Counting calories never goes out of style, but menuing low-calorie cocktails has never been easy either because the flavor is often reduced along with the calories. Two chains have cracked the code on skinny cocktails, however, by tapping into select spirits and alternative sweeteners.
The Skinny Lemon Drop Martini is now the leading Martini at O’Charley’s locations, according to Corporate Beverage Director Stuart Melia. Weighing in at 193 calories, it features TY KU Soju, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup and was rolled out in late March. Response has been so positive that Melia plans to introduce a Skinny Raspberry Lemon Drop in the fall that will swap out the simple syrup for Monin O’free Raspberry, shaving a cool 100 calories off the total count. He’s also exploring alternative sweeteners for simple syrup as another means of reducing calories.
Houlihan’s included a selection of Skinny Drinks on a spring drink menu that accompanied a small plate menu debut at 45 locations. Response was so positive, that the offerings have since been expanded to all company stores and approximately half of Houlihan’s franchisees. The five cocktails contain less than 125 calories each and were developed to satisfy the growing consumer demand for healthier, lower-calorie options in both food and drink, according to Dave Brown, vice president of operations support at Leawood, Kan.-based Houlihan’s. Priced from $5.25 to $6.50, among the drinks are the Diet Vanilla Coke (ABSOLUT Vanilla, Diet Coke), Skinny Yogi (TY KU Liqueur, Prairie Organic Vodka, lime, orange and soda) and the Skinny Superfruit Margarita (Effen Black Cherry Vodka, cranberry, blueberry and pomegranate). Feedback from guests is “extremely positive,” says Brown, who notes that the drinks are easy to mix and deliver a great margin. The cocktails are featured on the drink menu and on the small plates menu. They are also being rolled into additional markets.
Several brand marketers are touting their products’ lower-calorie content, and offering recipes for skinny drinks. TY KU Soju and TY KU Liqueur contain one-third the calories of vodka, according to the marketer, who advises swapping out traditional spirits in popular summer cocktails such as Mojitos and Margaritas for a lower-calorie quaff. Haamonii Sochu offers a recipe for a 100-calorie Haamonii Tart cocktail. Veev Acai Spirit is a darling of the celeb set seeking to keep their waistlines small; the Veev Spa Cooler combines mint, cucumber, lime and simple syrup for an estimated 150 calories, while a Pomegranate-Acai Lemonade concoction calls for sugar-free lemonade and POM Wonderful Juice or PAMA Liqueur, all for 100 calories.
Now that quality spirit and sweetener options with fewer calories are more readily available, creative chain operators can tap into the sales potential.