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Restaurants look for ways to spike bar sales

CHICAGO As the ongoing economic slump threatens future alcohol beverage sales, restaurateurs are working to give guests a reason to toast with wines, beers and spirits.

According to Technomic Inc., total industry alcohol sales are projected to fall 2.5 percent in 2010, with fine dining taking the hardest hit as sales in the segment tumble 10.4 percent.

In response, restaurant operators have started to offer higher-end beers and expanded wine lists to draw guests to bar items even while they are on a budget.

Technomic research shows that only bars and nightclubs are expected to enjoy a slight uptick in 2010 — 0.6 percent — in terms of nominal dollars, according to David Henkes, vice president of the Chicago-based foodservice consulting firm.

Henkes noted that most foodservice operations in the bars and nightclubs category are sports bars and neighborhood taverns — places with regular loyal clienteles that offer a value proposition. He noted, however, that since the projections are in nominal dollar terms, real sales for the category still are likely to dip.

Technomic predicts that wine will experience the biggest drop in sales, falling 6.7 percent in 2010. Sales of spirits are expected to fall 2.1 percent and beer will suffer the least, with sales dropping 1.8 percent.

Some restaurant operators have noticed more customers switching from wine to beer and are working to capitalize on the trend.

Bradley Boyle, owner of Salt Gastro pub in Stanhope, N.J., said he has seen his customers pairing higher-end beer with the food instead of wine.

“We have noticed the trend, which I am sure is driven by the economy right now, toward lower-cost wines that offer great value, and higher-end beers that offer something different for customers trying to keep within their budget,” he said.

Janna Mestan, a manager at Courtright’s in Willow Springs, Ill., has also seen beer sales rise as the fine-dining restaurant shifted from mainstream brews to more local craft beers.

“People are very thankful when they find a new beer that they may not have tried if we had their classic macro-brew choice,” she said.

Looking to increase wine sales, California Pizza Kitchen last week announced it had expanded its list from 19 wines to about 30 wines at its 254 units, with most available by the glass for less than $10. A company spokeswoman said the chain wanted to upgrade the offerings of specific popular varietals, namely Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Merlot, at affordable prices.

The Beachhouse, a steakhouse at the Moana Surfrider Hotel in Honolulu, also recently revamped its wine list, adding more affordable wines from lesser-known wine regions, such as Argentina and southwestern France.

2010 Forecast for Growth or Decline in Alcohol Sales, By Segment

  • Fine Dining -10.4 %
  • Casual Dining -6.8 %
  • Bars/Nightclubs 0.6 %
  • Lodging -6.1 %
  • Casinos -5.0 %
  • Concessions -2.0 %
  • Other Recreation -4.2 %
  • Overall -2.5 %
  • Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].


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