The Sound of Cocktails: The Importance of Music & Menu Programming

BACARDÍ Stage Governors Ball Punch in branded coconut
Image: BACARDÍ

It’s undeniable that music influences bar, nightclub and restaurant operations. Volume, tempo, tone, lyrics, specific artists… Each of those factors affect the guests (and even staff).

Most neuroscientists and other experts support the belief that humans are hardwired to respond physiologically and psychologically to music. A bar or nightclub operator’s sales can increase or decrease based on the BPM of the music being played. Restaurant operators can affect the length of stay and perception of a guest’s experience through music programming.

All of this raises an interesting question: Are drink orders influenced by music? Drilling deeper, are drink orders influenced by genre of music? It’s believable, generally speaking, that fans of a specific genre of music may tend to order similar drinks.

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We spoke with someone who is more than qualified to answer such questions. Ned Duggan, vice president of BACARDÍ, understands the role music plays in hospitality venues. From bars to live music venues to massive festivals, Duggan has studied the effects of music on drink orders and the guest experience.

Read on to learn what BACARDÍ and Duggan have discovered about music genres and drink orders, the influence of music on operations, and sustainability.

What has Bacardí learned about music genres in relation to cocktails?

People generally don’t drink BACARDÍ sitting down – the combination of great music and delicious cocktails inspires you to get up and move. We’ve seen all over the U.S. that the type of music that people are listening to really influences what they drink. For example, with country and rock, they tend to drink the Mai Tai made with BACARDÍ Superior and BACARDÍ Gold Rum, or the “Rum-Rita” made with BACARDÍ Grapefruit and Cazadores Tequila. With hip-hop, people tend to drink Mules—our rum mule is made with BACARDÍ Superior and a float of BACARDÍ Black on top. 

We’ve also learned a lot through our Sound of Rum partnership with DJ trio Major Lazer. It’s a collaborative and creative partnership that blends high-energy music with a Caribbean vibe and the world’s best tasting rum. The Sound of Rum has been coming to life all summer, through live events like Governors Ball, Bonnaroo, Greatest Day Ever all featuring our refreshing cocktails. Since the Sound of Rum launched in 2017, BACARDÍ has found that music and cocktails go hand-in-hand in bringing people together.

Read this: Five (More) Ways to Improve Your Music Today

Sonically, we’ve found that many BACARDÍ drinkers enjoy music inspired by the islands—music that combines several genres including reggae, dancehall, hip-hop and electronic music. BACARDÍ hails from Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, and the Sound of Rum pays homage to that distinct island vibe, but with a modern-day kick. It’s the perfect fit for BACARDÍ because it operates on two levels: it pays respect to the sound, energy, and rhythm of the Caribbean islands where we came from while also staying at the forefront of where we are musically today. The Sound of Rum also helped serve as inspiration for BACARDÍ’s “Do What Moves You” campaign, which we launched this year, and shot entirely from the waist down.

Are there specific cocktails that Bacardí has discovered are popular among fans of specific music genres?

We have found that cocktails from the BACARDÍ Carta range (Superior, Gold, Black and Flavors) are most popular during high-energy, summertime occasions like music festivals and events. We have found that refreshing, mixable cocktails made with fresh ingredients are a great option for music festivals—when people are dancing the day away and need a break from the summer heat. Factors like the type of music, the temperature, and the time of day all play a role in what people drink. For example, the Mai Tai has consistently been a top seller during summer months at music festivals and concert amphitheaters, and this summer a breakout cocktail has been the BACARDÍ Limonade—with BACARDÍ Limón and lemonade.

Of course, setting the tone and ambiance is key for any bar. Starting a shift with slower music and later progressing to higher energy controls the flow of the crowd and increases sales throughout the night, ensuring repeat customers. —Ned Duggan

As part of the Sound of Rum partnership, BACARDÍ released a limited-edition rum with Major Lazer in May 2017. It’s a dark rum tropically aged between 3 and 4 years with tasting notes of tropical fruits and rich vanilla, that has been a hit with EDM music lovers across the country. Fans have really enjoyed mixing it up in signature cocktails like the Walshy Cooler and the Tropical Storm.

During BACARDÍ No Commission events—which have featured musical performances from hip-hop artists like Busta Rhymes, DMX, DJ Khaled, Lil Wayne, 2Chainz, A$AP Rocky, Swizz Beatz and more—we have found that guests prefer drinking cocktails mixed with our premium dark rums, opting for a BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho on the rocks, or in an Ocho Old Fashioned.

BACARDÍ Governors Ball Punch drink

How has Bacardí responded to these discoveries?

BACARDÍ has become a brand synonymous with music and entertainment. This summer alone, we’re serving up refreshing cocktails at music festivals around the nation, including Governors Ball, Bonnaroo, Life is Beautiful and Voo Doo Festival. At each festival, BACARDÍ will serve classic cocktails such as the Mojito and Mai Tai, and new cocktails like the BACARDÍ Limonade and BACARDÍ Coconut with pineapple juice.

