Move over, Cinco de Mayo, New Year’s Eve, and St. Patrick’s Day. Restaurants are thinking beyond traditionally boozy holidays to research offbeat ones and even make up their own.
Smith restaurant in Seattle knows the fun of a good off-holiday. The neighborhood restaurant celebrated its fifth annual Canada Day on July 1 with poutine, fireworks decorations, and the aptly dubbed Winnipeg, a $6 cocktail made with house-infused cinnamon whiskey, Amaro Averna, and black pepper tincture. This, followed by countless renditions of “O Canada.”
Restaurants that link beverages with alternative holidays are carving an attractive niche, as they separate themselves from established drinking days like Cinco de Mayo and New Year’s Eve. Silly holidays, like Sunglasses Day in June, can introduce props and costumes. Sport days can build repeat business: the Kentucky Derby, held the first Saturday of every May, has steadily inaugurated itself as the day to imbibe iced tea and muddle Mint Juleps. Even unenthusiastic days, like tax day on April 15, have become a reason to clink glasses.
Cocktails for non-traditional holidays are a great way to engage guests and boost business during off peak hours, says Jennifer Schubert, bar manager for the Manhattan location of Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, a brand that often commemorates offbeat holidays and drinking occasions.
For the World Cup, Davio’s in Manhattan and Philadelphia served a Balotelli Neroli named after Italian soccer player Mario Balotelli. The striking drink had blood orange liqueur, Aperol, fresh orange juice, and bubbly prosecco. In honor of the summer solstice in June, Davio’s whipped up a cool and refreshing cocktail with gin, Aperol, lemon, and more prosecco, topped with a zesty grapefruit garnish.
Schubert says unconventional holiday beverages also lend themselves to creative marketing via social media. A prime example is Seattle’s Best Coffee, which offers a free coffee to the 20 percent of Americans who go to work on Black Friday, and runs the promo largely through its Facebook page.
Davio's Manhattan, NYC
1½ ounces Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur
½ ounce Aperol
1 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
1¾ ounces Prosecco
Pour ingredients over ice. Stir to incorporate and chill.
Beverages don’t just boost a restaurant’s sales on the day—or mock holiday—on which they’re served; they keep people coming back. According to Technomic, almost half of those who order spirits-based mixed drinks when going out said they were more likely to return and recommend the place to others.
Even non-alcoholic drinks have earned their time in the spotlight. Creative non-alcohol drink programs differentiate a restaurant concept, says Donna Hood Crecca, senior director of the Adult Beverage Resource Group at Technomic, pointing to hand-squeezed lemonade, fresh-brewed tea, customized smoothies, and non-alcohol versions of favorite cocktails, or mocktails.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Americans dine out nearly 30 percent of their meals, according to a survey conducted by Datassential for RestaurantBev. With Millennials in their 20s and early 30s constituting a sizable chunk of restaurant patrons, even dining out multiple times per week, eateries that come up with imaginative promotions keep things interesting for these regulars.
Scott Clime, wine and beverage director for Passion Food Hospitality, operator of Acadiana and six other restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area, works with the marketing department to dream up events that raise the restaurants’ profile—and are priced to boost both beverage sales and traffic.
Most of the specialty cocktails for both big and small holidays at Passion Food restaurants hover around $5, Clime says. “We have to be conscious of the economy we’re in now; everyone seems to want a special drink for a special price,” he explains.
To bring back Kentucky Derby crowds for The Preakness, which takes place two weeks after the Derby in nearby Maryland, Acadiana served a Black-Eyed Susan, with bourbon, vodka, freshly-made sour mix, a touch of fresh squeezed orange juice, and an orange slice garnish.
At sister restaurant Fuego Cocina y Tequileria in Arlington, Virginia, Clime worked with the bartenders to develop various Day of the Dead cocktails for the alternative holiday to Halloween. Drinks include Ashes to Ashes, which is made with coffee-infused tequila, cocoa liquor, espresso, and Mexican Arbol syup, poured over ice in a rocks glass rimmed with confectioner’s sugar. The Ofrendas para Amigos (gifts to friends) gives a nod to family-gathering Day of the Dead traditions with aged tequila, ruby port, Jamaica tea, and house-made orange bitters.
“The availability of alcohol can drive dinner daypart traffic, which is particularly appealing to [Millennials],” Crecca Hood at Technomic says. “While the volume of sales may not be impressive, the presence of adult beverages can prompt the consumer to visit.” Even more reason to celebrate.
Acadiana, Washington, D.C.
1 ounce Jim Beam Bourbon
½ ounce Smirnoff Vodka
1 ounce Sour mix, fresh
¾ ounce Orange juice, fresh squeezed
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain ice into a Collins glass. Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.
Some restaurants use their offbeat holidays for charitable purposes. A&W looked upon National Root Beer Day, Aug. 6, as an opportunity to support the homecoming of U.S. service members this year. While serving free root beer floats between 2 p.m. and close, A&W also encouraged donations to the Wounded Warrior Project in its stores.
As National Tony Hawk day rolled around in May, Polite Provisions, a bar in the skateboarder’s hometown of San Diego, caught some air on a special deal. General manager and partner Erick Castro and his team came up with a $5 Birdman cocktail. Taking a cue from the skater’s nickname, the drink had Irish whiskey, fresh orange juice and lemon, honey, and sweet syrup falernum. Castro donated a portion of the proceeds to the Tony Hawk Foundation, which aims to improve the safety of skateboarding parks and empower young skaters.
Castro says off-peak holiday promotions also help boost morale and keep bartenders interested; National Tony Hawk can be wielded as a business strategy, he explains, giving his staff a creative challenge.
Municipal Bar + Dining Co. in Chicago worked with cocktail masters The Tippling Brothers for festivities on National Tequila Day in July. The restaurant’s Spicy Mexican Mule has a combination of tequila, fresh lime juice, ginger beer, house-made jalapeno simple syrup, and a jalapeno garnish.
“The restaurant definitely notices an increase in foot traffic on celebratory holidays like these,” says Sam Fakhouri, Municipal’s owner and managing partner. To capitalize on this rise in business, Municipal creates themed cocktails and even secures appropriate liquor sponsorships well in advance to offset purchasing costs.
In New Orleans, Ti Martin, a master mixologist and owner of Café Adelaide, SoBou, and Commander’s Palace, works with her team to liven up the outdoor patios and come up with promotional drinks for the many year-round festivals.
Lu Brow, corporate bar chef for the Commander’s family of restaurants, came up with a Sunset in the Courtyard cocktail, which recreates a setting sun in the glass and gives diners that beach mentality, Martin says, noting the drink’s contents: reposado tequila, blood orange liqueur, lime, and house-made pomegranate syrup. “We measure and judge some promotions by sales, but others we just know will make a dining memory—a fun environment makes everything taste better.”