1. Make a positive first flavor impression. The initial item most guests taste in a restaurant is a beverage; the initial beverage experience sets the tone for the rest of the meal and the guest’s lasting impression of the restaurant. Give them a beverage that’s going to start the dining experience with “wow!”
2. Offer a selection of beer, wine, spirits and non-alcohol beverages to capture the attention of the entire guest taste profile.Many restaurants put emphasis on one particular beverage type, perhaps offering 20 Martini variations or 50 draft beers. It’s fine, even strategic, but it’s essential to offer a beverage that you’re proud to serve in each category.
With this standard in place, the selling opportunity is vast. Strive for selling two beverages to every customer—one a specialty beverage. Perhaps a customer starts with a house cocktail suggested by the server, and then is encouraged to try a wine that complements the entrée. For guests who limit themselves to one alcohol drink, there is the opportunity to sell specialty non-alcohol drinks.
3. Use illustrated menus and/or beverage merchandising for suggestive selling. Research shows that most people don’t know what they want to drink before they walk in the door. Don’t ever make a customer guess which beverages you do well. Put it in print.
4. View the whole restaurant as contributing to the “bar business.” Today the focus is on the lounge experience. The lounge area is only part of the restaurant floor, however, and not everyone goes to the bar. But, every guest is thirsty. Servers in the dining room should be trained to make recommendations in all beverage categories, and drink menus should be in in all areas of the restaurant.
5. Teach servers with pre-shift training and sales incentives. If a server recommends a beverage, the guest usually will say yes. Proper training is essential to make meaningful beverage suggestions, but today the two-hour, all-hands training rarely is an option. Look for concise, clever ways to educate, add incentives and put sales cues in front of servers. Scratch cards with serving trivia or back-of-the-house posters with color photos provide information in easily retainable chunks.
6. Don’t write off lunch as a beverage sales opportunity. Expanding non-alcohol drink offerings beyond the typical soda and tea is a great way to ramp up your midday beverage sales, but you also should look at offering smaller portions of adult beverages for the lunch crowd. Offering a two-ounce pour of select wines or an eight-ounce draft beer gives guests a sensible choice during the lunch hour.
7. Build your program and beverage brand in steps. Revamping your beverage program top to bottom may be too aggressive and disruptive to your brand identity. Start with a manageable selection, and wow guests with consistently delivered signature drinks.
Embracing these seven principles of beverage excellence is the first step in developing a truly effective beverage program. Next steps include evaluation of your competitive set, a discussion on strategic direction and identification of key goals and tactics for reaching them. The real trick, however, is to get started. l
Glenn Schmitt is president and founder of MarkeTeam Inc., an award-winning sales promotion agency for the food and beverage industries. MarkeTeam is based in Mission Viejo, Calif.
Menus from the Melting Pot (top) and O’Charley’s chains showcase specialty drinks with photography and sleek design.