For the holiday that is all about margaritas, liquor sponsorships, and for-hire mariachi bands, restaurants spend months—or even a year—planning ahead for Cinco de Mayo.
It’s little wonder why: restaurants host upwards of 2,000 guests for the Mexican celebration, which has become one of the highest-volume alcohol days of the year. Margaritas make up 42 percent of cocktail sales on Cinco de Mayo (it’s typical yearly average is 27 percent of cocktail sales), and during the week leading up to Cinco de Mayo last year, tequila’s share of spirits sales peaked at just above 14 percent—a 3 percent jump over its 12-month average, according to industry analyst GuestMetrics.
“We double volume and revenues at this outlet [on Cinco de Mayo],” says Larry LaValley assistant general manager at Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa in Singer Island Riviera Beach, Florida, which hosts a party at its Lagoon Cantina. “Margaritas and our Mexican menu specials always do very well. Check averages are higher since we extend hours, and everyone wants to be there for the mariachi.”
He adds that the mariachi band must be booked far in advance—a typical theme for restaurants that go all-out for Cinco de Mayo.
“We begin planning our event, Cinco de Nada, in February,” says owner and Chef David Falk of Nada in Cincinnati. Nada typically sees between 1,900 and 2,200 guests throughout the event.
“It's a long and involved process that we've been refining for six years,” Chef Falk says. “In the early months, we work on developing the concept, how to inject it with energy and fun. Contiguously, we identify how we can improve operationally from years past.”
Once the creative aspects and operations and are aligned, Chef Falk says, the restaurant makes mood boards and marketing calendars, and gives a presentation to the event team. After the events team decides on a direction, Chef Falk secures licensing, partnerships, and entertainment.
This year, the restaurant is featuring 800 Tequila Margs, Nada Sangria, and a Red Bull Cocktail. On draft it will have Negro Modelo and Corona, and Cincinnati-based Rhinegeist cans. “For the food, we are featuring an all-new taco for the event, our fun version for a Mexican Hot Dog,” says Chef Falk.
Richard Sandoval’s Washington, D.C., restaurants—Masa 14, El Centro D.F., and Zengo –celebrate with three different flavorful margaritas offered exclusively on Monday, May 5. Priced at $5 each, the choices include the classic margarita, strawberry, and mango. The restaurants sell a considerable amount of margaritas and tequila-based drinks. Last year, El Centro D.F. sold 1,600 margaritas, while Masa 14 went through 1,400.
“Cinco de Mayo is one of our biggest days of the year, and that’s why planning usually starts just after the last Cinco de Mayo, figuring out improvements for the following year,” says Rob Day, national beverage director for Richard Sandoval Restaurants. “Last year, we had a line of people who wanted to join the party.”
“At Mercadito Hospitality, we like to have all details finalized two months out,” says Alfredo Sandoval, partner of Mercadito Hospitality, which operates restaurants in Chicago, New York, Miami, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas.“This year, we are offering a special dish (Huraches) and cocktail (Jalapeño Popper) that are not on our current menu. This allows our regulars to be able to try something new when they come in.”
The holiday is promoted via an e-blast sent two to three weeks before the holiday. “Two weeks before the holiday, we'll post on social media a couple times a week leading up to Cinco de Mayo,” Sandovalexplains. “We also rely heavily on public relations, to be included in local newspapers and magazines for Best Restaurants to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo.”
Municipal Bar + Dining Co., also in Chicago and a recent addition to the Mercadito Hospitality group, partners with liquor sponsors for holidays where crowds anticipate food and drink specials. This year, Municipal has partnered with El Jimador, and will also have a live mariachi band in-house that evening.
“We definitely notice an increase in foot traffic, as well as food and beverage sales, on popular, celebratory holidays like Cinco de Mayo,” says Sam Fakhouri, owner and managing partner at Municipal. “To make sure we capitalize on the rise in business, we secure appropriate liquor sponsorship in advance and create tailored promotions that cater to groups.”
The celebrations continue in Florida, where McCoy's Oceanfront,located within the Marriott Pompano Beach Resort & Spa in Pompano Beach, is hosting its first Cinco de Mayo.
“We started finalizing our cocktail specials in March,” explains Taylor Hall, director of food and beverage. “We are also hoping to expect more volume on this day due to our new happy hour from 5-7 p.m.”
Drink specials at McCoy’s Oceanfront Bar include $8 Cuervo Margaritas; $9 Loaded Coronas (with a shot of Bicardi Limon); and $30 Corona Buckets, which have five beers per bucket.
Cocina 214 in Winter Park, Florida, starts planning for its Cinco de Mayo promotion five months in advance. It’s celebrating the holidays with a weekend-long fiesta that begins on Saturday, May 3.
All day Saturday and Sunday, a local DJ will spin Latin and Top 40 hits, while ambassadors from participating partners, Jose Cuervo and Corona, serve up drinks. On Sunday, May 4, locals can enter their dogs into the second annual Running of the Chihuahuas fundraiser for pet-related causes. On Monday, the restaurant celebrates its three-year anniversary with a Patron Ice Luge at 5 p.m., followed by Corona giveaways and Don Julio tequila samples.
By Joann Whitcher