Americans tend to drink in good times and bad. Historically accurate or not, it’s nevertheless safe to anticipate that in a down economy fewer people will be on the street and they’ll have less money in their pockets. The moment the markets stumbled and crashed was when it no longer became business as usual.
Perhaps the best piece of business advice for rocky times is coming up with a plan to increase revenue and sticking with it. Taking a breather and maintaining status quo solidly fixes you at a point in space, allowing competitors to surge past. This is no time to be tentative. Armed with the right plan, the only difference between financially under-performing and exceeding expectations is commitment.
So recession or not, following are a few field-tested strategies proven to send beverage revenues skyward:
• Revitalize your drinks menu. A restaurant that doesn’t routinely change its menu always has plenty of open tables. The same holds true for the bar. Shake things up and add some pizzazz to your lineup. Change spices things up and helps keep your guests interested. If yours is the only place on the planet where they can get those particular libations, where else will they go?
• Cut marketing. The only marketing some operators perform is slashing prices during happy hour. Promote your business from the inside out. People are open and receptive to timely suggestions on what to drink. Develop bar menus and table tents that market your house specialties. If you’ve created delicious signature drinks, make sure you announce your success. You’ll notice that sales for whatever you actively promote will skyrocket.
• Rethink alcohol-free. If you’re not actively marketing alcohol-free beverages, you’re leaving money on the table. More than a passing fad, they’ve become part of the dynamics of our industry. If you need an incentive before jumping on board, consider the magnitude of this untapped market. The demographics of alcohol-free drinkers include literally everyone, and consumers increasingly are predisposed to socializing without alcohol. Consider also that alcohol-free drinks incur no liability and are chock full of profit.
• Invest in drink flourishes. Swizzle sticks are enjoying a renaissance in bars and nightclubs across the country and rank among the coolest collectibles around. More than mere implements for stirring, swizzles are contemporary memorabilia for the taking, mementoes embossed with your company’s identity. Swizzles have function and provide a lot of impact for the buck.
• Close strong. Small nuances can make a lasting impression. Such is the case with garnishes. Give your Martini drinkers something to talk about by garnishing their drink with vodka-steeped, anchovy-wrapped green olives, or pepper-infused, almond-stuffed green olives. Put some pizzazz in your Bloody Marys with a shrimp and scallion garnish. Embellishing drinks affords an opportunity to add some sizzle without adding significant cost.
• Create a few secret ingredients. Everybody loves secrets. Did anyone guess that the secret behind the Flaming Moe of The Simpsons’ fame was a splash of cough syrup? During the golden age of bartending, homemade elixirs, potions, syrups and infusions were the rage. They helped distinguished one establishment’s specialties from the next. What if you followed suit and created your own orange bitters, agave-flavored syrup or rose-petal tincture? Once you devise a winning concoction, keep the recipe in your vest pocket and don’t tell a soul. Now let’s see the competition try to duplicate your specialties.
• Adopt a spirit. Spirit sales, especially the top-shelf brands, remain hot commodities. Choose a spirit and become known as a great bourbon bar, tequilaria or single malt haven. Educate your staff and expand your backbar selections to offer guests an interesting array of brands from which to choose. Then prominently feature the rums or vodkas, for example, in your signature drinks. Tap into the guests’ sense of discovery and you’ll need to order more barstools.
• Offer a value menu. Who doesn’t want to think they are getting the most for their hard-earned money? Considering the nature of the economy and our collective sensitivity to prices, offering your clientele drinks with high perceived value will become an increasingly important success factor. Value from a guest’s perspective means something is worth the price paid. Regardless of what the economy might be doing, marketing impeccable cocktails at reasonable prices provides guests ample reasons to return another night. A loyal clientele is an effective hedge against a soft economy.
In the final analysis, increasing bar sales involves exceeding people’s expectations and occasionally doing the delightfully unexpected. Your clientele will appreciate it more than you may realize. For example, imagine applying the concept of random acts of kindness to your business. What if you unexpectedly bought a couple of loyal guests their dinner or a round of drinks? “It’s just our way of saying thanks,” you’d say. They’d be on the phone telling their friends what you did before they got home.