2011 VIBE Vista Awards Honors Best Adult Alcohol-Free Programs

At the 2011 VIBE Conference held March 8-10 in Las Vegas, we celebrated the winners of the VIBE Vista Awards. In a series of VIBE Spotlights, we’ll profile the winners in each category.

This week, we take a look at the winning adult alcohol-free program winners from Ruby Tuesday, sponsored by Monin Gourmet Flavorings, which took home the VIBE Vista Best Adult Alcohol-Free Program Award for the Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator segment, while Celebrity Cruises received top honors for Adult Alcohol-Free Program in the Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator category and was sponsored by VIBE Advisory Council. Congratulations to both!

Ruby Tuesday

VIBE Vista Adult Alcohol-Free Program Award, Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator

With 823 locations worldwide, the management team at Maryville, Tenn.-based Ruby Tuesday knows how to drive traffic to its many casual dining locations, beginning with its premium approach to handcrafted cocktails. Pair that with a meticulous focus on high-quality ingredients that extends to the entire program, and it makes for a stellar variety of alcohol-free beverages.

Vice President of Culinary Beverage Andy Scoggins attributes this success to the authentic products Ruby Tuesday uses in its drinks, including real fruit and real fruit purées opposed to chemical-laced syrups.

Ruby Tuesday

Ruby Tuesday's Ken Lennox (left), Director of Quality Beverage Andy Scoggins (right), Vice President of Culinary Beverage, accept the VIBE Vista Award for Adult Alcohol-Free Program for Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator segment from sponsor's Monin Gourmet Flavorings Joe Smith, Senior VP of Sales at Monin.

Scoggins believes the quintessential rule for creating desire around alcohol-free drinks comes down to the fusion of the right ingredients. In the summer, Ruby Tuesday bartenders will use whole baby watermelons, and also muddle fresh fruits in the alcohol-free drinks, creating more nuanced flavors.

“A lot of it is about our philosophy on chemicals and preservatives,” he explains. “We don’t use any adulterated ingredients; we use real, authentic culinary fruit in our beverages.”

Ruby Tuesday also benefits from being able to serve drinks during brunch (with over 1.2 million alcohol-free drinks sold), lunch and dinner. In fact, alcohol-free beverages attribute to the 16% of total beverage sales, with 14 million non-alcohol drinks sold in last year alone.

Ruby Tuesday’s “Zero Proof” menu, in fact, consists of 8 to 10 core non-alcohol drinks including Freshly Made Lemonades, Handcrafted Fruit Teas and the signature seasonal soda. The summertime specialty is the Watermelon Fizz, made with mint, fresh lime and club soda and served with a sprig of fresh mint.

Ruby TuesdayThis, coupled with an aesthetically pleasing menu, entice guests to order anything from the Tropical Sunrise (blend of mango, pineapple and orange juice, shaken with ice and served with a splash of grenadine and a cherry) to the Peach Splash (peaches, pineapple and orange juice). Originally meant for the brunch menu, these cocktails were so popular they were added to the all-day menu.

Even with evocative-flavored alcohol-free drinks, Scoggins and the Ruby Tuesday team emphasize that credit for its success goes to the highly trained bartenders. With two training sessions very six months, plus bartender field training, the tenders go through an extensive program before they’re even allowed to make the drinks.

“First and foremost, it starts with our bartenders who craft these drinks to order,” Scoggins says. “We don’t let servers make them. We have highly trained bartenders to make them.”

“The key thing for us is to start with great people that care about the drinks,” Scoggins explains. “Great products, fresh all-natural products and real fruit flavors all contribute to having a successful zero-proof program.”

A variety of options, a constantly rotating menu and a focus on fresh and seasonal ingredients make Ruby Tuesday’s alcohol-free drink menu not only dynamic but delicious, as well.

Celebrity Cruises

VIBE Vista Adult Alcohol-Free Program Award, Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator

Celebrity Cruises, headquartered in Miami, certainly knows how to keep guests entertained, but more importantly, the Celebrity team knows how to keep guests satiated, especially with a beverage program that taps into the diversity of guests' palates.

This revolves around an alcohol-free menu that draws on drinks outside of the standard virgin Pina Colada or Daiquiri (though they serve those drinks, too), proving that the team at Celebrity relies on uniqueness, and variety of flavors and ingredients to sell drinks.

Celebrity Cruises

Tony Tahmosh, Beverage Operations Manager at Celebrity Cruises and Scott Steenrod, Associate Vice President of Food and Beverage at Celebrity Cruises accept the VIBE Vista Award for Adult Alcohol-Free Program for Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator, sponsored by the VIBE Advisory Council. (Clockwise from left: Sharyn Iler of VIBE, Tony Tahmosh, Scott Steenrod and Laddie Weiss of VIBE)

“The bulk of our products, and what people notice, are our alcohol-free cocktails,” says Tony Tahmosh, Beverage Operations Manager. From fresh lemon and lime juices to using quality products like Monin Gourmet Flavorings, simple drinks such as the Strawberry Banana Soda (fresh bananas, strawberry flavorings, served in a Highball glass over ice) and the Peach Sangria (peach flavoring, pineapple juice) attract thirsty customers looking for something unusual yet tropical.

For Tahmosh, it’s the whole drink presentation that drives customer interest. This means that choosing the right glassware is very important. "For some people, it’s appealing to hold a glass in their hand that doesn’t look like an alcohol-free beverage,” he notes.

This formula has paid off. Tahmosh estimates that 30 to 40% of guests do not drink alcohol, so serving a variety of alcohol-free drinks throughout the day boosts revenue. “People are looking for them, especially when they’re in the Caribbean or Alaska. They don’t want just another virgin Daiquiri or Vitamin Water,” he says.

Celebrity Cruises

Because staff gets to spend a lot of quality time with guests while onboard the vessels, they learn to understand their taste preferences. After gaining their trust and confidence, they then will make recommendations. Bartenders, too, are able to discern the wants and needs of guests, steering conversations to recommendations that will suit each guest’s flavor profile.

“We’re always making sure there’s something for the guests to enhance their experience,” he says.

Celebrity Cruises is on top of trends, capitalizing on guest experiences by offering them alternatives that rival the regular cocktail menu. It’s certainly an easy strategic formula: sweet and savory drinks made with simple ingredients, innovative flavors and exotic garnishes will satisfy guests every time.