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Chain LeaderEditorial Archives2005 — March — Liquid Measure

Mixing It Up
Rib Crib spikes sales with its new bar and line of premium cocktails.

One of Rib Crib’s four signature drinks, the Bold Bellini blends fresh peaches with vodka, champagne and peach schnapps.

Rib Crib is no longer content with just serving beer with its signature ribs. The 36-unit Tulsa, Okla.-based chain introduced a full-service bar and premium cocktails to eliminate the veto vote among customers seeking alcoholic beverages beyond beer and to better compete with other casual-dining chains.

Previously most Rib Cribs only served beer, while three units served a limited selection of beer and wine. As a result, alcohol only made up 1 percent of sales.

“What we’ve experienced is, your average consumer on date night or possibly even out with the family wanted to have a margarita or a glass of wine with dinner, so we were losing those guests because we did not have those offerings,” says Brad Dentis, senior franchise consultant, who helps franchisees operate their units in compliance with Rib Crib standards.

“Most consumers are accustomed to being able to select an alcoholic beverage when they dine out, so we want to provide that opportunity from a branding standpoint,” says Marc Chastain, chief financial officer and vice president of franchising. “We don’t want to omit the opportunity for our customers to choose alcohol if they want to.”

Rib Crib
Tulsa, Okla.
2004 Systemwide Sales
$37 million
2005 Systemwide Sales
$50 million (company estimate)
Average Unit Volume
$1.1 million to $1.6 million
Average Check
$9.40, $10.75 with alcohol
Expansion Plans
9 in 2005; 100 units open by 2009

Passing the Test
In fall 2003, Rib Crib decided to test a full-service bar with five or 10 seats and a menu of premium drinks.

Dentis worked with a local mixologist as well as the chain’s director of marketing, training coordinator and director of operations for six months to create a series of signature drinks, premium cocktails and nonalcoholic beverages and expand its selection of wines and beers.

The company rolled the new bar and menu last year to three new units in Joplin, Mo., in May; in Kansas City, Mo., in July; and in Midwest City, Okla., in October. It chose those units because they were at least 5,000 square feet to accommodate the bar and located in competitive barbecue markets.

Those restaurants saw alcohol sales rise to 8 percent of overall sales, with beer accounting for 50 percent of alcohol sales, liquor making up 45 percent and wine, 5 percent. The average check increased by $1.50. At the same time, “the margins are so much better on the alcohol service that it drove our total cost of service down,” Dentis says.

Rib Crib’s four signature drinks make up 25 percent of its alcohol sales: Dirty Harry ’Mary, $5.75, vodka with Rib Crib’s spicy Bloody Mary mix; Rib Crib ’Rita, $5.75, tequila blended with lemon and lime juices; Cowgirl Cool-Ade, $3.95, citrus-flavored rum, cranberry juice and orange juice; and Bold Bellini, $5.75, fresh peaches blended with vodka, champagne and peach schnapps.

“They have a good variety. They have a cooler lemonade that’s a little sweeter drink. Then a margarita. [Margaritas are] the No. 1-selling beverage in all restaurants. And a Bloody Mary. So they are touching on several different bases,” says David Commer, president of Carrollton, Texas-based Commer Beverage Consulting.

Rib Crib’s expanded bar menu recommends pairing its Cowgirl Cool-Ade, citrus-flavored rum mixed with cranberry juice and orange juice, with its Crispy Chicken Ranch Salad.

Other popular selections include cocktails like the Yahootini, $5.95, vodka, melon liqueur, apple schnapps, and sweet-and-sour mix; and nonalcoholic beverages such as the Fresh CowShakes, $3.99 colossal, $2.39 regular, peach, strawberry or chocolate milkshakes.

Tending to the Bar
Rib Crib created drinks that are easy to make and cost effective. “We really don’t have much of a background in alcohol service,” Dentis says. “So we wanted to start off with simple recipes that tasted great.”

A majority of the drinks are premade so bartenders only have to mix two or three ingredients. For example, Rib Crib worked with its vendors to create a Bloody Mary mix so bartenders just need to mix in the vodka and garnish the Dirty Harry ’Mary with a pretzel. Bartenders make the margaritas in batches using a premade mix.

To keep costs down, Rib Crib cross-utilizes ingredients, which also helps keep inventory to a minimum behind the bar. For example, it uses strawberries for its Strawberry Lemonade, $1.99, and Strawberry Colada, $4.95. Raspberries are used in a multitude of drinks, including its Raspberry Swirl ’Rita, $5.75, and Raspberry Iced Tea, $1.99.

The company credits its increase in sales not only to the drinks but also to the glossy color menu filled with photographs and descriptions. “It grabs the attention of the guest,” says Dentis. “They drink with their eyes the same way they eat.”

Rib Crib’s new full-service bar will only fit in units that are at least 5,000 square feet.

“We strongly encourage people to show photos on their drink menu because that is an instant way to sell drinks. People like to see an ice cold-looking margarita on the menu or pia colada or cold draft beer,” says food and beverage consultant Patrick Henry, CEO and president of Stafford, Texas-based Patrick Henry Creative Promotions Inc.

Commer says that such menus are critical because they help servers upsell. “If you want to increase beverage sales, a beverage menu is non-negotiable,” he says. “Once you commit to a menu, it can guide the guest as well as guide the staff to use it to sell those drinks.”

Good Timing
Rib Crib will roll out a larger full-service bar with seating for 10 to 20 and an expanded bar menu to seven of the nine units it will open this year in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, Florida, Missouri and Kansas. The company is taking a wait-and-see approach as to whether it will retrofit its nine existing 5,000-square-foot units with the new bars; the remaining 20 units, which are 3,000 square feet or less, are too small to accommodate a full-service bar.

The Dirty Harry ’Mary blends premium vodka with Rib Crib’s spicy Bloody Mary mix.

The new 16-page bar menu continues to feature signature drinks along with some new concoctions such as the Rib Crib Perfect Tea, $6.95, a blend of gin, vodka, tequila, rum, triple sec, sweet-and-sour mix and a splash of cola. The new menu also recommends food pairings with the drinks, such as the Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich with the Bold Bellini, and includes a dessert menu.

According to Henry, now is the right time for Rib Crib to embark on a bar strategy because premium liquor sales are up while beer sales are flat.

“The good chains out there are all focusing in on having a solid beverage program. It’s an easy way to increase sales,” he adds. “You’re only going to be able to increase your sales by customer count at the table and by how many people come in and sit at your tables and eat. That added pia colada that you can sell or that added glass of premium chardonnay that you can sell makes all the difference in the world on the guest check average.”

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