Drinks sales: showcasing your offer at the table

The following article talks about how drinks sales can be raised effectively alongside food in outlet at a time of mandatory table service.

The Prime Minister’s coronavirus regional tier announcement last week, which will see a major swathe of the country’s on-trade remain closed post-lockdown, has caused considerable frustration amongst many operators.

Restricting the ability of over a third of English consumers to visit pubs and bars for at least two weeks is undoubtedly a significant hit to the hospitality industry, especially over the valuable trading period that December offers.

For the vast majority of the rest of the England, which has seen its Covid-19 tier level raised from 1 (medium) to 2 (high), a requirement to offer substantial meals to reopen will put paid to many wet-led licensees hopes of a strong end to the year.

There’s no denying that 2020 has profoundly tested the resilience of the country’s on-trade. Yet, with the current alert levels facing significant opposition, there is hope that regional restrictions could be reduced, at least partially, as soon as they are first reviewed on December 16.

For operators who are getting ready to reopen - whether it is this week or later down the line - there is a chance to make a few simple tweaks to your offers which could make a big difference to takings as customers celebrate the festive season and the return of their favourite venues.

To make sure your venue is taking full advantage of the opportunities offered going forward, we’ve taken a focused look at how drinks sales can be raised effectively alongside food in outlet at a time of mandatory table service, what role staff can play in helping maximise takings from drinks and how a revamped drinks menu can help give business a lift.

Menus: a guide for curious consumers rather than a list

Whether it is single use or sanitised, available via a QR code or an app, a drinks menu in the on-trade can be so much more than a simple inventory of what’s on offer.

With table service now a legal necessity for operators, the time-honoured practice of perusing what is offered on back-bar shelves and fridges is a non-starter and therein lies an opening to increase the usefulness of a drinks menu from a list to a guide which can help adventurous consumers make the perfect choice when they are out of home and improve their overall experience in your outlet.

Consider which beers, wines, spirits and cocktails you would like to push over the coming weeks in your venue, and what you believe will prove popular, and give them an additional focus on your menu.

This can be done by listing short, sharp and interesting flavour notes and descriptors on a drink that will appeal to your guests. Be it an IPA which is ‘juicy with plenty of citrus’, a Malbec with ‘notes of black cherry, chocolate and plum’ or perhaps listing some of the more dominant and bizarre botanicals in some of your gins. All the information is available online and this can help elevate interest in the drink as well as lead to greater enjoyment and appreciation of the drinks on your menu.

Better together: harmonious drinks pairings

Thinking of the right pairings for drinks, whether it’s a mixer or food is increasingly crucial for operators. And this can be worked into menus to great effect too.

If you’re offering a long list of spirits on your menu, adding in a suggested complementary mixer for each is a great way to ensure that the drinks which are being ordered in your outlet are relished to full effect as the flavours in both the spirit and mixer harmonise well.

Again, information on what works well together can be found online and also from your suppliers, who’ll often have guides available on how to match spirits with the right mixer for maximum customer satisfaction.

Award-winning mixologist Sebastian Stancyzk reckons that with the market for spirits and mixers quickly expanding, a little guidance on drinks menus will go a long way with consumers.

“I think this is a great idea,” he said. “As the mixer world has grown exponentially over recent years it can be hard for bar staff to keep up with the latest releases and what’s out there, never mind customers. A helping hand to pair each will be appreciated. Researching which mixers pair well with your spirits selection will enhance the quality of the drinks made in your bar.”

Achieving additional drinks spend with food

Good food and wine pairings have been a staple part of dining out for years, especially so in the big dining out occasions that December offers. While this year is no different, food and drink pairings don’t need to be the preserve of sommeliers with expansive wine lists. Soft drinks, beers, ciders and spirit-led drinks can, of course, really augment a meal in the on-trade too. And again, suppliers, online research and your staff can all help you couple your drinks selection to the dishes you serve to best effect.

For example, the coffee and malty flavours on offer in stouts can really complement the taste of rich dishes on your Christmas menu perfectly. With regards to the huge category of soft drinks, cola can pair expertly with a variety of meat-led dishes, including turkey courses and burgers, while light tonic water varieties can enhance lighter dishes, such as quiches and salads.

Taking full advantage of food-led occasions in the on-trade by maximising drinks spend will be an important aspect for business for many operators over the coming months. New research from CGA revealed that customers spend up to 50% less on drinks when out for food. So, the opportunity to offer a suggested alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink pairing both on your food menu and from your waiting staff at tables will be a crucial part of raising revenues for outlets with a food offer.

Staff knowledge and training is crucial to the new normal

Arguably the greatest factor in successfully raising sales as your outlet reopens is the level of service and product knowledge offered by your bar staff to guests.  With table service now constituting for 100% of orders and transactions in the on-trade, operators who ensure their staff are best placed to deliver stellar service and experiences to customers will be the ones who do best.

It’s essential that drinks options are given the ammunition they need to sell themselves on menus, it’s also crucially important that the waiting staff in your bar are given the information required to make effective recommendations and upsell drinks prolifically.

Kealan Lafferty, manager at basement bar Original Sin in Stoke Newington, flagged increased staff knowledge as “the most important part of the new normal the on-trade finds itself in today”.

He said: “When it comes to making recommendations - whether it’s about pairings, beer, cocktails or food - to customers, regular staff training and a good working knowledge of what’s available on the back bar is key. The best tool for operators is well-informed staff looking after the tables.”

Staff should be updated regularly with helpful information surrounding the key points and flavours on offer in the drinks that you are trying to upsell. Given that customers are more curious than ever about the libations they are ordering presenting them with a few interesting facts or tasting notes featured within drinks, which mixer pairs best with which spirit and what complements certain dishes can make upselling premium variants simple.

With the ability to make good drinks suggestions depending on what the customer is looking for of growing importance, ask your suppliers what online training or information they can offer bar staff. You could also consider posting updates on the main drinks you’ll be focusing on in staff WhatsApp and Facebook groups or supplying them with regular cheat sheets via email to help expand and reinforce their familiarity with what’s on the back bar, ultimately improving your bottom line.

Simple service techniques can maximise spend

With good service ranked amongst the foremost consumer wants from the outlets they visit, subtly fine-tuning your business’ approach to table service in line with your drinks range and upselling it can really help raise takings in challenging times, according to bar veteran Sebastian.

“Something I see often in bars, even with total table service, is customers not being offered another round of drinks quickly enough once their glasses are almost empty,” he said. “Being attentive enough with drinks service in this way means that you could increase what customers are spending on drinks significantly over their visit. 

"There is a fine line to balance obviously without being overbearing, but most customers are glad of improved and attentive service and feel that you are looking after them in my experience and this causes them to stay longer and, again, spend more.”

And better table service naturally brings an enlarged opportunity to promote more profitable drinks selections in your bar, he said.

“Frequently customers will ask for a simple spirit/mixer, such as a G&T, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to trade up, quite the opposite. Once staff start suggesting the different options available to them, if they have enough information to hand to sell them more expensive spirits, it can be super easy to increase the amount they spend on their drinks.”

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