Applebee's elevates the bar experience with new partnerships, premium options

A celebrity-branded mezcal makes its debut in three approachable and affordable signature cocktails.
Applebee's introduces a trio of margaritas shaken with Dos Hombres mezcal, a brand founded by celebs Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston. | Photo courtesy of Applebee's.

Mezcal is one of the fastest growing spirit categories, but the smoky agave-based spirit wasn’t an option at Applebee’s Bar & Grill.

“We saw an opportunity to bring in Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston on their Dos Hombres mezcal,” said Patrick Kirk, VP of beverage innovation for Glendale, Calif.-based Applebee’s. The two “Breaking Bad” stars are co-founders of the brand, which is just beginning to make its way into restaurants and bars. “The collaboration makes mezcal more approachable to guests,” Kirk added.

So does the price point. Applebee’s created three new cocktails to kick off the Dos Hombres mezcal introduction, all value-priced at $9.

The lineup includes the Classic Mezcal Rita geared to traditionalists with a blend of the mezcal, tequila, triple sec, lime and Applebee’s margarita mix; the Passion Fruit Mezcal Rita made with passion fruit, mezcal, tequila, triple sec, lime and a gummi lip garnish; and the Breaking Rock Rita, featuring another celebrity’s spirit—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Teremana Blanco Tequila—mixed with mezcal, blue curacao, lime and a sky-blue sugar rim.

“Initially we were going to launch just one drink, the Breaking Rock Rita. It’s a blue cocktail and blue sells in the bar business,” said Kirk. “But we invited the Dos Hombres team in to make sure we were presenting their mezcal correctly, and Aaron Paul suggested doing a passion fruit margarita.”

Since passion fruit turned the cocktail red, and the Breaking Rock Rita was blue, Kirk and his team figured they should offer a classic pale lime green margarita too. “Now guests have three reasons to try the Ritas,” he said.

The tri-colored drinks should capture customer’s attention and encourage social posts, but Applebee’s also leans into simple, whimsical garnishes as Instagram bait. A Tipsy Cupid cocktail now running on the menu is garnished with red gummy lips and the same candy lips adorn the Passion Fruit Rita. Another signature, the Tipsy Shark, is a blue margarita topped with a gummy shark.

“The Ritas sell for $9 to provide guests an entry point for trial,” said Kirk, noting that the drinks are profitable. Applebee’s’ bar strategy is to offer a range of spirits and price points, from its famous Dollaritas, the $1 margarita promotion that returned last fall, to $14 cocktails hand-shaken in front of the guest with top-shelf spirits.

This year, Kirk will be focusing on zero-proof cocktails after noticing that younger Gen Z and millennial customers are drinking less or not at all. His first foray into the growing trend is a Mai Tai Mocktail priced at $4. It’s crafted with premium ingredients but contains no alcohol.

“Non-drinkers want well-crafted choices that translate popular cocktails into mocktails,” said Kirk. Sangrias and margaritas sans alcohol may be next. Right now, the bar is using lemonades, teas, syrups and mixers to craft the drinks but is considering looking into the growing selection of non-alcoholic spirits now available.

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