Orders for large quantities of glassware placed by bar owners are trending downward. Not surprised? That’s understandable. It’s hardly the most exciting moment in your month, determining the amount of breakage plus the total number of your logo-clad pilsner glasses stolen by wily members of bachelor parties. However, owning quality merchandise matters. It gets your brand in the brains (and, yes, occasionally the pockets or purses) of patrons, and it says to your customer that you care about quality; that your venue, events, services and products are worth his or her time and money. And merchandise doesn’t necessarily mean glassware — what about using straws, beer taps and even creative garnishes to set your bar apart from the competition? Use them wisely and you can easily recoup the investment in the form of loyal customers.
Looking Past the Glass
At the 15 Post Road Entertainment (PRE) venues throughout Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and North Carolina, management opted to cut back on glassware and bulk up on more meaningful items that offer some longevity. Staff members at each of PRE’s locations select unique products that fit their concept, from sports bars and Irish pubs to live entertainment venues and nightclubs.
“We had done pints in the past, but looking at the price point, breakage and cost of people taking them, it was an incurred cost we didn’t need in this economy,” explains Nicole Steeger, director of operations. “We are keeping the [quality] experience the same for customers by using large-scale and big-ticket gimmick items instead of everyday things.”
These large-ticket items for PRE’s Black Bear Saloon operations, for example, include a tabletop beer tower dubbed a “cub keg” that is available in two sizes; the smaller dispenses six beers and the larger 10. Management sourced the beer towers from a company called Tavern Toys and personalized them with the Black Bear Saloon logo, providing guests with a unique product that advertises the bar, provides an original experience for guests and doesn’t run the risk of being stolen.
Creating a unique atmosphere around your establishment will keep guests intrigued and asking for more, which is why it’s important to think outside the glass. “Glassware is becoming less of a novelty,” offers Gia-Marie Vacca, founder and owner of Fulcrum Promotions & Printing, a promotion merchandising company. With on-premise accounts, she notes, management is opting for standard orders rather than unique designs.
Additionally, they’re looking for something classic and upscale, which generally means bars are no longer putting alcohol company logos all over the glasses as part of sponsorship or promotion programs.
Bar operators are also adding one-of-a-kind touches to cocktail presentations in the form of unique garnishes. Whether edible — yet still unique — like shrimp, flamed lemon twists or Dress the Drink’s pineapple jerky, or inedible, such as a sparkler or a beautiful flower, a special garnish breathes life into what could otherwise be a well-made but standard-looking drink. Think about the visual and also aromatic elements a garnish can bring to a cocktail. Or, consider the branding opportunity. Cheeseburger in Paradise, the 32-location chain, includes clever garnishes made with fruit and novelties that relate to the Jimmy Buffet-inspired concept. The Electric Lizard, for example, is dressed up with Lizard Lips, a garnish involving lime and lemon slices arranged as a face adorned with sunglasses held together by the stick of a paper umbrella. Kitschy? No doubt, but it makes a memorable impression for the brand.
Although merchandising companies are seeing a similar downward trend in specialty glassware, they also are seeing new trends arise. There’s one segment of the bar world, however, that is ordering custom like no other: tiki bars.
At Hula Hanks, a tiki-themed venue from PRE located in Stamford, Conn., Top Shelf Marketing supplies giant plastic fishbowls that are decorated in logoed stickers and outfitted with neon plastic straws.
“Customers steal the fishbowls nine times out of 10,” Steeger says. “There is no way to stop this, so we make sure our information is on there. Then, at least, our venue has a spot in their homes.”
Other tiki bars are seeing the value of having eye-catching glassware as well — and even making a profit off it. Holden Westland’s company, Tiki Farm, has been online for 10 years, and business is rising this year as the tiki trend booms. His specialty is creating an actual mug from a bar’s logo rather than simply sticking a logo on the glass.
“The cost for doing a custom ceramic mug is in the $6 dollar range, and it goes down and up depending on complexity,” Westland says. “It’s about the same price as printing a T-shirt, but you can sell the [glass] with a drink for an added profit.”
Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas features Tiki Farm products, and although the place is fairly new, the custom mugs are already legendary.
“When we first opened, we had eight original tiki mugs designed for us,” says Frankie’s owner, P Moss. “We have a special drink menu, and eight of those mugs have drinks named after them. They are collectable, and we sell thousands of them at the bar and online.”
Guests at Frankie’s can get a mug by itself for $15; add a cocktail in the mug and it’s just $5 more (saving money off the $8 cocktail guests normally would pay for without the mug).
Tiki mugs as high quality and sought after as Moss’ require a little extra time and effort on his part.
“Ours are all designed by various artists, and it’s quite an involved process,” he says. “They make drawings, which become sculptures, that then go to the factory to be produced as mugs.”
For the bar’s second anniversary event on Dec. 4, Moss unveiled a $79 custom mug. Think that price sounds a little steep? Think again. He did the same thing last year and sold out in about a week.
So where do you go from here? Custom glassware certainly has its pros and cons. While you may understand that large, logoed items like beer towers eliminate the expense of people taking items home, how do you know what to order, especially when it’s your first time?
Bryan Balbuena, wine and spirits business development managera