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Casual Dining Beverage Trends

June 23, 2014 By: George Barton

Beverage Trends The landscape continues to evolve with new and exciting products each year in beer, wine and spirits.  It’s important as a chain operator to capture the excitement that comes from the variety of new products, styles and trends driving beverage segments.

Here we take a look at key deliverables and what should be top of mind in your goal to deliver more beverage revenue. 

Beer: The key is to insure your draft and bottle selection will please your guests.  Customer satisfaction (percent of beer drinkers out of 100 who would order a beer) from your given selection is the key to success. This means your target should be pleasing at least 95% of your customers for a winning recipe. 

In a typical, non-brew house or gastropub, casual dining venue averaging eight beers on taps would normally consist of the following:

-      (2) Mass Domestics:  Budweiser, Miller, Coors, etc.  You should carry both light and heavy varieties.

-      (1) Domestic Specialty: Blue Moon, Shock Top, etc. If you only carry one you should look to add a second.  

-      (2) Imports: Brands like Guinness, Stella Artois, Heineken, Dos Equis, etc. tend to rule this category however there are many selections here to satisfy your guests.   

-      (2) Crafts: There are brands that have full or close to full market availability (i.e. Sam Adams, Fat Tire, Sierra Nevada, Shiner Bock, etc.). However, you should also think about seasonals and ciders for this category and changing them out frequently.

-      (1) Local or Regional Craft:  These brands give your team some autonomy with selection. Regional Crafts like Boulevard, Abita, Harpoon and Sweetwater resonate very well with customers in specific areas.  

Spirits: Whether your focus is on rum, tequila, vodka, high-end or entry level spirits, a couple factors should help frame your drink menu, promotions and LTO’s (limited time offers).

-      Sweet and Flavors:   There continues to be an unprecedented demand for sweet tastes as it relates to spirits and drink features.  The Millennial generation, has the highest incidence of trying new adult beverages in casual dining, are driving this phenomenon.  Flavors continue to dominate drink menus with both traditional and new emerging tastes.  Strawberry, Raspberry and Mango are being challenged by Pomegranate, Acai, Passion Fruit, Caramel and Pear to name only a few of the new emerging flavors that have hit the drink scene and should remain hot for some time.

o   Take brown flavored spirits (i.e. Whiskey, Bourbon and Scotch) for example, these spirits are currently “on fire.” 

-      Mixology:  The “voice of your brand” or bartender has become extremely important to new trends, flavors and styles of drinks.  Bartenders, who are free to experiment with drink ideation and innovation (yet with guardrails) are creating noise and are making a significant impact on our business today.  This trend over the last 2-3 years has provided a breath of fresh air and excitement in adult beverages and one that should continue.  

Wine:  The usual suspects in wine on-premise will continue to revolve around the grapes that have been popular.  Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet and Merlot are here to stay. However, recently they have been challenged by other varietals, which aren’t necessarily new, yet have become popular with consumers looking for change.  Two are Malbec and Moscato, both taking share and creating some great new news in wine today.  

A couple of other drivers in wine, but not limited to these innovations, revolve around:

-      Wine on Tap:  This technology has starting to hit the scene in casual chains and top tier hotel groups.  The equipment is becoming more affordable each year allowing growth of wine by the glass programs. 

-      Serving Size (by the glass):  Many chains are offering tastes and multiple pour styles to satisfy guests’ needs.  Pours can vary from 6 or 9 oz. allowing guests the option to venture outside their tradition flavor profile and try something new.

-      Education:  Wine culture with many brands is still weak at best and leadership is finally beginning to see the light.  Wine may not drive sales like beer and spirits in the casual dining segment, however it’s here to stay and a must for full beverage service.  There remains a need in the casual dining segment to teach and challenge servers and bartenders on the nuances of wine. Wine service should be fun and selling wine is not as difficult and scary as it once was.  As expected, Millennials are driving this surge in wine sales which will require improvement with wine education (beginning with the fundamentals).  

A recent survey by Next Level Marketing indicated that 55% of drinkers are going out as often as last year; with Millennials going out more often. And 75% of those are spending the same or more than the prior year.  With 79% of guests trying a new drink every 90 days, there is plenty of beer breakthrough, and mixology and wine innovation being introduced. 


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