A well-thought-out beverage program—from juices, sodas, and coffee and tea to spirits, wine, and beer—represents an excellent vehicle for setting yourself apart from the competition, building customer satisfaction and sales into the bargain.
Make Sure You Have a Menu – If you serve beverages, you should print them on a menu (or menu board). Although separate menus for wine, beer, and cocktails may be too much for all but the most ambitious beverage programs, you should have some kind of printed list that guests can refer to. This can be part of the food menu, or offered as a separate document or table tent, depending upon your concept. Promoting your liquid offerings in this way will encourage guests to try new things and help create a signature perception. You should also seriously consider including the beverage menu(s) on your website.
Merchandise Self-Serve Beverages to the Max – Colorful, well-designed fountain stations, reach-ins, refrigerated tubs, and other point-of-sale beverage merchandisers build sales, and are almost always worth the investment. If possible, offer a wide variety of on-trend refreshments that will appeal to your customer base. Consider placing beverage displays near the cash register to encourage impulse sales. And by all means select products in bottles, cans, and other dispensers that are eye-catching and attractive; sustainable and novelty packaging are especially appealing these days.
Run Specials – Feature a “chalkboard” nonalcoholic specialty, cocktail, wine, and/or beer of the day and promote it through hand-selling. Not only will this build sales, it will also allow you to test the reception of potential new products, take advantage of distributor/importer specials, and sell to holidays and micro-seasons (such as an unexpected warm spell or the arrival of pomegranates). Using a chalkboard or specials sheet will help steer customers to distinctive offerings that they will enjoy, and can also be used to merchandise high-margin items.
Remember That Looks Are Everything – You already know that beverages have moved beyond the days of one-size-fits-all glasses. Make sure you have the proper glassware for your offerings—for instance, if you have a lot of interesting beers, invest in purpose-built vessels for different varieties. And simply displaying interesting glassware at the bar may spur questions like, “What do you put in that pretty glass?” A beautiful-looking drink will also attract attention, even from those who didn’t order it. In addition to proper glassware, attractive garnishes, drink color and other aesthetic highlights will support that all-important premium pricing strategy and make all of your beverages more memorable.
If You Have a Bar, Offer Bar Nibbles – This is a strategy that pays off in perceived friendliness and higher tickets. It could be anything from gratis bowls of an interestingly seasoned popcorn or olives, depending on your price point, or it could be a full menu of à la carte nibbles and snacks, but either will encourage guests to order that second drink—or spring for a plate or two.
Speaking of Nonalcoholic – Don’t forget the nondrinker. From designated drivers and teetotalers to underage family members, there are plenty of people who don’t drink alcohol but do deserve an interesting beverage nonetheless.
Pay Attention to Staff Training – Comprehensive beverage training is important not just for bartenders and cocktail servers, but for all front-of-house personnel. Waitstaff should be as well-versed as possible in the beverage program so they can answer questions and make recommendations; use preshift meetings, tastings and distributor resources for all they’re worth.
Engage crew members by letting them taste beverage offerings, and discuss what they like and why. Train them on suggestive selling techniques, and consider contests and other incentives to spur sales.
Owners and managers can also help by:
Making sure no cocktail is so complicated that it cannot be made in a minute or two
Investing in adequate equipment and supplies, including ice, glassware, inventory, and so on
Scheduling enough people to cover busy periods, as well as prep time
Adhering consistently to policies and standards, such as when to cut a patron off