Jack Li: What Drives Customer Beverage Choice?

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How do customers decide what to drink at bars and restaurants? Anticipating their wants would go a long way towards resolving some of the issues beverages execs face. During his seminar entitled “Activating the Order” which will take place at the 2017 VIBE Conference, Jack Li of research firm Datassential aims to illuminate some of the factors that drive customer choice.

VIBE: What are the things that customers consider before making their beverage order?

Jack Li: We’ll be exploring two things: the emotional state and the connection that drives drink choice, and the flavors that are taking drinks in new directions. One of the key pieces of info we’ll be exploring comes from our menu trends database which looks at all the drinks that have gotten hot on menus recently, and the flavors that pop up over time

VIBE: And what are some of the highlights you’ve discovered?

Li: Let’s start with certain drink varieties were seeing. In the world of cocktails, for instance, it’s no secret we’re seeing strong growth in recent years in Old Fashioneds. But Gimlets, Manhattans, Mimosas, and Sangrias have all continued to increase. Some that have been moving in other directions include Mudslides, Daiquiris, Tequila Sunrises, Piña Coladas; all down.

VIBE: What about specific flavors?

Li: Flavors that we see growing – some are still small – but we’ve seen a lot of categories being heavily influenced by dessert, so things like salted caramel which is still small but up almost 2,000% over the last four years in our research. We’re also seeing a small increase in peanut butter in adult beverages, and increases in jalapeño, blood orange, chipotle and prickly pear.

VIBE: What sort of recommendations do you make to operators based on the info you’ve compiled about the current environment?

Li: In the most general terms, I think it might be worth revisiting how you lay out the adult beverage menu. In some of the research we’ve seen, people don’t always select based on the types of headings traditionally used in a cocktail menu. One possible solution would be to list as “sweet drinks” and “not so sweet.” Some say it’s the specific flavors that will drive a lot of that decision making. I wonder if there’s not a way to rethink the design to better reflect that mindset. But, especially on a long menu, the notion that I’m going to find the kind of cocktail I want by reading through every drink on a long menu may not be the best way, especially given the way people order: the serving staff walks by and asks for your drink order sometimes before you’ve even had time to digest what’s in that menu, and all that menu work goes to waste.

VIBE: You’ve done some research specifically for this session. Share a little about it.

Li: Well, we’re still in the field doing the research now, a consumer study that looks at motivations for ordering adult beverages and how that breaks out on need state and emotional state. We’ve done exploratory work to ask people in their own words why they order, and a lot of things we get back is not about the product itself but how the product makes them feel, so we’re going to try to provide attendees with an emotional understanding of what drives the decision in food and beverage. It’s even more pronounced with adult beverage, not a logical decision but a passion-driven or emotionally driven decision. That’s something that hasn’t been explored in a lot of detail yet and we wanted to look at that.

If you haven't done so already, register for the 2017 VIBE Conference taking place February 27 through March 1 in San Diego. Click here to take a look at the schedule.

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