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Restaurants bulk up their bar menus

There may be a push to simplify restaurant menus, cutting back on the number of offerings and going back to basics for many chains. But the same can’t be said at the bar. Adult beverages saw a 9% increase on menus in 2017, more than any other part of the menu, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor. At the same time, the share of restaurant visits in which diners consume booze remains steady. So why is that section going against the trend?

According to Ervin Machado, beverage director of Big Time Restaurant Group, it’s because consumers are more interested in exploring new flavors and expanding their awareness of the different kinds of alcoholic beverages. “Before, [consumers] were completely fine with a vodka tonic, but now they want to know: ‘What different kinds of vodka are there? What gluten-free options do we have?’” And as consumers become intrigued by a wider swath of offerings at the bar, operators are finding that bigger is better when it comes to drink menus.

Betting on tequila 

The beverage menu at each of Big Time’s six concepts has expanded in the past couple of years, and recently, Machado has noticed that customers have become increasingly drawn to tequila. In response, the West Palm Beach, Fla.-based multiconcept operation expanded its tequila offerings and created a special category within its tequila selection to offer nontraditional flavors such as tequila infused with jalapeno. “We created the category to give tequila a different dimension,” he says. 

After analyzing its guests’ beverage preferences, Quaker Steak & Lube saw a similar trend: Consumers are drawn to tequila-based drinks—in this case, margaritas. “Margaritas have always been a classic choice. … It gives the general market consumer a vein to explore new flavors,” says Corporate Beverage Manager Shannon Salupo. The chain expanded its margarita selection last year, which had a financial perk, too. “Our [top-shelf] margarita is priced very reasonably. ... However, it did not allow for a very good margin,” Salupo says. Expanding the category with other flavored margaritas, such as a desert cactus margarita, gave guests more options, which resulted in a margin increase, she says.

Local beer still booming

Alongside margaritas, Quaker Steak & Lube has expanded its bar menu with local brews that vary across the brand, which has been key to Quaker’s successful beer program, Salupo says. “We’ve seen many capitalize on their local intelligence.”

At City Works, a chain known for its expansive menu of at least 90 beers on tap, VP of Marketing Angela Zoiss says the restaurant has begun placing additional focus on local offerings. 

At two of its new Texas locations, the chain doubled the number of local craft beers to 40. “People like to drink local,” Zoiss says. “[For 2017], at almost all of our locations, there’s at least one local brewery somewhere in the top five of beers sold.” 

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