One of the few ways you can still earn revenue in these times is offering takeaway cocktails. But if you want to get orders, then you’ll need to be on trend with your beverages. By Liz Swanton
Takeaway drinks are one of the revenue sources left to hospitality businesses now. But how do you make those appealing to potential customers? Those in the business of serving drinks to customers—especially those in the younger demographic—know that success depends on many factors, not least having your finger on the pulse so that you’re meeting, even surpassing, their current expectations.
“We don’t just follow for the sake of being trendy,” says David Murphy, sommelier and co-owner of Vernon’s Bar, a wine and cocktail bar in the inner-Sydney suburb of Summer Hill. “We see how it best fits with our clientele and the way we deliver the experience they want.”
With his finger on the pulse of what is happening with the drinking habits of millennials and generation Z, Murphy says that studies show younger people (and consumers in general) are reducing their alcohol consumption. He suggests those catering to young drinkers—and other generations—should improve their variety of beverage products by stocking non-alcoholic options as well as the regular offerings.
“Gen Z are generally spending less and drinking less but they also want an experience where they can spend $20 on a really good cocktail. If they then choose a non-alcoholic option, they want a drink that gives them the same experience and flavour as an alcoholic version. If you go down this track, you need to use classic glassware, garnish and so on.
“There’s a range of occasions where a non-alcoholic cocktail or drink would be appropriate,” he continues. “On Valentine’s Day, we were offering a non-alcoholic cocktail and it was very popular—because it was about both celebrating an occasion and having the choice to drink something non-alcoholic.
“These younger drinkers want the taste and the experience but not the alcohol, and I am sure we will see this trend growing. When people have a non-alcoholic gin and tonic or Negroni or whatever it may be, it should have the same flavours as the alcoholic version. We’re seeing the same trend with beers and we’re adding those to our list.”
Marc Woolnough couldn’t agree more. As head of sales for Malt Shovel, a subsidiary of Lion Brewing, he is also witness to what’s happening with younger drinkers, and no alcohol is a very big part of current drinking patterns.
Malt Shovel represents bigger craft beer brands such as Little Creatures and James Squire, and small local operations such as Kosciuszko Brewery and Byron Bay Brewing in NSW, Eumundi in Queensland and Bevy in WA.
“Generally speaking, people are more focused on health and wellbeing, so they want something that is perceived to be better for them. As a result, several categories are really exploding.
“One is alcohol-free. More people want alcohol-free beer, because they see it as a great way to socialise, but without the alcohol. Gluten-free is another, and then there are seltzers—alcoholic sparkling water. Lower in sugar, carbohydrates and calories and gluten-free.”
Malt Shovel handles a seltzer brand called Quincy, which Woolnough says ticks pretty much every health box for the younger generation. It’s proving to be a popular alternative to cider and RTD (ready to drink) offerings. Woolnough is also seeing a change in people’s tastes, particularly in beer.
“The previous generation was limited for choice, with only the big state brands which are all very similar in style. Now there’s more choice and people are choosing on taste, either going for something less bitter and easy drinking, or something at the other end of the taste scale like craft beer.
“What we call ‘contemporary lager’ is probably the biggest and fastest growing category in Australia. That’s products like Byron Bay Premium Lager and Iron Jack, which are low in bitterness and easy to drink. The other mover is craft beer.”
Traditional beer drinkers want something more flavoursome, Woolnough says, while new-style lagers are a great introduction to beer for younger drinkers. He feels there is still an opportunity for more restaurants and bars to approach their beer selection and menu in a similar way to their wine menu.
Staying local and informed
While not a major trend, ‘local’ is also important, according to David Murphy. His establishments focus on local products because younger drinkers ask for them.
“Our craft beers are all ‘local’. We only stock one imported beer. The same with wine. The same with gin. We’re also seeing the health trend with wine—it’s all by the glass, or the carafe, rather than a bottle.”
Geoff Lindsay, co-owner of South Melbourne’s Lamaro’s Hotel, has noticed younger drinkers often “know their stuff” when it comes to choosing wine, and suggests anyone working in the business has to measure up.
“For the millennials it’s important the staff have a good knowledge of winemaking, a deeper understanding of techniques that are rarely mentioned on the back of the bottle. Organic, biodynamic and vegan wines are very important to them. Often our younger customers are horrified to know that wine has previously been fined with things like clay, fish bladders, dried blood powder and charcoal.”
Lindsay is a little tongue-in-cheek when he talks about the importance of the appearance of a beverage to a younger drinker, but the point he makes could be a useful guide to ensuring your offerings are noticed.
“I think millennials are far more invested in sharing their experiences before they have actually had them,” he laughs.
“Every drink, dish or coffee must be instagrammed before it’s enjoyed. ‘Likes’ are more important than the quality of the experience so, to this end, drinks need to be totally insta-worthy!”
As owner of Morries Bar & Restaurant in WA’s Margaret River, David Astbury agrees that younger customers love the ‘wow’ factor, along with some old-fashioned showmanship and banter over the bar.
“Classic cocktails are definitely making a comeback with the younger crew—Negroni, Old Fashioned and Gin Martinis are all high sellers for us.”
With cocktails finding a new audience, the bar can get super busy. Astbury says when people want their drinks fast, simplicity can be the answer, with presentation adding an element of surprise.
“Tap cocktails offer great variety and just like in the kitchen, time and energy spent in the preparation makes service smooth.”
Our experts suggest if you want to get beverages right, you have to be aware of your clients and what sort of business you are building. Respect your customers and take advice from people in the industry who have done something similar—and stick to your guns. You have to believe what you are doing is better than good and hopefully the clients will come.