Mexican-themed bars now routinely stock 70 to 90 (sometimes more than 100) tequilas and mezcals. Whiskey bars compete for the limited releases, the rarities and the oddballs. Tiki-themed and other tropical bars make sure they carry plenty of rums, both popular and obscure.
That’s the way of the spirits world today: Investing enormous sums into inventory that makes a name for an operation as a spirits specialist. It’s rare, therefore, to find a place that specializes in a spirit that only a handful of bars and restaurants carry.
But at Ambar, the nation’s capital’s first Balkan restaurant, they’ve added 19 new bottles of rakia, Balkan fruit brandy which is probably best known for the plum variety called slivovitz. However, rakia is also produced using apricots, cherries, pears, peaches, grapes, figs, quince, and raspberry, and is also at times flavored with herbs, spices or honey. Ambar can, at any given time, have more than 50 different bottlings on hand. To make certain their rakia doesn’t simply sit around collecting dust, they have embraced a promotion that is both effective and an old favorite: the tasting card.
Ambar offers them as part of their Rakia Tasting Challenge, during which guests can work on filling out their rakia tasting card over six months. Those who successfully sample 1.5 ounces of all 52 rakia varieties Ambar offers are eligible to win their own special bottle. Rakia ranges in price from $8 to $12 and there are incentives along the way, such as tiered prize levels. For example, once 10 rakia tastings are complete, the guest receives a complimentary 1.5-ounce pour of rakia. Upon the completion of 20 rakia tastings the guest receives another complimentary pour. If they achieve 52 rakia tastings the guest will receive a personalized 750ml rakia bottle, which will be stored in a private locker (complete with a nametag) to be enjoyed at the restaurant. Guests can select the flavor of their choice based on availability.
Do promotions like these bring in new customers? Perhaps, particularly if new customers bring friends in with them to participate in the promotion. More likely, however, it works as a reward for regular customers and those with a taste for whatever spirit you carry in large quantities. Rakia may not be something you can sell in your market, but promotions like these are a surefire way to make sure your inventory works for you.