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Refresh your beverage menu

You know the signs. Customers don’t even look at the drinks menu anymore. Trendwise, your signature cocktail is so last year. Beverage sales in general are on the decline. It’s time to do something to get guests ordering those high-margin drinks again. Here are the first steps:

Analysis. Look at your sales history to see which drinks are selling and which are not. “Cull the bottom 10 percent right away,” advises Mark Vidano of MarkeTeam Inc., an agency that helps large chains and resorts create beverage menus.

As part of the analysis process, check that all the drinks are still on-trend. Fads come and go in the beverage business with head-spinning rapidity. Suppliers can be a good resource for what’s current.

“Put a few drinks on the menu that make a statement about who you are, what your concept is all about,” recommends Vidano. As an example, he cites a reconcepting of the bar at Black Angus Steakhouses. To go with the upscale sports bar theme, MarkeTeam recommended some beer cocktails. A Mexican-accented drink, the Michelada, provided a point of difference and became one of the top five sellers.

Development. Consider what the categories will be, where the holes are, what recipes you need. Tweak standards to give them a fresh look. Research and experiment with new recipes. Look at the premium non-alcoholic category, too. This is also the time to cost out drinks.

“We suggest that operators develop a signature drink that they can command,” says Vidano. A unique drink that servers are comfortable selling, that bartenders can make consistently and that you can make some money on. As an example, he cites Disney’s Glow-tini and O’Charley’s Tangerine Grapefruit Margarita.

Format and layout. Now is the time to reconsider the menu’s look. The beverage list can be a panel incorporated in the dinner menu, a multi-page binder, a single page standalone, a table tent or another format. Limit selections to five or six drinks per page, advises Vidano.

When laying out the menu, place the most profitable drink prominently, either at the top or bottom of the page. Use boxes to break up the pages and draw attention. Create an icon for signatures. And show some of those pretty pictures that equal a thousand words.

“Photography sells,” asserts Vidano. Drinks spotlighted with photos invariably are the top sellers, in his experience.

Back it up with training. The most well-crafted menu won’t sell if it’s not supported by staff training. Bartenders must know how to execute the recipes, garnishes and presentation, as well as the point of view behind the drink. Servers have to taste the new drinks so they can confidently recommend them. Don’t forget the food servers, cautions Vidano. Operators typically train bartenders and cocktail servers, but not waiters. That’s a mistake—75 percent of beverage sales opportunities are in the dining room.

The launch. The appearance of a new drinks menu will create excitement; the novelty will be enough to get guests to leaf through it. Follow-through is up to you. Use Twitter, Facebook and your customer loyalty email base to get the word out. “Don’t announce the fact that you have a new menu, rather promote a signature drink, the one you really feel good about,” counsels Vidano. In house, build awareness with happy-hour specials.

Keep it going. After newness wears off, regulars might start ignoring the menu again, knowing what’s inside. Keep the training going, for new hires and old hands alike. To stir up excitement, use LTOs to debut line extensions and new creations.

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