Bar and restaurant traffic is up this summer, but what are consumers drinking as they return as customers?
According to Restaurant Business’ sister company, Technomic, drinkers are looking for a mix of the new and the old—and beverage professionals are meeting that demand.
Technomic’s recent Behind the Bar Insights report surveyed over 300 bartenders, food and beverage directors, restaurant owners and other adult beverage decision makers to see where beverage innovation is headed.
“Across our data, we’re seeing evidence of consumers continuing to look for known drinks and brands on menus but also confirmation of their excitement to discover new adult beverages as they come back to the bar,” said Donna Hood Crecca, Technomic principal and adult beverage specialist.
The good news is that post-pandemic, operators are innovating to differentiate the beverage menu. More than half of operators are actively involved in drink development, with 48% seeking new spirits, mixers, garnishes, beers and wines to enhance their selection.
But the pandemic has placed some limitations on creativity. Labor and supply chain shortages have led to changes in their drink lists, 45% of respondents report. These include simplification of drink recipes, a pared-down cocktail or wine list and product substitutions.
Bartenders and mixologists are turning to suppliers for flavor and product innovation, the survey found. Alcohol-to-go continues to trend, with 34% of operators looking for packaging solutions and 31% interested in ready-to-drink products for their programs.
Beer with unique flavors also came out on top; 35% of beverage professionals want more selection in this category, while 25% are looking for distinctively flavored spirits. Mixers in new flavors and formats are also in demand by 29% of respondents.
While restaurants and bars can differentiate and drive traffic by offering innovative beverages that consumers can’t make at home, they shouldn’t abandon the tried-and-true. Of those operators surveyed, 66% are finding that customers are sticking to well-known brands and classic cocktails.