“Unchaining the chain” is more than just a string of buzzwords, says Beverage Director Cameron Bogue of the tagline for Earls Kitchen + Bar—it represents the brand’s real desire to differentiate itself from other chains that dominate the market.
At Earls, a casual Canadian chain with eight locations stateside, that separation comes from its premium positioning, which can be seen everywhere from the food menu to the bar. Juices for cocktails are prepped entirely in-house, and up until a few years ago, so were the proprietary syrups.
The brand, which eschews the cookie-cutter vibe by tailoring restaurants to their specific markets, follows a similar recipe for its bar business. While the cocktail menu is pretty universal across all 67 units, each restaurant boasts a unique beer selection.
Fostering that individuality has become more challenging as Earls expands, Bogue notes, given that its beer selection changes three times yearly and contains a number of craft labels. To keep up, the concept has empowered local bar managers to serve as beer ambassadors; they’re tasked with visiting a brewery or competing bar monthly to keep a pulse on what’s trending and suggest potential offerings.
For guests who seek alternatives to sugary soft drinks, Earls also serves four dedicated nonalcoholic cocktails—drinks Bogue calls “key to a business today” given big brand soda’s crashing sales.
The challenge is to make those cocktails notably different than the boozy ones on offer, though he keeps costs down by cross-utilizing ingredients between the two types.
Aggressive pricing also plays a part in driving beverage sales, which comprise 25% percent of Earls’ revenues and of which liquor sales make up the bulk, Bogue says. The brand aims to keep most cocktails under $10—save for its old fashioned, which typically runs a dollar or two higher.