In creating successful beverage menus, operators face the challenge of conveying their concept while at the same time driving sales by meeting consumer demands and keeping on top of new product profiles. As a marketing tool, the beverage menus, which are increasingly stand-alone, grab attention with catchy graphics and photos, bold formats and creative drink descriptions.
“At Bennigan’s, first and foremost, our beverage menu objective is to fit in with our long-standing brand. We’re a 27 year-old brand and we want to stay true to our brand heritage,” says Jim Barnett, beverage director of Metromedia Restaurant Group, which owns Bennigan’s, a 2004 Cheers Award co-winner for best beverage menu.
Bennigan’s brand heritage “embraces the Irish spirit which is fun, witty and welcoming. Our menu has the look and feel of an old newspaper, with Irish stories and lore. It’s an entertainment piece,” Barnett says. There are also many Irish beer and spirits entries on the menu, such as Bailey’s Irish Cream, Jameson Irish Whiskey and Bunratty Meade, an Irish-made honey liqueur.
Barnett also stresses the importance of driving sales. “We want to incorporate our sales objectives into that brand message. It’s important for us to increase sales or at least maintain them. Our goal is to get drinks in front of our core customer.”
Bold, colorful drink photos are prominent in Total Entertainment’s beverage menus.
Driving sales is a key factor for Total Entertainment’s menus, the other Cheers best beverage menu this year. “The primary objective for our beverage menus is sales the restaurant business is all about sales,” says Steve Johnson, president of Total Entertainment Restaurant Corp., which owns Bailey’s Pubs and Fox & Hound restaurants. “But in addition, we hope to convey an upscale image with our menu. We don’t want to be the cheapest place in town, or the most expensive,” he says.
Total Entertainment’s menu picks up its concept of a comfortable but up market pub offering billiards and darts by featuring billiard-related items balls, cue sticks and chalk in drink photos. Last year, the company revamped its menu, with the assistance of Stafford, TX-based Patrick Henry Creative Promotions Inc., a food and beverage marketing agency.
Company honcho Patrick Henry says there are four key points in creating a beverage menu: keeping it fun, whimsical, exciting and creative. “We’re also proactive with photos: photos sell drinks. But we stress that the restaurant keep the copy on the menu limited,” he says.
Prior to the new menu, Total Entertainment “did not have a sophisticated menu. It was really just a table-tent beer menu,” Johnson says. “The spiral-bound, cardboard menus we used before did not wear well at our outlets. People bent back the ‘pool ball page turners’ and the menu was expensive to make.” So the company got rid of the pool ball handles and the spiral-bound menus. “Now we’re using plastic menu holders. That way we can make changes, add a page with new drinks to keep the menu fresh without having to re-print the entire menu.”
Glenn Schmitt, president of MarkeTeam, in Mission Viejo, CA, which specializes in on-premise beverage promotions and includes Bennigan’s, Applebee’s and O’Charleys as clients, strongly believes in stand-alone menus.
“Stand-alone menus, having something in front of the consumer, drives sales. The vehicle is very important and operators need to decide what will be the most appropriate carrier of their message. It could be a café cover, spiral-bound or a flip menu. Photography is also important–a customer can see it, point to it and order it easily,” he says.
Bennigan’s has been using stand-alone beverage menus for three years. “Our menu is a leather-bound ‘beverage book’, placed front and center on the dining table. It’s about 8 or 9 inches high, and it’s almost guaranteed that customers will touch it, even if it’s to move it,” Barnett says. “But usually once they touch it, they will look through it, giving us an opportunity to make a sale.”
THE RIGHT DRINK
Along with choosing the right menu format, operators strive to get the right drinks on their menus and remove or downplay those that aren’t selling. For example, operators report a decline in bottled beer sales, but strong growth in Martinis.
The beer category accounts for about two-thirds of beverage sales at Total Entertainment, “but there has been a fair amount of decline in bottled beers,” says Johnson. “Even though we may offer a wider selection of bottled beers than our competitors, the majority are domestic. The big three beers Coors, Miller and Bud Light are also available at the store across the street.”
However, the chain’s large variety of draft beers, “allows us to offer different flights for customers to try. Our competition can’t do that,” says Johnson.
At Bennigan’s, the bottled beer category has also been facing competition, according to Barnett. “Independents and moms and pops are beating us to death on price points for beer. We control our margins, and we have strict margin guidelines for our operations,” he says.
Bennigan’s menus embrace the Irish spirit
Martinis are popular at both companies. “Flavored Martinis are the hot buzz now. Flavors are in everything a bit,” says Barnett. “Sales are also driven through our signature drinks, such as D. Bennigan’s Margarita, made with Cuervo 1800 Tequila, Grand Marnier and sour mix.”
Martinis are “very big right now” at Total Entertainment as well. “Our Tiny-Tini is popular, it’s a miniature Martini, and we serve from four to six different offerings. Margaritas are also good sellers, and we have a full page of them,” says Johnson. But while cocktails drive sales at the chain, wine sales have not been as strong. “We don’t sell a great deal of wine; it’s about 3 to 5 percent of our beverage sales overall,” says Johnson. However, with the new menu Total Entertainment rolled out last year, which added food items, “wine sales have improved a bit, as customers choose a wine and an appetizer, he says.
In selecting the right drinks, operators also conduct research and analysis to find the demographics of customers, and then match this up against beverage vendors.
At Bennigan’s, core customers are 21 to the low- to mid-40’s range, single or “dinks” (double income, no kids), with an average combined income of $60,000, Barnett says. “When we take these demographics up against spirits and beer purveyors, about 60 to 75 percent of them are good matches for us,” he says.
Barnett says he stays in touch with the multitude of brands and relies on vendor partners to help keep the menus up-to-date. “Products are changing more and more. The consumer has changed; tastes have changed.”
“Times have changed dramatically from 10 years ago, when no one was doing separate beverage menus,” says Henry. “Back then, Martinis were not popular, it was a bourbon and Coke or a bourbon and 7-Up. Now Margaritas are flavored: there’s melon, raspberry and mango, and there are so many new flavored rums out there. Owners and operators see so many flavor profiles now they can put on menus.”
In addition, operators consider the competition. “You can look at the hot trends in beverages in your area and be aware of regional trends. For example, I can’t imagine anyone in Miami not serving a Mojito,” says Schmitt.
Consultants also suggest operators change their menus annually to keep them up-to-date. “If there’s pricing on the menus, they should be changed once per year. But if operators leave the pricing off, they can go one to one and a half years before changing,” says Henry.