Bar Customers Speak, You Should Listen

Uncertainty and trepidation sum up what most of us have been feeling during this economic mess, yet despite talk of things grinding to a halt, life apparently goes on. I can tell because there are a lot of cars on the road and, considering the price of gas, they must be going somewhere. That begs the question: Are they headed to your place?

These days, the talk among bar pros is about how to get more people through the door. For beverage operators, gaining insights into what consumers are thinking and how they’re spending their hard-earned, yet quickly dissipating, cash is like having a GPS in heavy seas. Reliable intel is always a good thing.

With that in mind, the VIBE Conference, which is co-located with the Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas and also owned by Questex Media Group,Mike Ginley at VIBE earlier this year commissioned Mike Ginley, co-founder of Westport, Conn.-based Next Level Marketing, to conduct a consumer research project. More than 500 people who frequent casual restaurants and had ordered alcohol beverMike Ginleyages on-premise within the past 30 days participated in an online survey. What the results reveal about their drinking preferences has direct bearing on this subject.

While the weak economy did cause people to go out socializing less frequently and spend fewer on-premise dollars, the study found signs of improvement. Of those responding, only 32 percent said they still are spending less when they go out, compared with 70 percent of the consumers who took part in a similar study last year. A combined 68 percent of respondents said they’re spending the same or more than in the previous year.

Clearly the New Economy has caused cash-strapped consumers to place greater importance on value drink prices. When deciding which bar or restaurant to visit, the majority of consumers — including 42 percent of men, 43 percent of women and 46 percent of those over 40 — look to frequent on-premise establishments that offer high perceived value. Three-quarters of these people defined value as items that offer the highest quality for the best price and not just the lowest price, while 16 percent defined it as the lowest price and 9 percent as the highest quality.

After high value, almost 60 percent of the women taking part in the study said they seek out great happy hours and attractive drink promotions. For men, the overwhelming response — 38 percent — was a great beer selection.

In a marketplace loaded with options, consumers increasingly are turning to the Internet when choosing where to imbibe. A third of the individuals said they decide where to go based on an establishment’s Website and nearly 70 percent of the consumers over the age of 40 visit a restaurant’s Website for information about specials and discounts.

The research also examined attitudes toward ordering premium brands. Just shy of 87 percent of those surveyed strongly agreed that cocktails made with premium brands taste better than those prepared with house brands. When asked how much more they expected to pay for premium products, the consumers said on average $2.42 more for premium beer, $3.19 more for premium wine and an additional $3.20 for a branded cocktail.

Despite the down economy, consumers would prefer paying a little more in return for a better-quality drink. Perhaps it’s a harbinger of The Recovery.

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