Beverage Menu Jenga: Creating a Program That Makes Cents

By Donald Burns


Donald Burns

July 4, 2016

Posted in Restaurant Management, Industry & Culture

Beverage industry trends can change as quickly as the weather.

And while it’s important to stay current on buzz words and customer wants, it’s easy to go overboard with the “if this is working, more is better” mindset. But this isn’t necessarily always the case. Sometimes, “more” can have a negative impact on your service and the guest experience. In order to create a beverage program that’s both popular and profitable, there are three main areas you should focus on:

Finding a Balance

Anh Mai, Owner of Prohibition Supperclub and Conservatory, an underground beer garden and food hall in Houston, knows firsthand that having a balanced beverage menu is a requirement in today’s market. This downtown hot spot quickly embraced the craft cocktail trend to a point where it became more of curse than a solution.

Prohibition originally set out to be the premier craft cocktail restaurant and bar in Houston. But when business started to get busier, they quickly realized that the very thing they were building could become a problem. Some craft cocktails were complex in the number of steps required to execute, and this became an issue when the restaurant was packed, as guests became upset by the long ticket times to get a drink.

As a bar or restaurant owner, you can either ignore the online reviews and complaints, or you can use them to make improvements to your operations. So, Anh decided it was time to balance out the bar program with another hot trend: barrel-aged cocktails.

Barrel-aged cocktails

Barrel-aged cocktails give you a signature beverage program for the simple reason that no two barrel-aged cocktails are the same. At Prohibition, they barrel-age a few signature cocktails that have added speed back into their bar’s operations:

  • An Old Fashioned with Maker’s Mark, turbo ado syrup and orange bitters.
  • A Bijou with Aviation Gin, Green Chartreuse, Cocchi Torino and orange bitters.

They’ve also added bottled cocktails like:

  • An Irish Martinez with Red Breast 12 yr, Cocchi Torino, Maraschino Liqueur and orange and tiki bitters.
  • A Bellows Negroni with Smokey Tea Vermouth, Campari and Ford’s Gin.

These subtle changes have had a big impact on Prohibition’s service, which translates to an improved guest experience. You need to balance the need to be unique and the ability to create a sustainable beverage program for your volume.

And to do this, it also helps to drop the ego. Being creative for the purpose of just being creative, without taking into account profitability, is a losing battle. You would have better odds booking a round-trip ticket on the Titanic.

Reading Minds

Predicting beverage industry trends is not as easy as it seems. Sometimes, it’s just random luck and a few well-placed social media posts that happen to go viral that launch the next big thing. Many restaurant and bar owners think they know exactly what their guests want. But often, that is foolish pride talking, and it begins with the statement, “I know this will work. I know what my customers want.”

The only way to truly know what your guests want is to ask them—it’s really that simple. However, getting past pride and thinking you know best is the quicksand trap that many fall into.

Market research is simple—just ask. You can talk face-to-face with your guests or offer an online survey using a tool like Survey Monkey. These survey platforms allow you to text or email a link to your customers, which can quickly be used to gather real data that can help you make better decisions. That’s the secret: get real data.

Execution is Everything

If you cannot be consistent with your beverage menu, you’ll be struggling with online reviews. The first telltale sign of consistency issues is the rollercoaster of good and bad reviews—one day they love you and the next they hate you. Consistency in your standards is the cure for that. Having five bartenders who all make your signature martini differently is not the way to win over guests.

When it comes to finding a balance between standing out in a crowded market and being able to execute consistently to create raving fans, menu Jenga is real. You’ll need to talk to your guests, study the valuable data that lies in your POS system (and in BevSpot!), and stay close to current trends to capture market share that will allow you to keep you bar filled while being profitable.

Check out this post for some tips on designing a successful bar menu.

menu jenga

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