Creating an Exclusive Beverage Experience

Don’t let cocktails be the downfall of your meeting

A poor beverage service can hinder any meeting—or add to its success. From the drink itself to the bar setup, lighting and overall ambience, beverage expert Christopher Adams, principal of international hospitality firm Ellis Adams Group, knows liquid success like no other. He talked with Meetings Imagined about how to create a stellar beverage experience that will both intrigue and satisfy guests while enhancing any meeting or event. 
What mistakes do planners make when it comes to beverages?

I think we’ve struggled in the beverage space for a while now. Planners have lost faith in what beverages are able to do. Instead of letting the bar experience enhance the program, they choose wine and beer because they might be nervous about not being able to pull off a full bar experience. They don’t have faith that cocktails can be executed. 

But when planners really only focus on beer and wine, the result is that people usually go to the lobby lounge bar when they want cocktails, so planners miss out on wowing their guests. So, the question is, how do we get out of that space? How do we get to the point where people walk into these events and they’re blown away by the bar setup and the cocktail menu? That’s what we’re trying to break the mold on now.

How do we get out of that?

We have to create a beverage experience. Nowadays, if you’re not delivering an experience, you’re going to close your doors. 

Think about it this way: The beverage itself is an opinion—there’s no right or wrong. I don’t know what every person likes, so they might not all like the cocktail. But if you make an experience around the cocktail, it’s going to make people like it more. I think part of why you fall in love with a food are the memories you have while eating that dish. For beverages, it’s similar. If you’re not creating an experience around that cocktail and just relying on the cocktail, you’re going to fail. 

How can you create an exclusive beverage experience?

The bar is usually the focal point of the event—it’s where a lot of the excitement occurs—but don’t let the bar drive your event. Make it a social spot where it can build energy in your event and let the beverage experience drive the event. 

For example, let’s create an over-the-top cocktail experience and build an Italian wine shop in the corner of the event where guests can walk in and choose their own wine. Those are the experiential things that are Instagram-worthy. If people don’t have their phones out at your event taking pictures of your bar space, cocktails or something you’ve done, then you missed the mark, because that’s all people want to do. So we have to give them that opportunity to want to take pictures of the cool stuff we’re doing. Those are the moments your attendees will remember. They’re going to talk about it, keep it on their phone, put it on Instagram. We have to give people an opportunity to get social about it. When we don’t do that, we’re missing opportunities to leave a lasting impression.

How can the setup of a meeting or an event contribute to the overall beverage experience?

We need to tell a story so that when guests walk up to the bar, they think, “This is amazing; I can’t wait to see what they are offering.” To do that, you have to activate your space, which means engaging everyone’s senses. 

When we open that bar, it’s not just about a cocktail menu. What’s the music like? What’s the lighting like? What are the aromas in the space? Are we making sure that the space is fully activated to ensure that the cocktails fall in line with everything else going on? I need a thousand different things that fit perfectly together to create this amazing experience that guests will pay you for and be happy about. The minute that I miss two or three puzzle pieces, that event drops in value. Making sure that we’re looking at every aspect of the event—and not just the cocktail itself—is extremely important.