Blog Post / June 18, 2020 / Best Practices

Leveraging Beverage: How to Create Programs That Drive Alcohol Sales

by Bianca Esmond
Bianca Esmond

In 2018 alone, on-premise alcohol sales represented $147 billion in sales in the U.S., with off-premise sales accounting for around $113 billion. Today, with organizations like the NY State Liquor Authority and other U.S. states issuing relaxed guidelines related to off-premise alcohol sales, it’s easier than ever to offer to-go cocktails, wine and beer to your guests. Since the on-set of COVID-19 and the shift to off-premise dining, restaurants have gotten creative in the ways they’re driving beverage sales, and now is the time to leverage your bar inventory as an additional revenue stream while your dining room is closed. Whether you run a full-service restaurant, or a neighborhood bar, this focus on higher-margin items -- e.g. alcohol -- can have a significant impact on your bottom line. With alcohol sales accounting for around 30 percent of revenue pre-closure, incorporating your beverage programs into your existing offerings is a simple and easy way to drive more money for your business. Read on for four tips on how you can leverage beverages today to drive more profit for the future.

1. Maximize your outdoor spaces to sell curbside 

With warmer summer days ahead, diners are slowly returning to the streets. This new foot traffic, comprised of people who are excited to be walking around outside for the first time in months, is an excellent opportunity for your restaurant or bar to capture sales when they walk by. Whether you have windows that slide open to the street, or outdoor dining areas in close proximity to pedestrian walkways, you can leverage this increased traffic to boost sidewalk sales. And bonus points if you have a display that can capture consumer’s attention from down the block -- like the bright orange, vintage-inspired Aperol Spritz display at Olio e Piú in New York City.

When it’s allowed by your state, you can also plan to add seating options -- like benches or small tables, that will encourage people to sit down and enjoy a refreshing alcoholic beverage. Plus, the introduction of Contactless Order & Pay tools makes it even easier for guests to select and pay for their to-go cocktails. Imagine guests simply being able to scan a QR code, access your to-go alcohol menu and paying with a digital wallet -- all from their smartphone. Instead of a high-touch process putting your staff at risk, you now have a contactless way to deliver best-in-class service and drinks, even if your dining room is closed for the near term. Plus, delivering on fast, delicious cocktails is sure to put a smile on customers’ faces as they continue their afternoon strolls through the neighborhood, making them more likely to return as the summer continues.

Osteria Morini Outdoor Dining

2. Make alcohol a part of your delivery & pickup offerings 

At this point, you have likely implemented delivery and pickup food options for customers, and business is flowing through your direct channels to drive more profit to your bottom line. But does this strategy include your customer’s favorite cocktails, wines and beers? While the contribution of off-premise alcohol sales might seem small in the short term, upon reopening, every dollar and cent will count. With laws being relaxed, and with wine, beer and spirits inventory sitting at your restaurants unused, now is the time to make alcohol a part of your delivery and pickup programs.

Whether you’re selling coveted wine bottles from your cellar, or offering fan-favorite cocktails by the glass or bottle as part of your pickup and delivery, customers are sure to enjoy the endless options available to them via your online ordering platform. Michelin-starred Marea in New York City is one such example, offering ‘Reserve Wines’ at a 25% discount to in-restaurant prices, and 40-60% off list prices for their regular wine stock. This not only presents huge savings for the customer, but a big revenue opportunity for their restaurant.

IGC Fried Chicken Meal Deal

Don’t have a strong wine program? Don’t despair! In Good Company Hospitality’s Parker & Quinn instead offers daily food and drink pairing specials via their social media for customers at discounted prices. Recent pairings have included their Fried Chicken Sandwich with the choice of a cocktail or beer for 2 for $39, and Chicken & Waffles with a bottle of Prosecco and fresh orange juice. The options are endless when it comes to pairing your food and beverages.

**PRO TIP** Drive more online orders for your cocktails by offering an ‘exclusive’ cocktail each week. This could include bringing back popular cocktails that used to be on your menu, or even getting creative with seasonal or local produce to craft something new.

3. Leverage your bartenders & sommeliers to generate profit

With states reopening, and programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) making it possible to bring back staff as part of the industry recovery efforts, there’s no time like the present to leverage your talented bar staff to generate a profit.

Take COTE, a Korean steakhouse based in New York’s Flatiron district, for example. Their talented staff includes Corporate Beverage Director, Victoria James, and Principal Bartender, Sondre Kasin. Every Friday and Saturday, the Michelin-starred restaurant offers customers the option to order custom cocktails from Sondre. Diners simply enter in their alcohol and taste preferences, and they receive a custom message along with the drink describing the creation process and taste profile. Victoria’s skills as a sommelier are also put to good use through a ‘LIVE Sommelier’s Selection’, where she finds customers the perfect bottle based on their taste preferences (including favorite color, grape, body and acidity, and region). Plus, when the diner sends their email or Instagram handle, they send along a video of Victoria describing why she chose that specific bottle. This extra touchpoint creates an experience for the guest at home in the same way as ordering a cocktail directly from a mixologist, or a bottle of wine from a sommelier at a restaurant.

Cote NYC Alcohol Offerings

4. Go virtual with beverage-based events 

With people becoming more familiar and comfortable with virtual-based events via Zoom and other video platforms, now is a great time to offer experiences that help you connect directly with your customers. Hosting virtual beverage-based events -- like a wine tasting led by a sommelier, or a cocktail making class from a head bartender -- are easy ways to reach your guests and drive more revenue for your restaurant or bar. In fact, with guests’ options limited when it comes to Friday date nights or Saturday evening dinners with friends, digital events are top of mind for those looking to explore something different or learn a new skill. To sell tickets, simply email your guest database to invite them to purchase a ticket for the event. This will help drive engagement for your brand while your dining room is closed. Plus, you can also promote via social media using lookalike audiences on Facebook or Instagram, helping you reach new customers that you can then invite to dine on premise once you’re accepting reservations again.

There are many ways to adapt to the new world facing the industry but turning to your beverage offerings is a sure bet to meet guests needs, allowing you to stay engaged while your dining room is closed. Whether using outdoor spaces, expanding delivery and pickup offering, or leaning on your talented staff, now is the time to decide which options make the most sense for your brand to help drive more revenue for your business.

About the Author

Bianca Esmond

Bianca Esmond is the Senior Manager, Brand Marketing at SevenRooms, where she heads up brand awareness, communications and event programming. Based at New York HQ, she's always on the hunt for the best sushi in the city.

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