeat guests in four words; “Aloha attitude, mahalo mentality.” Greenleaf and his staff treat each guest transaction as an opportunity to build a relationship. Bartenders introduce themselves and refer to guests on a first-name basis. If a guest has an accent, they ask where they are from. Staff observe what guests are wearing to see if there are any team logos, cities, or other clues on their clothing. Bar staff then use these “invisible background checks” to infer information about their guests and authentically engage with them. “At Duke’s, we have the power to build the environment our guests want,” said Greenleaf. “Every shift is a party and we treat it like we are host to the best party on the island that night. Hospitality and service remain central to our staff and are key to our success. Mentoring young staff about connecting with guests and entertaining is not just about throwing bottles.”

Anheuser-Busch is elevating the beer and food experience. Brewmaster George Reisch is teaming up with Scotch Myst chef Grant Macpherson for exciting new food and beer pairings. Their simple and effective ABCs of food and beer put the focus on training staff, service and sales techniques. Beer is also replacing liquids in recipes, à la Stella marinated steaks, Hoegarten beer butter or Shock Top-braised Brussels sprouts.

Russell Davis, celebrity mixologist, Bar Rescue co-host and owner of the night lifestyle company Unlimited Liabilities, summed it up by saying, “Trends are no longer trends…we need to set them not follow them.” For Davis, understanding operators can’t do everything themselves is an incredibly important step towards investing in and empowering staff, especially with social media. He suggested expanding from solely branding the business to helping build staff members’ professional brands. Just as celebrity chefs can become their own brand, so can famous sommeliers, expert mixologists and front-line staff at businesses who connect with customers. “Get behind and add value to them. Staff may leave, but customers will stay if the establishment has built the experience to the same level as the staff. Support your staff and empower them,”recommended Davis.

Howl at the Moon founder Jimmy Bernstein is in his third decade of success after building an international, multi-unit brand through music and entertainment. The former space and aeronautical engineer says, “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to open a bar, but it sure helps.” Bernstein echoes a common sentiment among entrepreneurs — have confidence in your concept and be comfortable taking risks. He’s dedicated copious amounts of time in his clubs looking for ways to improve. As a passionate student of his concept, he uses this passion to inspire others. “Attack each day with the goals of improving. This will drive you to new heights,” he says.

Innovative spirits leading the 2016 expo charge included notable flavours such as Dirty Tequila, an aged tequila enhanced with pineapple and cinnamon. Good news for Wiser’s, Forty Creek, Crown Royal, Dillon’s, Canadian Club and the multitude of aged-brown whisky from the great white north — rye whisky is what everyone wants this year.

There were too many amazing new product ideas at NCB to mention here, but visit us online at foodserviceandhospitality.com for a gallery of some of the top crazy nightclub and bar innovations. Some may become mainstays, others may be gone by next year, but number seven may just blow your mind. Jeffrey W. Stewart is associate dean of Hospitality at Niagara College Canada in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. His 30-year career has included work at F&B operations, research, teaching, curriculum development and consulting.

Volume 49, Number 5
Written By Jeffrey W. Stewart 

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