It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since we unveiled the first issue of Cheers. The full-service restaurant business has changed considerably since then. We detailed our first 25 years in a special section of the November/December 2014 edition, so here are a few of the big topics from the past five years.
Vodka is back.
True, vodka never really went away, but as interest in craft and classic cocktails heated up, many drinks enthusiasts viewed the neutral spirit with great distain. That’s changed as some of the more “serious” cocktail bars relaxed their views on vodka—both The Dead Rabbit and The Pegu Club in New York added a vodka drink to their lists in 2015.
What’s more, operators have acknowledged that vodka does indeed pay the bills: People love vodka. The upward trajectory of Tito’s, which increased 21.4% in 2018 to reach 7.34 million 9-liter cases, is proof of that.
Rosé blooms big time.
Five years ago many consumers still confused all pink-hued wines with the sweet white zinfandel and blush style, but the rosé trend was beginning to pick up steam. People have since discovered the different styles of rosé, namely the pale-pink, dry Provence style, as well as some of the more robust and redder varieties and sparklers.
A popular rooftop and patio bar choice. Rosé has become a year-round option. Though its popularity as a trend may have peaked last year, the wine is no passing fad. Rosé continued to gain momentum as sales volume across every price category increased by at least 50% in 2018. and several experts predict that its strong growth will continue for years.
The Rise of Eatertainment.
How do you coax Millennials out of the house? Some operators offer something besides food and drink, from mini-golf and bowling to gaming and ax throwing.
Topgolf, which started in the U.K. in 2000, arrived in the U.S. in 2005 and has expanded rapidly, opening its 57th location worldwide in Richmond, VA, in October. Chicago-based Pinstripes, founded in 2008, combines bistro, bowling and bocce with Italian-American cuisine.
And Denver-based Punch Bowl Social enhances the traditional restaurant experience with bowling, mini-golf, arcade games and karaoke. Launched in 2012, Punch Bowl Social is now up to 15 locations and counting. What’s more, Cracker Barrel this year acquired $140M investment stake in Punch Bowl Social from private equity firm L Catterton.
Bitter gets Bigger.
American consumers are known for their love of sweet, but more people have recently acquired a taste for bitter spirits and more-savory cocktails. The Negroni’s enduring popularity and skyrocketing sales of Aperol, the bitter orange cousin of Campari, back this up.
Aperol sales jumped from 57,000 9-liter cases in 2016 to 160,000 cases in 2018. Consumption has been driven by interest in Italian aperitivo culture, lower-ABV beverages and the ubiquitous and Instagramable Aperol Spritz cocktail.
Hard Seltzer Explodes.
Overall beer sales have been stagnant, craft brew growth is slowing but hard seltzer is booming. The category didn’t even really exist five years ago, but unlike hard soda, which made a big splash a few years ago but then fizzled, spiked seltzer shows no sign of slowing. Consumers are seeking simple, clean and lower-sugar and lower-proof beverages and a steady stream of hard sodas have hit the market in the past three years.
How big is the trend? Sales of hard seltzer reached nearly $500 million in 2018 and are continuing to experience triple-digit growth. It was the drink of summer 2019: Reports of shortages of White Claw Hard Seltzer from Mark Anthony Brands (Mike’s Hard Lemonade’s parent) hit the news in early September.
Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Natural Light Seltzer, which launched in August, is the official hard seltzer of the college basketball Big 12 Conference. Beer-centric wings chain. The Boston Beer Co.’s Truly Hard Seltzer in September inked a five-year U.S. partnership with the National Hockey League. JetBlue now offers Truly on in-flight menus.
Spiked seltzers have been gaining momentum on-premise, with producers expecting the beverage to take the place of Vodka & Soda orders at the bar. Buffalo Wild Wings is currently testing unflavored hard seltzer on tap.
Gin poised to prosper.
While overall gin consumption has been slipping, down 1.1% in 2018, interest in the spirit is heating up and the U.S. market may be ready to catch up to Europe where gin in definitely in. Interest in premium expressions, unique botanical flavorings, barrel-aged expressions and imports is boosting growth. The past year saw a flurry of pink gin launches, a style that’s big in the U.K.
Just look at the big brands now getting into the craft gin game. Pernod Ricard took a majority stake in German gin brand Monkey 47 in 2016 and acquired Italian superpremium gin brand Malfy in 2019. Gruppo Campari agreed to buy Bulldog London Dry Gin in 2017, while actor Ryan Reynolds snagged a stake in Aviation Gin in 2918. And this past June Brown-Forman Corp. announced an agreement to purchase The 86 Co., namely Fords Gin.