When Louis Hirsch, the general manager of Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro at The Palazzo in Las Vegas, took the job last summer, he started to examine the restaurant’s by-the-glass wine program. With around 600 selections and 3,200 options in inventory, Morels picked up a Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator in 2015. But his earlier quandary remained a concern, despite the recent accolade. While bottles from around the globe, with an emphasis on California and France, were being sold with fervor and regularity, there was a slight malaise over the menu’s lighter priced, single-serve offerings.
“I felt our energies were subdued,” Hirsch says. “We were excited about selling bottles of wine because we have such a good inventory, but we were leaving something on the table with our glass wine with such a good system. We invested in this great system, and we just wanted, no pun intended, to squeeze more juice out of the grape, so to speak.”
That system is a 24-bottle Enomatic device that uses inert gas preservation to keep bottled wine fresh up to a month after opening. The system also pours the wine and can measure portions to an exact amount. With that in place, Morels could hook up some rare, more expensive bottles that normally wouldn’t be served by the glass.
As Hirsch mentioned, just having the system wasn’t enough, however. The restaurant sat down and started to brainstorm, initially starting with the idea of a wine flight and developing it into something more unique. Morels’ staff conjured up the notion of a Wine Flight Passport Program. For $5, guests can purchase the passport, which Hirsch says looks and feels like the real thing, just colored burgundy to reflect red wine. Each time a glass is bought, a section is stamped, and for every 10 purchased, a free offering is given out. If all 24 stamps are punched by May 31, the patron can enter a contest to win a magnum bottle of Bruno Paillard Champagne.
“It really creates good will for our guests,” Hirsch says. “We discovered last weekend that the good will is a residual effect that we can play off of. … On a base level it is a loyalty program. It just has a demographic that isn’t looking for the 15 percent off. It’s a passion-driven loyalty program.”
Some of the options available are: 2011 vintage Tignanello from Italy, Chianti Badia a Passignano Antinori from Italy, Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet from Australia, Rust en Vrede Cabernet from South Africa, and Vanishing Point Napa Cabernet.
“The passport program is designed to broaden the experience for our guests. They can enjoy a new glass they’ve never had at the bar or on the patio with a cheese and charcuterie plate or at dinner and pair with one of our steaks,” adds Morels’ wine director Alexandre Brard. “Now instead of traveling the world on airline flights, guests can explore through wines from around the world.”
In addition to the obvious benefits, such as selling more wine and reducing waste from bottles that would have otherwise gone flat, Hirsch says the program has established a positive tone with staff. “We did a four-hour training three weeks ago on the contents of the program—on 10 of the wines we thought people would have the most questions about. We have another training next week with another six wineries with cheese, because we want to incorporate this program into our menu program, and while we do this, we want to use this as an excuse to really do some recurrent training with our staff.”
It’s also helped fostered a relationship with wine makers. “We want them to do trainings with our staff and come in and hold wine nights with our guests, so everyone can get a stamp from each wine maker,” Hirsch explains.
The plan is to continue unrolling the program and measure its success later in the year. If the returns are as expected, Hirsch says it can serve as an indefinite feature in the restaurant’s wine program. “Summer is a slower time here in Las Vegas, and we would love to have a program that’s already in motion. Our goal is to run this program continuous. It just remains to be seen how successful it will be. We have high hopes for it.”