Hotel La Tour is a premium 174-room hotel in the centre of Birmingham that has recently been shortlisted as Best Hotel and Best Bar in the city’s recent Food, Drink and Hospitality awards. We caught up with bar manager Hinde Bouchayeb to find out what the trends are in this busy Midlands hotel, that boasts a Marco Pierre White Chophouse as well as a large cocktail bar.
I would say that the main drinking trend at Hotel La Tour is gin. From our house gin to the more expensive ones (Tanqueray 10), it is always very popular with women and men of all ages. On our cocktail list, the ‘Hendrick’s cooler’ also sells very well a trend that I see continuing with summer coming up.
What are the special wine buying challenges that Hotel La Tour poses to you?
Not having a sommelier is probably the biggest challenge (I am the bar manager).
The other challenge is the diversity of our guests – during the week they are mostly corporate. Weekends are different, with people coming here for leisure (to see a show in Birmingham), or else having a celebration. Therefore the type of drinks they will go for is very different. Having a cocktail bar helps because it gives everyone a lot more options.
The other key thing is to have variety in our wine provenance – we have wine from France, New Zealand, USA, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Chile and South Africa, so it is all about giving our guests an opportunity to find something to their liking.
Do you have plans for any special drink-themed events and if so what is the thinking behind them?
Summer is always a great time for new cocktails, and promoting Pimm’s more. But I think with the gin sales taking off very well, there are some great opportunities to create more gin-based drinks. I have just met with a new soft drinks supplier and their range will be bringing in new options for different mixers, which will be fancier and more fun I think.
What determines when you look to bring a new wine onto the list?
I went to the Matthew Clark event (our current drinks supplier) where I have been able to discover (or re-discover) some wines. What I had in mind was summer and what kind of nice Rosé or white would be refreshing and sell well? Something easy to drink and familiar as Côtes de Provence Rosé, for example.
Also I had some very nice red wines from the USA and France (great Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape). Price range is also a motor for us. It is important to have an accessible first entry level wine of good quality and as we go higher on the price adding more complexity as we do – this is perhaps the greatest challenge for us.
How do you go about buying a new wine?
Our suppliers are actually very good at listening to what we want and coming back with ideas. We currently work with the Black & White franchise (Marco Pierre White’s franchise) and are committed to the wine list they send us. However, because we are still an independent hotel, we can add and introduce our little touch to make the difference.
What determines when you look to bring a new spirit onto the list?
Trend is a very big factor and listening to our guests’ demands as well. We also want to be able to surprise them with a new product when they come back. A lot of our guests are returning guests and it is important to meet their needs. It is also important to do some work and see what we can do as a business to be slightly different to our competitors. Why should people come to Hotel La Tour instead of somewhere else?
How many suppliers do you have and what for you makes a good supplier?
We source our ales from a local brewery (Purity). For everything else, we go through Matthew Clark. I believe they are a great supplier. We meet every three to four weeks to see how happy we are with deliveries, product range, price etc. They have lately been helping us switch spirit and beer brands and getting us to understand how to improve our bar product range. Making sure that we are also hitting our targets which is obviously the reality of running a business – selling the right product at the right price.
Matthew Clark are also involved in wine testing with staff, which is always a great moment for us! – giving us advice and knowledge on wines so that we have the confidence to talk about it to our guests. This is all done free of charge, part of the service they offer, they even bring the wines with them, when other suppliers I had worked with wouldn’t do that. It is a small difference but makes a big difference.
What is the best way for someone to contact you if they want to offer you a new drink?
Just call me or drop me an email and we can set up a meeting. It is always important to keep on top of what is happening around us, the industry moves fast and we have to be in the moment. We don’t want to be the last one selling the drink of the moment. In fact, we all want to be the first one to offer something new. This takes time and requires meeting face-to-face with people.
What do you see as being the big trends in the year ahead across both food and drink?
I am not 100% sure. I am from France and my parents are from Morocco. So my culture towards F&B is completely different. I can see people being more open minded, particularly when it comes to food.
Also with drinks I see more and more men opening the cocktail list and trying all sort of drinks. Is it a trend? I don’t know, but it seems to be just very ‘in the air’ to have a cocktail !
Key wine trends in next 18 months?
I have been working almost all over the UK for the past three and a half years. And it felt that with wine it is also about education and not just trend. In some places I would never sell Chardonnay, other places Muscadet was the white wine I had to have in summer available in my cellar. Pinot Noir was selling well in some cities and Malbec in others.
The provenance is also the main part of the trend side of things – which country will be more more fashionable than the rest? I don’t really have the answer! I find the weather plays such an important part.
Key spirits trends in next 18 months?
Gin will keep on for a little while I think.