Evolve: a Preview of Bar & Restaurant’s New Virtual Event Series

Evolve panel of experts in Washington D.C., including: Amy Brandwein of Centrolina and Piccolina, Jeff Miskiri of Po Boy Jim’s and Creole on 14th, and Bill Thomas, owner of Jack Rose Dining Saloon and the recently opened Imperial. (Evolve Washington D.C.)

Bar & Restaurant normally gathers thousands of attendees to learn from the brightest minds and savviest operators in Las Vegas at the Nightclub & Bar Show – or in California with chain operators for the VIBE Conference. Since we cannot gather in person this year, Bar & Restaurant is still ensuring its mission to continue to spread innovative ideas to as many operators as possible, to help them survive financially and mentally over the worst era for hospitality since prohibition.

On what will be a six-month nationwide series, Bar & Restaurant starts its new Evolve series journey in Washington D.C. this week. 
is a six-month virtual event series to help keep bar and restaurant owners, operators, investors and suppliers engaged with sales and marketing programs, skills development, staff retention tools and networking opportunities. The new series kicks off Nov. 10, 2020 and continues through April 2021. Details can be found here and registration is available here.

Washington D.C was selected as the first destination for Evolve for a number of reasons; it’s the site where federal relief will (or will not) be passed, it’s home to the some of the biggest social justice movements in the country, and it’s a melting pot of concepts and talent from all walks of life. Next week, Evolve will officially launch on Nov. 10 in D.C., and hospitality professionals do not want to miss out on participating in the ongoing series. In addition to networking and gathering virtually to support one another, Evolve will gather operators and experts at Jack Rose Dining Saloon to tell us their stories and how they plan to survive. Free for operators to attend, this first iteration of Evolve will be three hours of complimentary content.

Here’s a preview of some of the key takeaways from speakers of the upcoming event.

Communication Is Key
Our opening session is a panel consisting of owners throughout Washington D.C. from all different types of operations. The first is Amy Brandwein, chef and owner of Italian-forward restaurants Centrolina and Piccolina. Next is Chef and Owner Jeff Miskiri, who operates two fast-casual places 
– Po Boy Jim’s and the restaurant Creole on 14th – as well as new concepts Sugar & Spice and Soul Juice. Our last participant is Bill Thomas, owner of the famous Jack Rose Dining Saloon and the recently opened Imperial that sits a few doors down.

The No. 1 thread that each of these operators shares is their focus on their staff and how critical it is to keep them informed. While all of them mention revenue as a struggle, their foremost priority and true measure of success for the next several months is keeping their team together as we all remerge stronger in 2021. They know that having a team that can pull together through this will be that much more effective when they can open fully back up.

Chef Brandwein says, “It’s hard to lead a group through customer crisis, health crisis and financial crisis, and it is crisis, crisis, crisis, and it’s innovation, innovation, innovation. But now they understand what we did was to our benefit. To your point, it is communicating why we are doing things and that we have to do them. I have everyone’s best interest at heart as I want [my restaurants] to be standing when this is over.”

Bill Thomas states how important it is for him to be the “mental cheerleader” to keep his staff engaged and positive. For example, when checking-in with his team for sales numbers at the end of the night, even if it is slow, he has to have encouraging words that this weekend or the next week will be better. While not easy, it is on the operators to keep an optimistic attitude for if they fall apart, the staff will follow their lead.

Technology Trends Accelerated
Todd Collins of Restaurant Reputations and Vance Henderson of Hendrick’s Gin both discuss how adopting technology can lead to more engagement, conversions and, ultimately, more guests. Collins explains how now is the time to pay more attention to online reviews with slower hours and looking for more ways to build up an operations’ target market. Either from Facebook pixels or Wi-Fi extensions that capture leads in exchange for signing-on. There is no shortage of options that operators can implement when it comes to technology, and this goes beyond QR codes for menus and booking reservations online. Now is the time to continue to experiment and empowering the team to try new digital solutions to provide the least frictionless experience for guests.

