Sheraton becomes a sommelier

July 3, 2012

Say you’re planning a business trip. If you knew you could get a very good glass of wine at your hotel at the end of the day, would that influence which hotel you book?

The people at Sheraton are betting that it will.

Earlier this year, Sheraton began holding “Sheraton Social Hour” events at a number of hotels, and 130 more Sheraton branches around the globe will add the social hours this week. From 5 to 8 PM, usually Tuesday through Thursday, Sheraton residents will be able to sample a selection of high-quality wines. At the larger Sheratons, such as New York’s, eight wines will be on offer, four scoring a Wine Spectator rating of 85 or higher and four scoring 90 or higher.

The Social Hour is also a media branding opportunity, since Wine Spectator is a partner in the program. “It’s the first time we’ve done something like this,” said Gloria Frazee of Wine Spectator.

Sheraton officials acknowledge that they’ve been looking for ways to spruce up their brand. At the high-end of the hotel market, customers distinguish between hotels by personally-tailored amenities, or by the level of service associated with a Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons. At the low end, price and location can help sway choices. In the vast middle, the choices often appear commoditized; most good-sized cities are bound to have chain hotels in the same strategic locations, with rooms priced in roughly the same range on travel sites.

And hence the Social Hour. The idea is not entirely new. Some hotels in northern California and other wine-producing regions have long offered wine happy hours, usually for free and always with wines from a specific area. But three things set Sheraton’s effort apart: 1) They’re charging for the wine–$5 for a 2 oz. sample pour, and $13-$19 for a 6 oz. glass—meaning that the future of the Social Hour won’t depend on the promotional whims of individual vineyards; 2) no one’s ever tried this on a global scale of several hundred locations; and 3) the selection offered at Sheraton is hard to match.

At a typical Social Hour, for example, Sheraton guests will be able to sample a Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, with a powerful nose and robust finish—and a Wine Spectator rating of 91. Whites on offer include, from Washington State, Eroica Chateau Ste Michelle 2010, an unusually smooth Riesling. The wine was developed with the cooperation of the estate of Dr. Ernst Loosen, a legendary Riesling producer from Germany’s Mosel region.

The company claims that its pilot program, carried out in 19 Sheratons from Chicago to Rio de Janeiro, was a big hit with customers. 55% of guests reported buying a glass of wine after the tasting and, since the Social Hours also features appetizers, 43% reported buying food. A significant number of guests also bought bottles, and overall wine sales increased 40% at the hotels offering the Social Hours.

In a highly competitive business like hospitality, a 40% increase in sales of anything is something to toast.

PHOTO: Courtesy Sheraton

 

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