In Vino Veritas Part LXXIV: Wine and Tomato Tastings
By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited
Before getting into any specifics here, it's important to understand why a hotel restaurant should engage in vertical or horizontal tastings, or any other experimental program. To sum it up, it helps give your dining outlet legs.
In the typical cycle of a few years, the restaurant's star fades until it's only marginally profitable, with few places either achieving any other of ironclad popularity in the face of continual renewal of the competition. Then the chef or owner makes the decision to rebrand under the guise of 'wanting to explore a new creative direction' or some other polished reasoning lifted straight from a milquetoast press release.
While this process can go on in perpetuity for the benefit of the average patron who is afforded a constant refresh of neighborhood dining options, it's a headache for anyone in the business. Regardless of the industry, launching a new product is a nightmare, and definitely not for those who value their sleep. Moreover, the influx of successive batches of ever-inventive restaurant concepts is only truly sustainable in boom times. When the market goes bust, however, many outlets find themselves fighting over scraps as customers opt for home cooking over spending their money eating out.
In times of economic hardship, your restaurant needs that x-factor to keep the turns coming. Tastings represent but one solid prospect in this regard because they add an educational and self-actualization component beyond merely exciting and delighting the taste buds. They can give your eatery that instagrammable or wow moment to help make it evergreen and recession-proof. Further, specific food tastings help to promote beverage pairings to thereby increase the average guest cheque.
With this as an introduction, it should come as no surprise why cheese tastings, charcuterie boards, wine flights and beer flights are such hot items on the menu these days. And of course, you can get as esoteric or regionally specific as you so desire — for example, arriving in Stockholm on vacation this past summer and enjoying a lovely five-way Nordic herring tasting (pictured here).
For the purposes of this article, the concept of a tomato tasting is one of those strange attractors because it pertains to an agricultural produce with near-universal appeal and culinary usage, and yet one that has never commanded the same veneration as, say, grapes for wine or milk for cheese. It's about time the lowly tomato got the respect it deserves!
Moreover, with a strong diversity of cultivars that can be grown practically wherever the sun shines as well as the movement towards colorful heirloom varieties that command greater appreciation amongst patrons, setting up a tomato tasting as an appetizer option may not seem as outlandish as you may initially think.
Then, of course, you have the true reason underlying any such food tasting - the wine pairings. Add to your tomato board - or any such tasting - some artisanal breads, some sweet sauces and a bit of salt, and the taste buds will be all but crying for a wash of alcohol.
So, with this in mind, my advice is to get creative about what types of differential tastings you can provide for your guests. Talk to your local providers to see what they can source. If you've never run a program like this at your restaurant, start with something more perfunctory like a cheeseboard as an insurmountable component of this is staff education. And above all, make it fun!
The world’s most published writers in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the managing director of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry also sits on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology.More from Larry Mogelonsky