If one was looking for a masterclass and playbook on how to keep an audience engaged on Instagram, look no further than Vance’s account, ‘
vtwiseguy’ that shows a plethora of ideas. With many places going dark or to reduced hours, so has their social presence, which is a mistake as guests are still looking for dining options. Henderson showcases how many different options are available including “Quarantine Quests,” takeover, IG Lives, virtual Happy Hours and more. Consumers are spending more time online than ever before so now is the time to build up a restaurant’s following to help fill those slower days and prepare for the day when restrictions are not as intrusive. Get a sense of follower influencers in the local community and reach out to see what options are available to collaborate on content.

Importance of Innovation
Capo Speakeasy in Washington D.C. is a deli in the front and has a speakeasy that is accessed through a faux walk-in freezer door that leads to a lounge area with two bars. In March, like everyone else, they were forced to shut down and based on the type of business they were, had no options for reopening the space. This is when Beverage Director Rohit Malhotra sprang into action when the District started allowing to-go cocktails.

Malhotra’s first idea was just to sell off their existing inventory to support their laid-off staff and created the “Tiger King” cocktail. It was moderately successful but set the stage for something bigger. His second concept was a grand slam when his team was down three runs in the 9th inning. It literally helped save the business and jobs when they debuted the “Fauci Pouchy.” It took about a week for it to takeoff after one of his friend’s posted it on Instagram and then Eater picked it up. From there, NBC followed and it was off to the races as the orders started pouring in.

With the novelty wearing off and more guests returning to on-premise, Rohit and team has not slowed down and debuted the “Pina Kamala” and the “Mike Penicillin” ahead of the recent VP candidate debates. Their next iteration of cocktails focused on the presidential race, and the sales have continued to support their entire staff and allowed them to go into hiring mode during a pandemic. Operators can be inspired by this idea and brainstorm holiday cocktails programs they can implement for their business this upcoming season.

Evolution Is Mindset and a Journey
The path ahead will continue to be very difficult over the coming months for the on-premise industry  as we fight to keep doors open and staff members and guests safe. As an industry, we can continue to come together to support each other mentally while sharing ideas on how to battle through operationally. This is our goal for the next six months with Evolve
to provide guidance on how to keep doors open, a platform to share your fellow experiences, and a space to network with your fellow fighters.

Jeremiah Batucan is the director of conference and industry relations at Questex Bar & Restaurant Expo.

Join Us at Evolve
To learn more and register to attend Evolve as an operator for free,
click here. All virtual event air dates will be available to relive on demand.

The Upcoming 2020/2021 Evolve Virtual Event Schedule Includes:

2nd On Location Recording: Seattle, WA
Virtual Event Air Dates Dec. 7 and 14
Theme: Operations

3rd On Location Recording: Austin, TX
Virtual Event Air Dates Jan. 13 and 26
Theme: Marketing

4th On Location Recording: Las Vegas, NV
Virtual Event Air Dates Feb. 9 and 22
Theme: Food & Beverage

5th On Location Recording: New York, NY
Virtual Event Air Dates March 8 and 22
Theme: People & Staffing

6th On Location Recording: Los Angeles, CA
Virtual Event Air Dates April 12 and 26
Theme: Guest Experience

Evolve sponsors include: 2 Touch POS, Barventory, BassBoss Truly Hard Seltzer, d’marie, Dry Botanical Bubbly, MTI, White Claw Hard Seltzer and Xtreme Music Bingo.

For sponsorship opportunities, contact Jamie Schroeder at 
[email protected] or Veronica Gonnello at [email protected]
Stay connected with Evolve on Facebook and Instagram @nightclubbar and follow #evolve. Questex’s Bar & Restaurant group will bring the industry together at VIBE Conference, June 7-9, 2021, at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, Calif. and at the Nightclub & Bar Show, June 28-30, 2021, at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nev.