Restaurant patrons are back into “self-indulgence mode” and restaurateurs couldn’t be happier. While the cognac-and-cigar crowd gets a lot of attention for setting the pace, they account for a small percentage of the bigger population of patrons who eschew cigars but dote on cordials and coffee.
Today, restaurateurs who cast about for ways to increase sales, check averages and traffic, find that providing a nice variety of after-dinner drinks is a perfect solution. They can easily boost profits and please their customers.
At Syrah in New York City, owner James Broude has a simple–yet well thought-out–philosophy about after-dinner drinks. “I believe in giving a bang for the buck,” he said. “There’s no need to throw a lot of money at it.”
With check averages hovering around $30 and an average customer age of 40, Broude said his clientele wouldn’t be interested in spending more than $8 or $10 on a glass of port or liqueur.
“When I worked in Los Angeles, we had a lot of orders for liqueurs in coffee, but New Yorkers don’t seem to do that as much.” But, he likes the whole idea of the after-dinner drink genre “because they’re fun to sell!”
After years of working for other successful operations, Broude learned an important marketing
lesson: giving away samples is a great
way to sell.
“I often walk around the dining room with a bottle and offer customers a taste of a port or liqueur,” he said. “It makes people feel special, so they’re more likely to come back, and they’re more likely to buy the drink they got a taste of the last time.”
Broude found an Australian syrah-based port that he can sell for $5 for a three-ounce serving. And, it’s the ideal give-away because when he tells customers that the port is syrah-based, they link it to the name of the restaurant.
“I give them a free sample, and next time, they spend an extra $5 for an after dinner port–or I can often sell them up–so they’re happy and so am I.”
In the value-added vein, Broude reports, Clear Creek Pear Brandy from Oregon costs less than Poir William and, in his opinion, is just as good. He buys a late harvest riesling from New York State–“not sweet or viscous and little hint of apricot”–at $10 per 750 ml bottle which he can pour at bargain prices for the customer and still make a nice profit.
“Port is my favorite for after dinner, but I don’t stock vintage ports,” he said. “While they are wonderful, they don’t hold up, you have to finish the bottle quickly. I stock ports that are aged 10 or 20 years, but they’re not vintage so you get a great value.”
Broude said, too, that his waitstaff is very aware of how profitable inching up the check can be for them. “Making sure the waiters know the products is important, because they will recommend what they know.”
The after-dinner drink list is on the dessert menu, so when a customer orders dessert, waiters suggest a drink to match. “Every time someone orders a sorbet, waiters suggest the late harvest riesling,” Broude stated.
“And often, people have a cordial or liqueur instead
“I think that some of my customers perceive an after-dinner drink as a less sinful alternative to, say, a big slice of Chocolate Sin,” said Andrew Hutto, owner of the 102-seat Baxter Station Bar & Grill in Louisville, KY.
When Hutto bought the already successful restaurant seven years ago, he concentrated on building the bar business, including 22 beers on tap, which has proven very profitable. He reports that 25% of his sales are in beverage alcohol and of that 60% is beer and 40% wine and spirits.
“People are drinking differently than they used to,” he said. “We get calls for Courvoisier, bourbons, ports, Southern Comfort and whatnot, and we do a lot of coffee drinks with Baileys, Kahl