The beverage alcohol category gets more competitive every year, making it harder for restaurants and bars to stand out with unique offerings. Chain operators that have to roll out their offerings across multiple locations and concepts face particular challenges keeping up.
How do they do it? We spoke to several industry experts and chain executives for tips on how they keep their beverage programs current and compelling, from occasional tweaks and refreshes to full overhauls. Here are seven ideas.
1.) Explore higher-end product offerings.
You can boost sales by adding higher-priced beverage options to your menu. But you have to be sure that these pricier offerings will fit with your concept and menu so they appeal to your customer base. You’ll also need to give guests a reason to spend more on them.
Bertucci’s has been reinvigorating its beverage program for the past year. The Italian restaurant chain revamped its wine menu in September, adding a higher-priced tier of wines. The new wines are priced at an average of $42 a bottle, whereas its other wines sell for about $33 a bottle.
The 90-location operator promotes the featured wines on a special point-of-sale piece with pairing suggestions on each table. Bertucci’s also highlights one of the higher-priced wines each month, with appropriate pizza, entree, and dessert pairings.
How have Bertucci’s customers responded to the higher-priced wines? The per-person average beverage sale at Bertucci’s is up 20% since the new menu rolled out, according to CEO Bill Freeman.
2) Embrace seasonality.
Craft beer brands have long celebrated seasonal brews; wines and cocktails are following suit. Many operators offer seasonal drinks for the summertime and during holiday periods. But you can rotate beverage offerings more frequently to reflect different times of year.
Bertucci’s, which has offered sangria on its menu for the past few years, plans to expand the program later this year to include seasonal sangria options. The company also launched a summer frozen drinks program in May.
“Seasonality is something that is key in everything we’re doing right now,” Freeman says. “We’ll rotate our menus to offer seasonal wines, beers, sangria, and now these new signature frozen drinks.”
3) Create unique signature options.
In addition to seasonal offerings, think regional when developing specialty drinks. Some chain operators use local themes to help personalize each unit’s beverage offerings.
Chicago-based mixologist Adam Seger, creator of Hum Botanical liqueur, developed a line of signature cocktails for iPic Theaters. The luxury movie theater chain’s signature cocktail menu includes 12 to 15 drinks that sell for about $11 each.
About 70% are core cocktails consistent across all locations; the rest are locally themed. These region-specific cocktails not only give each location its own personality, they also use the spirits that are traditionally best-sellers in specific areas.
For instance, Seger says that brown-based, classic cocktails sell well in Seattle, but they’re not as popular in Florida. “Meanwhile, Florida sells more Mojitos than we do in Washington,” he notes. “It makes sense to try and give each location its own regional feel.”
Local-themed libations can also reflect current events and trends in your area, such as a custom cocktail named after the local sports team—especially if it’s having a good season.
IPic features a monthly cocktail that might tie with a specific movie release. For example, it featured the classic Mint Julep as the cocktail of the month in May 2012 when The Great Gatsby came out.
Consumers are becoming savvier, and they’re always looking for something new and interesting, Seger says. “Adding some local flavor is a great way to freshen up any national program.”
4) Consider multiple drink sizes.
The small-medium-large concept that’s so popular with coffeehouses can work with bar beverages as well. Many beers are already available in different sized bottles and glasses, but you can opt to serve larger or smaller pours of wine.
Bertucci’s recently launched an additional wine pour option: Guests can choose between the standard 6-oz. wine pour or opt for the “Little More Pour,” Freeman says, which is an extra ounce or so. “All of our wines are offered by the glass, and the additional pour option gives people an opportunity to add more ounces to their order without having to commit to a second full glass,” he says.
California Pizza Kitchen last year began offering progressive wine flights, a sampling of three 3-oz. pours for $12. Guests can choose from a list of Whites, Reds and Adventurous wines, which are also available by the glass in 6-oz. or 9-oz. pours. The chain in 2010 launched a Wine Cravings menu, a selection of wines available as half glasses, most priced at less than $5.
Some operators are offering mini cocktails, which can be a way for guests to sample more than one specialty drink, or start with a cocktail and later enjoy a glass or wine or a beer with dinner.
