New Trader Vic’s Concept: Mai Tai Bars

Trader Vic's Mai Tai Bar
Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Bar

I learned on the Tiki Talk blog about Trader Vic’s intention of starting a new line of their restaurants, called Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Bars. They’re scaled-back versions of Trader Vic’s restaurants, featuring a large drink menu, but a very small food menu centered on appetizers, with a few sandwichy-type items. Most notably absent is the hallmark Chinese ovens; these suckers are large and not easy to install, work with, or design around, so while it feels sad to see a Chinese oven-less Trader Vic’s, it does make sense.

In theory, the scaled-back concept could also be installed in smaller locations, which would hopefully be a lower risk to the company and any franchise investors, and could weather the stormy restaurant business a bit better. Most intriguing to me: a smaller size means the decorating budget goes a lot further; sadly, the concept sketches on the Trader Vic’s website look disappointingly bland (although they indicate an intention to have some nice, big tikis at these Mai Tai Bars). A March 2006 article in Nation’s Restaurant News stated that the new Mai Tai Bars are aiming for a 50-50 ratio between food and beverage sales, vs. 60% food to 40% drinks at a typical Trader Vic’s.

As earlier reported on Critiki News, Trader Vic’s Palo Alto relaunched its bar area as a “Mai Tai Bar,” which made no sense at the time — the changes to the space were laughably minimal, the only real change was the addition of a few boring items to the food menu (woodfired pizza?). While I’m still a bit puzzled by the Palo Alto remodel effort, it does make a bit more sense now if they were using it as a sort of test ground for the Mai Tai Bar concept, as an attempt to appeal to an after-work crowd.

Another interesting angle to all this: Palo Alto Trader Vic’s has had some pretty decent live music in the bar area, and it looks like this is another part of the new Mai Tai Bar concept.

The first official Mai Tai Bar has opened just outside of Estepona, Spain; no word yet on what it’s like. Any tiki-lovin’ Spaniards care to report?

4 thoughts on “New Trader Vic’s Concept: Mai Tai Bars

  1. I heard about this through the FOM a couple of days ago and immediately looked into it.

    I spoke with Sven Koch (V.P. of TV America) and Hans Richter (Pres. TV) (who both rescued Hukilau in 2002!) about franchise opportunities yesterday. If you look at the Trader Vic’s Spain site ( Estepona ), there is a picture of the Mai Tai bar, but that image is actually the Hawaii location. Yes, the Hawaii location will be open before the Spain location.

    This new concept is tremendously exciting. After spending a year working on a business plan for The Headhunter Lounge ( ), what I ended up with looks a lot like this Mai Tai bar. Concentrate on the high margin items, keep a small menu that means a small staff and small kitchen. Something closer to a Tiki Ti than a Trader Vic’s. Or perhaps, something closer to Forbidden Island.

    It is also much much less expensive. This bar could be opened in 4 months at a start-up cost of only maybe $500,000. I can see these popping up all over the US, not just in major metropolitan areas. Hans says the decor budget for one of these is only about $25,000, which is one of the smallest expenditures. I would love to open one here in Knoxville. It’s so close to what I had in mind anyway, and you get Trader Vic’s name, drinks, food and they train the bartenders, cooks and manager… It’s an amazing concept.


  2. Hey, that’d be great, Swanky! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you. Metaphorically, of course, because I’m going to need to use my hands between now and when the Knoxville Mai Tai Bar becomes a reality. Sounds swell!


  3. Boston or Providence is in dire need of a little tikification. The TV Mai Tai Bar would be a perfect introduction to get things going here again! Plus I’m sick of red and yellow Mai Tais and this could finally be an escape from the usual faire in these parts.


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