Think you don’t need a drink menu anymore? Think again. A consumer insights panel at the 2023 Tales of the Cocktail convention this past July made the case for the printed drinks lists, even as many restaurant operators have moved to QR code menus.
Nearly every consumer will look at the menu first, said Simone Ventura, director of on-premise customer solutions for Bacardi USA. Proper engineering and design can attract more attention and ease navigation, allowing guests to make decisions faster, she noted. What’s more, “You can increase purchase intent on optimally placed cocktails by 50%.”
Menu design is key, said Adrian Biggs, director of trade advocacy for Bacardi USA. He advised attendees to invest in the services of a graphic designer, because “you can charge more for drinks with a sexy menu.”
Cocktail order, callout boxes, imagery descriptions, branding and fonts on a menu all have a high impact on purchase intent, Ventura added. A beautiful cocktail image with local or seasonal flavors labeled with “fresh” ingredients will help boost sales.
Seasonality is the biggest factor in guest purchase decisions for limited-time offers, Ventura said. For instance, pumpkin is the most preferred flavor for cocktails in October, while strawberry is the most popular flavor overall.
Panelist Julien Calella, beverage director of Wish You Were Here Group, which operates seven different restaurant/bar concepts, agreed that seasonal flavors sell. Every time he includes a drink with cucumber as an ingredient on the menu when it’s hot outside, “it sells like hotcakes.”
Menu engineering is so important, said Elisa Cordova, senior beverage marketing manager for Asian restaurant concept P.F. Chang’s. “You have one minute to be able to sell a drink to a guest and get them thinking about the second.”
Admittedly, there is an expense involved when printing menus, Cordova said. It costs P.F. Chang’s, which has more than 300 locations worldwide, $300,000 every time it wants to reprint a menu, “and that’s a paper menu.” But it’s worth it.
Like many restaurants, P.F. Chang’s moved to QR code menus during Covid. “Now, we put down a drinks menu on the table, and have a QR code menu for food,” Cordova said. That has led to a 12% increase in sales, she noted.
Not that the bartender is obsolete in the drink selection process. Up to 74% of guests will seek bartender recommendation when choosing a cocktail, said Matthew Crompton, regional director – Americas, for NielsenIQ.
Keep in mind that many consumers have already looked at your cocktail menu online or on Instagram, Crompton said. “Social media is part of the path to purchase.”
People want that beautiful cocktail for Instagram, whether it’s kitchy, minimalist, trendy, etc., said Ventura. And people that post tend to spend more on drinks, so you can charge more for those highly Instagrammable cocktails.
It’s not just about cocktail looks, however: The premiumization trend of people drinking “less, but better” in bars and restaurants continues. When given the choice, consumers will opt for quality over quantity, Crompton said.
He cited a survey of 30,000 people in 27 different countries that asked what participants would spend $20 on when ordering a drink on-premise. Nearly a quarter (22%) said they’d splurge on one luxury/superpremium drink; 44% said they would opt for two high-quality/premium drinks; 24% would order three medium-quality drinks; 5% would go for four standard/lower-quality drinks; and another 5% would take five value/entry-level drinks.
The brands used in cocktails and promoted on menus make a difference. P.F. Chang’s Organic Agave Margarita featuring Patron Silver tequila has proven to be a hit after changing one of the three ingredients. When the chain switched the tequila brand, the Margarita shot up from the number-six selling drink to number-two, behind the chain’s signature Asian Pear Martini.
That also speaks to the overall strength of the Margarita, which Ventura pointed out was the number-one-selling cocktail in nearly every channel in the U.S. “One out of every five cocktails sold in the U.S. in a Margarita,” she said.