St. Patrick’s Day isn’t the busiest bar holiday of the year—the night before Thanksgiving holds that title. New Year’s Eve, the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day are also busier.
Based on the OPUS survey conducted by Nielsen CGA of 15,000 on-premise guests, one-third of U.S. consumers visit a bar or restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day. Again, it isn’t the busiest day of the year for bar and restaurant operators, but Nielsen CGA has revealed that St. Patrick’s Day is the highest grossing day of the year for bars and restaurants in the United States.
Beer sales shot up +174 percent on St. Patrick’s Day last year when compared to average daily performance throughout the year. Spirits sales were nearly as good, reaching +153 percent. The holiday fell on a Saturday in 2018 and falls on a Sunday this year. However, Matt Crompton, client solution director at Nielsen CGA, feels that operators should be optimistic and plan for the holiday to span the entire weekend.
“Given that St. Patrick’s Day will again fall on a weekend, on-premise retailers will be hoping for similar footfall and spend,” Crompton said. “In 2018, Saturday 17th delivered the greatest uplifts with average value sales for beer +36% vs. the previous Saturday, with stout beers increasing a massive +355 percent. That said, despite being on a Sunday this year, the industry has every right to be optimistic that celebrations will stretch across the whole weekend.”
Not surprisingly, Chicago and Boston saw the highest grossing beer sales on St. Patrick’s Day last year. In Chicago, beer sales rose to +221 percent versus +36 percent total U.S. sales. Stout in particular performed incredibly well in both Chicago and Boston, rocketing to +688 percent and +355 percent respectively compared to the previous week. Following first place Chicago and second place Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York filled out the top 5 major St. Patrick’s Day cities.
The major cities where sales were much lower on St. Patrick’s Day in 2018 in contrast? Dallas, San Francisco, Miami, Houston and Tampa. In fact, velocity was down in Dallas and Tampa compared to the previous week.
Nielsen CGA did more than track sales and identify the highest- and lowest-grossing major St. Patrick’s Day markets. Also revealed through their data are growth opportunities for the holiday. If you’re guessing that happy hour is the most valuable day part for beer during St. Patrick’s Day weekend, you’re correct. As many a bar and restaurant operator is aware, guests tend to visit bars and restaurants earlier in the day than usual on the holiday. Last year, beer saw an uplift of +122 percent from the 3:00-5:00 P.M. (afternoon) daypart and a boost of 12 percent vs. the previous Saturday.
However, it’s the 9:00-11:00 A.M. (brunch) daypart that showed the strongest growth in 2018. The entire St. Patrick’s Day weekend saw positive beer sales growth last year. But it was the brunch daypart on the holiday itself that saw meteoric uplift last year: +1,465 percent. Surely, this is a daypart to focus on as an operator. Happy hour, evening and late night are important, but it’s brunch that may truly represent a growth opportunity for operators to stack their tills with the proverbial pot of gold.
Beer value saw a boost of +20 percent vs. the previous weekend during the holiday in 2018. Pubs and bars saw a significant uplift over their dining location counterparts: +57 percent vs. +7 percent. And stout (+141%), domestic premium (+80%) and import beers (52%), along with cider (+46%), all saw positive sales growth during the holiday last year compared to the previous weekend.
It isn’t only beer that performs well on St. Patrick’s Day, as Nielsen CGA data has revealed. Another growth opportunity is Irish whiskey, the fastest-growing type of whiskey on-premise. The category has reached a worth nearly $2.1B over the past 52 weeks, representing a growth rate of 5.9 percent. In March of 2018, Irish whiskey saw value sales of $190M.
“Our analysis of 2018's St. Patrick’s Day performance shows that it isn’t just beer that wins, other categories have ample opportunity to win with consumers, too,” said Crompton. “For many, the key is to activate at the right time of day, with the right type of offering. In an age where experience is key, many consumers look to calendar moments (such as St. Patrick's Day) to visit the trade.”
In the case of this St. Patrick’s Day, operators who can do so should strongly consider offering a brunch promotion. This will allow them to capture revelers early on and keep them at their venues for later dayparts. Of course, stocking up on Irish beers and whiskeys to offer St. Patrick’s Day guests is another logical and revenue-generating tactic.
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