The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2013

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Page 49 of 148

able, but hardly innovative. It was the irst thing to get some TLC. "No one had been in the chair for two years. One of the things immediate to me was to have a differentiated brand position with the cocktail program," she said. Added Mike Connelly, Regional Vice President from Keller, Texas: "It was like whatever was the trend in the world of beverages, we were built around those and we followed them." Mackey ditched about one-quarter of the list, dated drinks such as Blackberry and Pomegranate Martinis and the Hemingway Daiquiri—a personal favorite of hers, but an underperformer. She redeveloped a program of 16 signature cocktails with updated vintage drinks such as the Strawberry Basil Gimlet and a Blackberry Sidecar, and riffs off standards such as Martinis and Manhattans. The new focus on the handcrafted cocktail, emphasizes layers of lavors, daily fresh juicing and small artisanal touches such as the Luxardo cherries that replaced the Maraschino. The revamped menu—implemented nationally—relects the way Americans drink now, with increased consciousness of ingredients and a demand for freshness in the glass. And though franchisees can create their own menus, many choose the corporate program. "We try to have enough of a diverse portfolio of drinks with enough diversity to hit those regional or spirits differences—whether that's understanding if a market prefers a bourbon, rye or cognac base, or a tequila, gin or vodka," she said. Another goal? Reaching a younger audience who consider Ruth's Chris their granddaddy's steak house. "I wanted a vibrant bar business. A lot of people talk about Millennials and having a generation to pass [a bar tradition] on to," she said. "The bar is a way to bring them in and try the Ruth's brand in a way that's relevant to them now." Part of that is a new focus on bartender education and creating a narrative for all the cocktails on the menu so that people appreciate the tradition instead of jumping to the new trend. "We recognize the cocktail is an American invention with a birthplace in New Orleans and we tie that back into the brand," said Mackey, whose drink of choice is actually a glass of champagne. "What we do in training is to know not just the drink [itself], but the story that actually transcends the liquid," she said. "Part of what we do in hospitality is provide those insider tips that make people feel they've left with something of value beyond the food and beverage." Mackey says she'll use her experience at the bar to evaluate the program for the kitchen, ensuring the story of the ingredients is told, engaging customers and pushing quality. "Americans are driving towards better quality in everything— from the food they eat to the type of beer they choose, to the cocktails they drink to the story of wine. It's really very positive for the industry as a whole. "As a national chain, we're not going to move as fast as the trends do, which is good. It gives us time to see what's going to fall off, what stays," she said. "Clichés go out of style, but quality doesn't." The Mint Julep. Mackey redeveloped a program of 16 signature cocktails with updated vintage drinks and riffs off standards. The Port of Manhattan, part of Mackey's vibrant cocktail program. may 2013 / the tasting panel / 49

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