"Plunge to your liking."
It's not the typical verbal directions guests receive when ordering a cocktail, but these guidelines indicate Hard Rock Cafe isn't innovating its beverage program in a typical way.
The global full serve debuted a beverage this summer that hinges on the use of a French press—typically reserved for coffee—to create a cold, lemonade-based drink that can be either alcoholic or non-alcoholic, shared or sipped alone, and flavored by the customer to her liking by pressing on the plunger.
"Throughout 2013, we wanted to completely revitalize our beverage program, so we started thinking about ways to serve cocktails, and we did a lot of consumer insights," says Cindy Busi, Hard Rock's director of beverage. "What we found was, [consumers] definitely like shared cocktails, things like flights and craft are very important to them, and that the serving vessel is just as important as the cocktail that was in it."
Armed with this knowledge, Busi and her team set to work brainstorming a beverage with an over-the-top presentation, something that incorporated fresh fruit and muddling, key components of Hard Rock beverages. Sitting in a coffee shop, they saw a French press in use, "And we said, Wow! Could we do it?" she recalls. "We thought, instead of coffee at the bottom, we could do fresh fruit. We went after all kinds of berries and citrus, and we wanted to launch this around the summer time period, but also have it be something that resonated year round and is globally friendly."
Mixing equal parts of innovation, seasonal fruits, and the insatiable desire for handcrafted cocktails, Hard Rock debuted the Red Berry Press in April, after three months of international testing at about 15 of its units. It is a sweet cocktail that situates fruits, from berries to grapes, below the filter and fills the rest of the French press with Hard Rock's scratch lemonade recipe. While the beverage was originally conceived as a vodka cocktail, Busi says it's easily adaptable to be sans alcohol, and also works with every spirit from rum to bourbon.
This is Hard Rock's first foray into a coffee press beverage. The brand purchased the presses for each location specifically for this drink, and while it's been used all spring and summer for a cold cocktail, warm innovations are coming up this winter.
In September and October, Hard Rock is also hosting Pinktober, a campaign that supports research and raises funds for breast cancer charities worldwide (October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the U.S.). For a limited time, Hard Rock will donate portions of sales of the original Red Berry Press to the cause.
"It's a way for us to give back, and we thought, what better way to continue to drive the focus on this really awesome drink and be able to support a charity that's near and dear to not only Hard Rock, but myself," Busi says.
Trending Up: Interactive, Sharable Drinks
The tendency toward interactive dining experiences and sharable plates is omnipresent, but sharable beverages have yet to reach the same point of ubiquity. It’s not out of the questing, though; Technomic reports that beverages play a “very important role” for 21 percent of consumers in deciding where they eat, and that restaurants with strong beverage programs can double down by marketing both the variety and the healthfulness of their sips.
Hard Rock’s Red Berry Press, as a fruity, unusual beverage, hits the mark. The fact that it’s shareable gives it another edge.
“That’s how we originally designed it, that two people could have this drink,” Busi says. The press is filled with enough for two and a half servings, and she explains that Hard Rock follows proper alcohol guidelines, making sure if one person chooses to have the drink, she won't be over-served alcohol. "But ideally, it is a shared drink; that's how we pushed it."