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Morton’s The Steakhouse Putting Major Focus On The Bar

June 7, 2012

Morton’s The Steakhouse has embarked upon a major upgrade at all its U.S. locations with a focus on maximizing bar sales, company executives tell Shanken News Daily. Having recently completed a renovation of one location in Houston’s Galleria area, Morton’s, which was acquired by Landry’s Inc. earlier this year, will update all its 50-plus units within the next two years.

“We’re ripping out walls in the bar so the dining room and bar will flow into one,” says Morton’s senior vice president and COO Tim Whitlock. Televisions will also likely be added to the bars, with the aim of making the venues “a little more friendly, a little more accessible,” Whitlock adds.

The new look of the bar will reflect ongoing changes to the beverage program, which includes new cocktails and expanded wine-by-the-glass offerings. “The changes will help bring more guests to the bar,” Whitlock says, including younger and female consumers. The steakhouse chain recorded sales revenue of $320 million last year.

Wine represents 80% of Morton’s beverage sales, according to divisional vice president, wine and spirits, Tylor Field. He says that the recession ushered in demand for value, and the steakhouse chain responded with greater focus on its own exclusive wines and its wine-by-the-glass program. “People aren’t as willing to spend $80 to take a shot at a bottle of wine, but they are willing to have a bit of luxury for $15,” Field says of wine-by-the-glass purchases. “A decade ago, 12% of Morton’s wine sales came from by-the-glass pours, and today that number is 30%.”

Among other wine trends, Field says “the biggest change we’re seeing is in the Prosecco category. It’s an easy-to-drink, inexpensive, high-quality bubbly experience. It’s also very mixable.” While California Cabernet Sauvignon remains the most popular wine choice at Morton’s, Field cites “alternative” varietals that are sweeter, such as Riesling and Moscato, coming to the forefront. “The days of just ordering a Chardonnay are over,” he says.

Morton’s has also been promoting the bar in recent years via “Power Hours,” or happy hour events, featuring reduced prices on select cocktails, wine and beer (where legal) and “bar bites” food items. “Power Hour has been very successful, and will continue under Landry’s ownership,” Field says.

Houston-based Landry’s operates a number of high-end and casual-dining restaurant concepts, including Landry’s Seafood House, Rainforest Cafe, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Claim Jumper, Saltgrass Steak House, Oceannaire and McCormick & Schmick’s. Revenue for the restaurant group is projected to exceed $2 billion this year. Landry’s, owned by Tilman J. Fertitta, is also the owner of Golden Nugget Hotel & Casinos.

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