Sell the sizzle to build beverage sales.
Chili’s Grill & Bar’s redesigned beverage menu showcases the variety, color and sensory appeal of its drinks.
Restaurant guests look at a menu for no more than two minutes. In a lounge, that’s an eternity. There, most guests will peruse beverage options for 20 seconds tops, according to Robert Plotkin, a Tucson, Ariz.-based author and beverage consultant. Given those statistics, quickly making a good first impression is vital when it comes to high-profit beverage menus.
Plotkin counsels simplicity and creativity, and cautions against overwhelming guests with too many drink choices.
“Some operators lay out 50 different items and every category of mixology. I think that’s overwhelming. You can’t do adequate marketing,” Plotkin says. “With six to 12 margaritas on the menu you don’t do a good job selling any of them.”
Menus that appeal to consumers’ senses have a sales advantage, he says. Design details such as art selection, drink descriptions, type size, color and readability matter.
“Not only should drinks be illustrated, the description should not be a shopping list. You want to sell the sizzle on the steak, not the steak itself. Create imagery about the drink,” Plotkin says.
Consumer feedback recently prompted Dallas-based Chili’s Grill & Bar to redesign its beverage menu. The result is a more-visual display. “If you flip through our menu it’s not the same background for every page. It will vary dramatically if you’re looking at a martini or a margarita,” says Steph Hoppe, Chili’s director of marketing and product innovation. “We figure out what we want guests to look at, so the order of the drinks and the way we set up the menu is user-friendly. We have a wide variety of margaritas and we made sure that those were the heroes of this book.”
Beverage consultant Robert Plotkin counsels that a dash of creativity turns specialty drinks into proprietary signature cocktails.
Chili’s beverage-menu revamp took into account more than the guest experience. It was important from an operational standpoint that the drinks could easily be prepared. The company conducted quantitative and qualitative research to determine the right selection of drinks. As a final step, vendors were brought in to assist in the drinks’ creation.
The redesign has resulted in increased sales in traditional bar-menu items and helped build sales of new menu offerings by prominently featuring them with high-glamour images and alluring text, according to Hoppe.
Chili’s also offers an extensive menu of nonalcoholic drinks such as strawberry lemonade, flavored iced teas and bottled water. Chillin’ Fruit Freezers, frozen drinks made with a fruit juice mix containing vitamin C in Tropical Punch and Blue Raspberry flavors, also are available for younger customers, but the item does not appear on the menu.
“An alcohol-free program is a necessity for restaurants with high demographics for families,” Plotkin says. Without something as simple as lemonade to which flavors can be added to change the taste profile, a restaurant could be ‘leaving money on the table,’” he says.
While some experts believe image-heavy menus drive beverage sales, some operations continue to believe that less is more. One is the Dawg House Grill, a self-proclaimed “five-star junk-food restaurant” in Miami’s South Beach.
“We don’t have a huge bar menu,” says General Manager Barry Abes. “In our bar we focus on what people want. We offer some specialty and house drinks. Frozen drinks do well.” Five are on the menu.
Instead of dozens of spirits lining the bar’s back wall, the Dawg House stocks only “popular call brands,” according to Abes. It also doesn’t bother with pictures of beverages on the menu. Its Diesel Fuel frozen drink, a mix of rum and tropical fruit juice, is the most popular selection, Abes says.
While some restaurants limit the number of drinks on their menus, Barking Frog restaurant, part of Willows Lodge in Woodinville, Wash., takes the opposite approach. Featuring 272 wines, the restaurant believes its mission is to educate guests.
Barking Frog’s focus on wine has turned the restaurant into a haven for those who make or drink wine. The restaurant offers tastings and wine dinners as well as a location for visitors to meet well-known Washington wine makers, who also frequent the restaurant.
The Lure of Luxury
Ryan Gartner, bar manager at Chicago’s N9NE, knows signature margaritas and the guests who love them. Some are more than willing to pay extra for top quality with a dash of extravagance, and each night a few patrons ask for his $69 Ultimate Margarita.
The cocktail begins with one of the most expensive small-batch tequilas available. Mezcal, a variety of tequila made from the leaves of the blue agave, orange liqueur, simple syrup and lime juice join it in a shaker with ice and the high-caliber drink is poured into a stemless wine glass for effect.
“Then we put couple drops of pomegranate juice on top to give it color,” Gartner says. “It’s a unique drink when you see it.”
While the price scares away many, Gartner says the restaurant sells a few of the 6-ounce drinks each night. “For the money, the drink is spectacular,” he says. “You don’t drink it through a straw. I only shake it a couple of times so the taste changes as you drink the cocktail. It’s a novelty in a way but people are sharing it.”
While Gartner does not expect to be selling pitchers of the Ultimate Margarita anytime soon, he believes that even if he were to sell it for $1,000, someone would buy it.
“People are willing to pay for anything these days,” he says.