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Treating Mocktails As Premium Menu Items

Treating Mocktails As Premium Menu Items

How You Can Upsell Them To Those Who Aren’t Drinking Alcohol

One of my favorite parts about my trip to Paris last summer: No matter how fancy or downscaled the restaurant or bar, each offered a bountiful list of non-alcoholic selections. And not just the typical soda, juice, tea or coffee options; these menus were well thought out with unique, seasonal ingredients, mouth-watering descriptions and beautiful garnishes, making the non-drinker look like the life of the party.

Of course such attention to detail doesn’t come cheap. These non-boozy options were about the same price of the cocktails. That’s a guaranteed boost to the bottom line of the bar’s receipts. Yet in the States, mocktails appear to be an afterthought at the majority of operations.

But at the posh New York hotel NoMad, non-alcoholic beverages are called “soft cocktails,” anointed with cool names like “The Cease & Desist” and “La Piña,” and incorporate premium ingredients like orange blossom water, fennel and jalapeño-infused agave. It’s a trend that Lynn House, the national brand educator for Heaven Hill Brands, would like to see more often during her travels across the country.

“Even if you’re someone who imbibes (alcohol), when you go out you might not want to drink every time, all the time,” says the 25-year, bar-and-restaurant industry veteran. “We’ve grown up past cranberry and club soda or just plain soda. People are more experimental with flavors and they want fun things.”

Last fall House taught a course called “Beyond The Recipe: How to Develop and Create a Creative and Profitable Beverage Program” at Portland Cocktail Week. The industry-only festival is an intensive, interactive weeklong event and attracts up to 800 attendees each year. House’s session is one that she believes was desperately needed.

“One of the things I discussed is that it’s not just having your favorite cocktails on the menu,” she explains, “but using other trends and other spirits and wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages to drive your bottom line.” She adds that one of the biggest issues is that many bartenders simply do not go out of their way to educate themselves beyond the alcohol side of the business.

“They don’t study teas or coffees or other beverages,” she says. “One of the things I’ve always done is look at beverage trends in other countries. In Mexico, for example, there are sangritas. In Brazil, there is a batida.”

She continues, stressing the importance of creating cocktails that easily transform into non-alcoholic beverages. “When you do a non-alcoholic version (of a cocktail), you actually get to charge per drink instead of the customer getting endless refills on (soft drinks).

“That drives your bottom line as well, so you are covering the costs of your ingredients, and you’re also creating a unique experience for that person coming in. They’re like ‘I can come here and celebrate with my friends and family and have fun things in front of me just like they have fun things in front of them.’”

It’s also important to treat non-drinking guests like everyone else, says Anthony Schmidt, the beverage director for the San Diego-based CH Projects (Noble Experiment, Craft & Commerce, El Dorado Cocktail Lounge, Polite Provisions, Rare Form/Fairweather). He’s a 10-year veteran in the industry and aims for a humble approach to the bartending trade. One of his highly developed skills is reading people and making them feel comfortable.

“I usually treat (non-drinkers) like any other guest, asking about interests or flavors they generally appreciate,” says Schmidt. “I try not to make them feel unique or stand out from the crowd. I also try to make the drinks appear like the others in their group, further adding to the feeling of sharing in the community of the night. If the guests feel comfortable, they’ll likely order more. And there’s our opportunity for upselling.”

When Lynn House was regularly behind the bar at Chicago restaurants Blackbird and Graham Elliot, she created mocktails to accompany each dish for tasting menus. “Customers didn’t mind paying a premium because they knew I was going to do something fun,” she recalls.

“They’d experience the same ingredients except without the alcohol. I think it’s a smart thing to do, yet a lot of places don’t consider it, and they’re missing out on an entire consumer base. What they’ve got to remember is that they’re in a business where they should be trying to capture every consumer they can.”

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