In order to stand out in the crowd, you have to do something different.
The concept is basic, but as beverage sales have slackened this year, commensurate with fewer restaurant visits overall, a distinctive beverage program may help reignite business.
According to NPD’s Beverage Alcohol Report, the majority of upscale restaurant consumers have taken to ordering non-alcoholic beverages, and an increasing number of people avoid beverages altogether, opting for water.
Warren Solocheck, vice president of foodservice at NPD, spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Las Vegas at the Very Important Beverage Executives (VIBE) conference, swapping tips and ideas with restaurant operators as to how to increase sales.
“Cost is becoming a factor,” Solocheck says. “If you’re pricing at $10, $11, or $12 apiece, a lot of people are going to look at that and go, ‘Is that really worth it? Should I perhaps buy something that is less expensive?’”
This is the route that young drinkers aged 21 to 34 have taken: Only 36 percent of consumers ordered alcohol away from home, and the greatest decline in alcohol servings came from younger consumers, according to NPD.
“More than any other demographic, if you think about it, these are the people that have been hit hardest by the economy, their unemployment rate is highest, etcetera,” Solocheck says.
The trick to luring customers, he says, is concocting a drink and atmosphere that cannot be replicated elsewhere.
Experts at VIBE leaned heavily toward exclusive drinks. Solochek explains that a signature beverage, with the proper flair and array of liquors, gives people a reason to choose Restaurant X over Restaurant Y.
“[You need] something that really stands out,” he explains. “I can make a gin and tonic at home, but I can’t make something that has a lot of interesting ingredients.”
Craft beers have been on the rise for more than a year now, and Solochek says that to reign in the younger, beer-loving demographic, microbrews need to stay put in bars.
“[Microwbrewing means] increasing variety, increasing the kinds of products that you’re stocking,” he says. “There’s a cost to doing that, but on the other hand, it should increase the appeal to your place to that younger crowd.”
“There were a lot of speakers who talked to the issue of creating the right kind of atmosphere,” Solomon explains. “The No. 1 thing that draws people in is what kind of atmosphere you choose to create in your restaurant.”
To fashion an appropriate setting, he says, an operator focuses on two elements: product mix and lighting/décor.
“I know it sounds easy, but there are an amazing number of restaurants that don’t get it right,” he says. “Which is why we see so many units closing every year.”
A profitable product mix consists of attractive beverage alcohol and food offerings, the tried and true factors that result in repeat business. Lighting and décor, meanwhile, reflect the type of mood a restaurant wants to display.
“There’s a big difference between a sports bar and a place that is more quiet,” Solomon says. “You can draw people into your restaurant very easily, because you can do all sorts of discounting and promotions, but the real key is, how do I get those people to come back again? You have to have the right kind of atmosphere.”
By Sonya Chudgar