We’ve taken what we’ve learned from prior music festivals and implemented it into our drink strategy. For high-volume events, like our Live Nation Music Festivals, we know BACARDÍ Limonade is extremely popular, so we’ll continue offering that at similar venues and events. For the country, rock, and live music venues, there is an opportunity for more creative drink strategies, since people can savor their drink in a more laidback environment than they might at a super high-energy event.

Read this: A Lesson Learned About Music and Your Brand

For the on-premise, we’ve found that the level and ambiance in any bar is going to contribute to how much and what people consume. Of course, setting the tone and ambiance is key for any bar. Starting a shift with slower music and later progressing to higher energy controls the flow of the crowd and increases sales throughout the night, ensuring repeat customers.

We’ve found that the higher energy the music, the simpler the type of drink people are likely to order. Additionally, knowing your audience is key. —Ned Duggan

Lastly, we know that weather affects what people order, so we tend to offer beverages that are best suited to the season. During the summer and in hotter venues, people gravitate towards the frozen stands and opt for Strawberry Daiquiris and Piña Coladas to cool them down. We find that lighter, more refreshing options sell better in these situations, so we tend to plan our drink strategies to meet this demand.

Have such discoveries extended to other brands within the Bacardí portfolio?

Each brand in the Bacardi portfolio has its own unique passion platform—visual art for Bombay, Grey Goose and film, etc. All of our brand groups learn from each other, and over the years we have learned so much from our customers, partners and consumers—everything from key trends within a lifestyle vertical like music, to an up-and-coming cocktail like the BACARDÍ Limonade. These discoveries often become major brand activations, as they did for both the Sound of Rum music platform and our new “Do What Moves You” campaign.

What advice do you have for operators who feature live music in terms of drink menu programming and the type of music being offered?

We’ve found that the higher energy the music, the simpler the type of drink people are likely to order. Additionally, knowing your audience is key. For example, at Bonnaroo we knew the crowd was going to be more health conscious, so our cocktail strategy reflected that. We packed our cocktails with ingredients like locally-sourced tea and added refreshing elements given the hot Tennessee summertime climate, which were a big hit. It always helps to have a cocktail geared towards the local community and pull inspiration for flavors and ingredients from the surrounding area.

In terms of photo opportunities, how the drink is served will help with social amplification of the drinks from people in the audience posting to their social feeds. For example, we’ve seen success by serving drinks in souvenir tins, as well as branded perishable coconuts. These touches appeal to a variety of music fans, which is key for bar and venue operators to consider.

How does Bacardí honor their commitment to sustainable business practices at live music venues, and what advice does Bacardí have for bar operators when it comes to sustainability practices?

BACARDÍ is very committed to sustainability efforts. In early 2016, we launched a “No-Straws” movement, which banned the use of plastic straws in cocktails at company events in an effort to reduce waste. This movement has evolved to encompass all events supported by the brand, which means the removal of plastic straws at Live Nation Music Festivals, Sound of Rum Sessions: Chicago, and more. As an alternative, BACARDÍ has adapted to use biodegradable paper straws in select cocktails to reduce the usage of straws in beverages overall.

Read this: Close the Loop: Become a Sustainable Bar Today

Following in BACARDÍ’s footsteps of the “No-Straws” movement, the brand recently stepped up its efforts with the launch of #TheFutureDoesntSuck campaign, in partnership with Lonely Whale. The aim of this campaign is to reduce waste and benefit the environment minimizing or phasing out the usage of plastic straws. With #TheFutureDoesntSuck, BACARDÍ has set the goal to eliminate one billion single-use plastic straws by 2020, and encourages bar operators and consumers alike to join the movement by pledging to www.thefuturedoesntsuck.org. At Tales of the Cocktail this year, BACARDÍ encouraged attendees to take the pledge #TheFutureDoesntSuck remotely, which was well-received—those who pledged were rewarded with a reusable metal straw. If straws are essential to a beverage program or a select cocktail, we ask that owners and operators look to biodegradable plastic straws as a more environmentally-conscious choice.

In addition to the effort to minimize straw usage, we offer signature drink tins at select venues to reduce the quantity of cups thrown away onsite, which can be repurposed at home. We’ve had a couple local accounts throughout the country that have purchased these drink tins in an effort to reduce their own waste. We also always take the previous year’s learnings about attendance and serves at music festivals into account when batching cocktails to eliminate or minimize cocktail waste.

Finally, we also suggest that bar operators source local ingredients to support sustainability and the local economy, garnish with lime or lemon only upon request, adopt more specific user-sorted recycling bins, and train staff on effective sustainability practices so they think twice about how to dispose of waste.