3 Questions You Need to Answer in 2016

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Bar and restaurant operators get whipsawed constantly by trends, but picking and choosing which will work is a tough task. Making sure that what you offer pleases your current customers (and perhaps even attracts new clientele) is the most important task you face. However, making real strides in the right direction can be a daunting task. Here are three questions you must be able to answer in order to figure out if you’re offering what’s right for your venue.

1. What works now?

Knowing your beverage percentage mix is important, but acting on it much more so. Look at your beer report, for instance. What types of beer sell best? Compare your figures to industry averages: Are you one of those places that still sells a whopping volume of light beer? Then chances are adding more than a few craft beers won’t move the needle on volume. However, featuring some of the more popular Weissbiers or Witbiers would likely be a better bet than the darker and more assertive styles and could increase your profitability since customers expect to pay a little more for them. If IPAs are booming for you (as they are across the craft segment), make sure you add more to spread the styles around, from the lighter and more sessionable ales to the punishingly bitter macho brews.

The same is true with wine, spirits, and non-alcohol beverages, too. No matter what your bartender says, only a very select sort of bar can honestly brag that, for example, “Gin is in.” So, investing dollars into a broad-based gin inventory works only for a small percentage of venues. And no matter what you hear about the American whiskey boom, if you are selling loads of Jack and Coke or Jim and Coke (or Fireball shooters, for that matter), it’s probable that a deep lineup of pricy whiskies isn’t right for you.

2. What didn’t work then?

Your recent inventory will tell you starkly what wrong choices you made last year. The sooner you get rid of non-performing beverages of any sort, the better off you’ll be. These are dusty dollars waiting to be converted, so if you went long on flavored vodka at a time everyone else went short, find a way to sell it off (at a discount) in new, inexpensive concoctions or any legal way you can. A tight inventory makes the best use of your money and allows you to invest in the right new thing when the time comes. Trimming your list - of wine, beer, spirits, soft drinks, etc. - that don’t perform for you is simply a smart business practice that rewards discipline with savings.

3. What might work tomorrow?

You’ve heard all about the hard soda boom: root beers, hard ginger beer - even hard orange sodas - are popping up everywhere, and sales are through the roof. Sounds like the perfect addition to your menu, right?

Well, maybe. Or maybe they will just steal share from your other beverages, possibly at a lower profitability. Maybe curiosity will get the best of your staff and you’ll be buying them all a few samples more than you budgeted. Maybe this is a fad that will collapse as many more players enter the field and only one brand emerges as popular. Or maybe, and this is what I think, hard sodas are meant for supermarkets and convenience stores, maybe even pizza joints or some family friendly spots, but not most bars and restaurants. In any case, why rush? The only winner is the producer if you guess wrong, and chances are no one will rush to your establishment simply because you are selling something they can get in a 12-pack on the way home. If things change and one brand and flavor emerges as incredibly popular, then place your order. Watch the trends for something that makes you look special rather than just a willing early adopter.

That’s it - three ways to decide how to fine tune your beverage program as the slow season closes. It’s not too late to make decisions, but as they said in the 1960s, “Not to decide is to decide.”