Award sponsored by Monin Gourmet Flavorings.
When the Hard Rock Cafe set out to expand its alcohol-free beverage offerings beyond sodas, it looked for drinks that fit its rock ’n roll image.
In 2009, a new 22-page beverage menu launched chain-wide that included an entire section devoted to alcohol-free drinks, dubbed “Alternative Rock.” These drinks, like their spirits-based counterparts, are served in Hard Rock’s commemorative glasses that previously were reserved just for specialty cocktails.
“Many of us like to have a beverage in a fancy glass because it’s fun and fashionable, but we don’t necessary want an alcoholic drink,” says Cindy Busi, director of worldwide beverages at the 150-location, Orlando-based chain, which won this year’s Cheers Beverage Excellence Award for Best Chain Adult Alcohol-Free Program, sponsored by Monin Gourmet Flavorings.
The new menu launched with five alcohol-free offerings, including a Mango Berry Cooler and a Wildberry Smoothie, and the program continues to expand. To keep things fresh, they offer a new alcohol-free quaff every other month. If it is a hit, they consider adding it to the regular menu.
The constant parade of new offerings pleases customers, serves as an effective beverage promotion and gives Hard Rock an opportunity to test new drinks. “Every time we launch a new drink, the alcohol-free sales more than double,” she says.
The majority of people who go to Hard Rock are tourists, business groups and those in large parties. “We are a place for entertainment,” says Busi, “and our guests love the party feel of the new non-alcoholic drinks.”
Whenever a venue expands its alcohol-free offerings, sales cannibalization of its other cocktails can occur. This isn’t the case at Hard Rock, however. “It’s a category that doesn’t take from other beverages,” Busi says. “It may take some share from soda, but not beer or other cocktails. We are getting people who we would have been served just soda or water. Some still order an alcoholic drink and then their second one is alcohol-free,” Busi says.
Hard Rock’s commitment to alcohol-free quaffs continues through the chain’s other promotions. For example, their “March on Stage” promotion was front and center on the menu and featured the Mango Tango, $8 at most locations, made with a mix of Red Bull and fresh juices served in a souvenir Hurricane glass. The same was true in the “Mas Tequila, Mas Cerveza” program that featured the Groupie Grind, also $8 in most locations, made with mango purée, piña colada mix, fresh pineapple and a swirl of strawberry purée, served in a Hard Rock Margarita glass. The alcohol-free drinks were featured right next to the other drinks in the point of sale materials for these and other promos such as the “Ambassadors of Rock” and the “Pinktober” month-long promotions, which along with other promotions raised nearly $500,000 for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
The drinks clearly are a hit. “The numbers are really astonishing—there is a call for this type of drink,” says Busi, noting the 50 percent increase she has seen in alcohol-free drink sales since the menu relaunch. “It’s a fast-growing category.” And Hard Rock plans to continue filling the need.