In Vino Veritas LVI: Happy Liberalia

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! This is something I extol with a grain of salt as today’s holiday, which is supposed to be a heartfelt celebration of Irish history and culture, has been somewhat hijacked in recent years by rowdy revelers and college kids in search of their next excuse for intoxication. There is, however, a defunct Roman holiday – the Liberalia – which also occurs on this day. While the modern leprechaun is keen on beer, the Roman counterpart upheld wine as its hallowed libation, and therein lies a profound takeaway by contrasting the two occasions and their beverage of choice.

Without going into specifics about the weird and hypersexualized rituals that the ancient Italians had for the Liberalia, what’s interesting is that it was not just a celebration to honor the god of viticulture – that is, Liber Pater, but not Bacchus or Dionysus who were the Roman gods of wine and who were honored during the Bacchanalia held annually around Halloween. It also served as a coming-of-age ceremony for teenagers, where from thenceforth they would be deemed responsible for adult tasks and for conducting themselves in a civilized manner.

Unless, say, picking up a couple dozen Budweiser or Coors Light, genuine deference for wine requires a likewise maturation of one’s own intellect in order to fully appreciate the complexity of this age-old elixir. Part of wine’s allure is that it is a sophisticated beverage, and certainly much more than just a ‘basic’ source of alcohol-induced contentment. As it concerns our purposes, you would be wise to treat wine with admiration in order to realize greater restaurant revenues as well as to raise the perceived caliber of your entire hotel.

The word ‘basic’ from the previous paragraph deserves some exploration because even though they may be similarly priced, no two wines, beers, cocktails or spirits should ever be deemed as interchangeable in the customer’s mind. What will drive your beverage sales to reach new heights is the work you do to prevent any perception of commoditization. It’s an important note because if all alcoholic offers are directly transposable without any semblance of exceptionality or exclusivity, then your guests will always lean heavily towards those with the lowest price. This ‘lowest price is the law’ sensibility also applies to how consumers will select your guestrooms, your meeting spaces, your ancillary services or your amenity packages, so at the very least think of the work you do to differentiate your beverage services as preparation for the main event.

Thus, the Liberalia and the deep veneration that Roman society had for wine offers a profound marketing lesson that can be deployed ubiquitously. In order to stave off any perceived commoditization of what you offer, you must present an emotional commitment and a passion for your wears. By treating each liquor with respect insofar as caring to know a bit about its origins, its manufacturing process and a few specific tasting notes, this knowledge will be paid forward your patrons and will instill in them a greater sense of product appreciation so that consumers will in turn avoid any apples-to-apples comparisons.

In other words, product education and a willingness on your part to continue the learning process are paramount to success. This requires a holistic rethink of how you approach your wine list, from how you go about selecting certain vintners – with the hope of them becoming longstanding partners – to how those bottles are displayed on the menu as well as how you train your servers to display the same level of passion that you have – not only for wine but for every aspect of your property.

So, raise a glass to remember the Liberalia! By deepening your understanding of wine as well as your appreciation for it (for that matter, all craft beverages), you are doing your part in the millennia-old tradition of viticulture, and this passion will certainly shine through on your guests to heighten sales.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Hotels Magazine on Friday, March 17, 2017)

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