Beverages can be a profit-minded operator’s best friend, attracting and keeping patrons and providing a high-margin source of revenues.
According to Synergy’s new beverage expert George Barton, who has spent 35 years in casual dining operations, “The beverage segment is all about how quickly styles change, and it’s easy to fall into a sea of sameness. If you don’t stay current with the trends, you’ll fall behind.
“This is especially true with the Millennial generation, who are quick to shift from brand to brand and trend to trend,” adds Barton. “These consumers know what they want and are very demanding when it comes to their purchase behavior away-from-home.”
Here, Barton shares some ideas and trend information for keeping pace with what today’s guests want from beverages.
- Social media is key. A well-designed social media program that supports bar sales can attract new customers within 24-36 hours, says Barton. “If you’re not on social media, you’re missing out.
- Mixologists are the new chefs. Today’s successful beverage programs are keyed to the voice of the bartender or mixologist, and reflecting his or her point of view. “This is Millennial serving Millennial, and a good mixologist will have the ability to generate new ideas and innovations,” explains Barton.
- Flavor is just as important with beverages as it is for food. “From acai to wasabi, there are 250 or more flavors that can be incorporated into cocktails,” explains Barton. “Today there is unprecedented demand for sweet flavors that resonate well in drinks, driving sales of mojitos, margaritas, and the like.
- Look to the late-night segment. This is a unique meal period that didn’t exist a generation ago, and it integrates food and beverages in entirely different ways, says Barton. At both Happy Hour and after-hours, the bar has become a meeting place that’s about social interaction, and meeting friends.
- Don’t forget the food. Chefs and operators are including snacks and bar food in their beverage strategies, and pouring resources and talent into bar menus. “This is blurring the line between the bar with good food, and the restaurant with a great food.” From typical fare like pizza, sliders and wings to more chef-driven items like shrimp and grits, short ribs, and crab cakes, great food strengthens bar sales.
- Consistently drive change. Beverage programs can’t be an afterthought, insists Barton. “You have to stay fresh and innovate, and either follow or drive change,” he says. “And remember that it’s relatively easy to implement change, but much more difficult to integrate into the culture. It’s all too common for a brand to come up with eight or 10 new items, test them out, purchase new equipment and train staff, but the initiative fails because it couldn’t be integrated into the existing system.
- Look to growth categories for excitement and sales. Like fashion—and food for that matter—beverages follow the trends. Here are some that are especially important right now:
- Craft beer – With more than 3,500 craft brewers in the U.S., creating unique, customized beers in different styles with different flavor profiles, craft beer is stealing share from mass market domestic brews
- Wine on tap—Once an object of derision, wine on tap is taking on a new posture and better quality, and according to Barton it’s easy to serve, cost-effective and looks good at the bar
- Rum drinks—The popularity of sweet drinks has seen an explosion of interest in tiki drinks, punches, Caribbean- and tropical-themed cocktails and even shareable drinks like Scorpion Bowls
- Brown spirits—Whisky, bourbon, rye and even Cognac are on fire, says Boston, inspiring many dedicated whisky-bar and menu concepts devoted to the spirits, as well as cocktails ranging from traditional Old Fashioneds to on-trend bourbon smashes
- Non-alcoholic specialties—Items like smoothies, slushies, flings and energy drinks can be even more profitable than alcoholic beverages, to say nothing of specialty coffee and tea and related treats like flat whites or chai
- Sangria—This refreshing beverage is well-suited to shareable pitcher service, and offers the flavor or wine with the sweet kick of fruit and fruit juice or a spirited addition like Cointreau. Sangria is light and festive, the perfect “patio drink,” as Barton describes it, and the profitability is hard to match
Contact Synergy Restaurant Consultants if you would like information about improving your beverage program.
Blog, restaurant trends