Outlet drinks trends for 2020

Guest writer & on-trade expert, Jonathan Watt, gives his 2020 drinks vision for pubs, bars and restaurants

January 1st brings with it not just the start to a new year, but also the start to a new decade. Slowly evolving purchasing decisions will take the lead and become revolutionary rather than evolutionary trends this year.

As gin is expected to become the top selling spirit in bars, it is predicted that people will begin to embrace darker spirits — experimenting in the whisk(e)y category in particular —  while, encouraged by escalating innovation, the movements towards low and no-alcohol and sustainability will take epic strides in the UK’s licensed trade.

2020 will also be a year where the value of carbonates increases massively as calls for serves which incorporate carbonated mixers rockets and talented bar staff become more and more vital to an outlet’s profits. Happy new decade!

Here are my five defining trends for the year ahead:

1. Spirits go dark

One permanent way in which the explosion in the gin category over the latter half of the last decade has directly affected the consumer is by increasing their spirits repertoire. This will take the drinker, who perhaps would have stuck to one or two brands within a category, and grow their sense of adventurism in the on-trade.

While gin in various colours may become the biggest selling spirit in pubs and bars this year, if not next, its growth will lead to expansion within darker spirits too as increasingly curious customers experiment more with what’s available on the back bar. Expect a big year for whiskies from home and abroad, dark and spiced rums and Anejo tequila - alter your spirits range accordingly to slake the thirst for flavour exploration within outlets.

High ball serves can be as crucial to the growth of this as the rapid expansion in tonic water varieties was to the world of gin has been, providing a straightforward yet tasty, and risk free, way to sample the unfamiliar. In particular, the smoky, medicinal notes of peated whisky can play well with a host of mixers, think ginger ale, cola and soda water, while opening up new flavours to those who have previously shied away from such a bold taste. 

2. Vibrant new era for low and no

They’ve been progressing for some time but 2020 will be the year when low and no-alcohol options truly boom in the on-trade. Spurred on by new industry-led innovation, experimental bartenders and the clear desire from the public to live healthier lives and enjoy alcohol in moderation – low and no will be in high demand as more products, serves and occasions for the drinks combine to create a snowball effect and ramp up calls for such alternatives in the UK’s licensed trade.

With new options springing forth more frequently, be it alcohol-free beer on draft, new 0% ABV spirits, wines and alcohol-free cocktails starting to take hold in bars, winning the battle to best meet the needs of customers looking for low and no-alcohol drinks will prove a lucrative victory for publicans.

Mocktails, perhaps often a neglected aspect of drinks lists in some venues, can be made more appealing, and higher value, with the addition of more theatre and herbaceous ingredients to create some intrigue and a point of difference as the trend towards savoury-forward drinks develops further.

Health cues should be apparent in mocktails, so whether it’s lower sugar, lower calories or the addition of fresh garnishes, make sure to market this to underline its qualities and value to consumers.

3. Talent to the top

There’s no denying that expert bar staff with personality and strong hospitality skills will become ever crucial to drinking out of home in the coming year. With customers increasingly looking for great experiences from the venues they visit and valuing this highly, bartenders who can nail perfect instagrammable drinks, fashion interesting twists on the classics and couple their creations with style and a smile will become as vital as ever to the enjoyment of the outlet they work in and the libations it offers.

Significant moves to encourage staff retention will be crucial to providing not just the best ambience but also the best possible drinks. Bar staff who have been encouraged to develop their ability and knowledge while still holding on to first rate service will be worth their weight in gold and will retain, as well as garner, customers too.

4. Carbonation is fizzing up

Operators should inject some more bubbles into their drinks lists this year as the appetite for carbonates and mixers is expected to become one of the key trends of 2020. Evidenced right through last year with growing sparkling wine sales and rising mixer sales, consumers will search for the uplifting effervescence of carbonated drinks with the serves they select.

Expect this to be a big year for serves like the Aperol Spritz, one of Italy’s many gifts to the world; the simple summer aperitif is no longer defined by seasonality. While white wine spritzers and other cocktails made with premium sparkling wine should perform well — clean, crisp and refreshing, such drinks can also play right into the low-ABV trend.

5. Shout about sustainability

As a huge swathe of the public becomes focused on the earth’s climate emergency, 2020 will be the year where sustainability truly becomes unavoidable in bars. Whether it is vegan-friendly drinks, zero-waste cocktails, carbon footprint friendly locally-made beers or drinks in easily recyclable/biodegradable packaging the requirement for outlets to have options with green credentials will be truly immense in the coming year.

However, for publicans wishing to stand out from the crowd and exploit what will be one of the decade’s biggest trends, the need to not only offer sustainably-made drinks but market their virtues effectively will be the deciding factor as to where eco-conscious consumers go to drink. With the public wishing to signal their decisions to do good by the planet with their own green credentials on social media – clearly marked drinks and products on menus and in-venue promotion can set a bar apart.

Want to try something new in your outlet?

Have a go at some new cocktail recipes and really elevate your customers' experience while also being able to make more profit from each drink.

Find new drinks recipes