It’s nearly impossible to keep up with the endless stream of trend reports issued from so many sources. Some are more important than others, at least for those responsible for making decisions about what beverage alcohol products to serve.
In one case, there’s the annual National Restaurant Association’s alcohol survey of bartenders, conducted with the assistance of the United States Bartenders Guild. In the case of the latest report, the National Restaurant Association conducted an online survey of 195 members of the USBG late in 2012, giving them a list of 123 items and asking them to rate each item as a “hot trend,” “yesterday’s news” or “perennial favorite” on drink menus in 2013.
USBG membership tends to skew mostly toward independent restaurants and very heavily craft cocktail-oriented, at least anecdotally, although the guild is spreading quickly and now entering secondary and even tertiary American markets. So the top twenty results reflect that – here they are in order:
1. Onsite barrel-aged drinks
2. Food-liquor/cocktail pairings
3. Culinary cocktails (e.g. savory, fresh ingredients)
4. Micro-distilled/artisan liquor
5. Locally produced spirits
6. Locally sourced fruit/berries/produce
7. Beer sommeliers/Cicerones
8. Regional signature cocktails
9. Beer-based cocktails
10. Locally produced beer
11. Food-beer pairings/beer dinners
12. Salt (e.g. iavored, smoked, regional)
13. House-made lemonade/soft drinks/tonics
14. Cask beer/ale
15. Wine on tap/draft wine
16. Organic cocktails
17. Cocktails on tap
18. Craft beer
19. Signature cocktails
A close look reveals that some of these categories should have been merged, so similar are they (micro-dilled/artisan liquor and locally produced spirits, for example – one is simply a subset of the other). But more importantly for chain restaurant beverage professionals, the question is how many of these trends are on your radar screen and employed in your operations?
Seems to me, even given that some of the categories seem muddy, that if you don’t participate in at least five of these trends (craft beer, house-made soft drinks, signature cocktails, locally produced beer and culinary cocktails) in one form or another, you’re operating on the back end of history. Any place serious about cocktails would need to be at least thinking about organic cocktails, regional signature cocktails and some form of small production alcohol, whether local or artisanal. Ditto beer – perhaps not cask brews, but beer cocktails and food-beer pairings, certainly. With wine, the new world of draft wine seems custom-made for chain operations, if only sourcing in volume can be resolved. Not all of these trends might be right for your operation, in other words, but not at least exploring some of them threatens to leave your shop antiquated overnight.
Meanwhile, good news from one other trend; driven by a more optimistic outlook among restaurant operators, the National Restaurant Association's Restaurant Performance Index rose to its highest level in five months in January. The RPI stood at 100.6 in January, up 1.0 percent from December and its highest level since August 2012. In addition, January represented the first time in four months that the RPI rose above 100, which signifies expansion in the index of key industry indicators.