5.) Get creative with Happy Hours and other promotions.
A special menu available only during Happy Hour is a great way to draw people into your establishment and encourage them to sample new food and drink offerings that they might not otherwise think to try. Operators can also create exclusive promotions around specific beverages.
The Ground Round Grill and Bar has 28 locations, each of which is responsible for setting its own pricing and cultivating an individual Happy Hour program. But for the past six years the chain has run a successful Thursday night promotion featuring 13 flavors of Long Island Iced Teas at all locations. These 22-oz. beverages, which are typically sell for $3.99, are reduced to $2.99 on Thursday nights, where legal.
“People come into the restaurant because they want to take advantage of this program,” says Don Damerow, director of operations and menu development with Ground Round.
The Long Island Iced Teas are currently available in such flavors as Raspberry Grape, Strawberry Watermelon, and Ice Blue. “We have built up the selection over the years, and it’s consistently performed very well for us,” he says.
6.) Evaluate your drinks and spirits regularly.
With so many new products, flavors and beverage trends, it’s important to keep your offering current. Damerow heads up a menu committee composed of representatives from across Ground Round that convenes on a monthly basis and plays a key role in overall menu development.
Damerow and the menu committee carefully reviewed comprehensive data to use as a guide when revamping the menu earlier this year. “We collected sales information from our past drink menus and took off the dogs, and added new items that we think will sell better,” he explains.
Ground Round in February rolled out an expanded cocktail menu, including a Skinny Margarita and a Jamaican Margarita, Hot and Dirty Martinis, and the Classic Bloody Mary. Drink prices range from $3.50 to $5.99.
Damerow and his team also decided to reduce the number of drink items to make it easier for guests to choose. So they removed less-popular cocktails, such as the Snickers Martini, Carrot Cake Martini, and Raspberry Spritzer.
The chain also began carrying Kinky liqueur in February. Kinky, an infusion of vodka, liqueur and fruit, in Pink and Blue varieties, has been a big hit with customers, Damerow says. Ground Round offers the Kinky Tini (Kinky liqueur, Smirnoff vodka, Ocean Spray cranberry juice), and for summer has added Kinky Summer Lemonade (choice of Kinky Blue or Kinky Pink mixed with lemonade), and the Kinky Blue Wave (Kinky Blue, Malibu coconut rum, and Sprite).
7). Train the team on new offerings.
Any major changes require careful planning and consideration. No matter how great the idea, nothing really matters unless you have a successful execution strategy to back it up, says Patrick Henry, president/CEO of Chicago-based food and beverage marketing company Patrick Henry Creative Promotions.
Staff training is an essential component of implementing a new beverage program, says Henry, who has worked with numerous chains, including Bertucci’s. Make sure that everyone on your team knows how they are expected to contribute to the effort. For instance, servers need to be educated on new menu offerings, trainers must understand what they’re expected to teach the servers, and so on.
“In 99% of all cases, when a new program fails, whether it be a LTO [limited time offer] or anything else, it’s due to a lack of training and a lack of execution on behalf of the operation,” Henry says. ·
Ipic Puts its Signature Drinks in Lights
IPic, a movie theater chain concept that combines an upscale movie experience with a top-shelf restaurant and bar atmosphere, features a monthly cocktail that is sometimes tied in with a specific movie release. The chain promotes its monthly cocktail via iPic Now, which plays on the movie screen before the start of the film.
The chain has found that using iPic Now to promote new cocktail offerings is an effective way of boosting sales. How effective?
IPic has seen up to a 300% increase in sales of the featured cocktail when the drink has been promoted, according to Adam Seger, a Chicago-based mixology consultant who has worked with the chain. Even the month following the featured cocktail promotion, Seger says, sales of that drink are usually up an average of 140% to 160%.
While most restaurants and bars aren’t attached to a movie theatre, operators can incorporate this type of idea by promoting featured beverages on the plasma screens that are a staple in many bar areas. You can also use other POS merchandise, such as menu inserts or table tents to promote specialty drinks.—MN