Top 5 On-Premise Cocktails Revealed

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Menu programming is considered by a great many operators to be an exercise in creativity. Pricing is often approached as a guessing game. In other operations, setting prices is simply a matter of looking at competitors and undercutting them.

There’s nothing wrong with being creative when it comes to creating signature cocktails and riffs on classics. Similarly, there’s not really anything wrong with keeping tabs on the competition and their prices.

However, both tasks can be approached scientifically. Nielsen CGA has used data science to identify the top 5 cocktails across the United States—breaking them down by daypart and market to provide further insights—along with the average price of a cocktail.

According to Nielsen CGA, the top 5 cocktails overall in descending order are Margarita, Martini, Old Fashioned, Mimosa, and Moscow Mule. However, that order gets shuffled and other cocktails rank in the top 5 when performance is examined by daypart.

During the morning, the time between 6:00 a.m. and noon, the top performers (again, in descending order) are the Mimosa, Bloody Mary, Margarita, Bellini, and Old Fashioned. The top 5 during the afternoon (noon to 6:00 p.m.) are the Margarita, Martini, Mimosa, Old Fashioned and Bloody Mary. For the evening, 6:00 p.m. to midnight, the top performers are the Margarita, Martini, Old Fashioned, Moscow Mule, and the classic Mojito. The top cocktails are the Martini, Long Island Iced Tea, Margarita, Old Fashioned, and Moscow Mule for the night daypart (midnight to 6:0 a.m.).

The above lists reveal how consumer cocktail preferences change throughout the day, almost like clockwork. For example, Nielsen CGA data shows that the Bellini is a top performer in the morning but doesn’t make a top 5 ranking in the rest of the dayparts. The classic Mojito only appears to be a top 5 order during the evening, whereas the same can be said about the Long Island Iced Tea and its performance during the night daypart.

Nielsen CGA data also reveals that the Margarita dominates two dayparts, afternoon and evening. The Martini outperforms the dominant Margarita in the night daypart but doesn’t make the top 5 in the morning. This does appear to show that consumers order higher-ABV options as they move from the evening to night daypart.

While not on the top 5 lists shared by Nielsen CGA, low-ABV cocktails and mocktails like the Skinny Margarita and Virgin Bloody Mary are experiencing on-premise growth in the morning daypart. According to the data, 21- to 34-year-old consumers are driving this growth. Of that group, 16 percent say they would order such drinks if available during the morning.

While menu programming should stay true to individual concepts and brands, the data suggests that operations offering beverage alcohol throughout multiple dayparts may benefit from menu changes based on specific timeframes.

When looking at 6 major markets—Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and Tampa—Nielsen CGA data finds that the Margarita dominates almost every city. In Chicago, not only is the Margarita not the top performer, it’s not in the top five.

Instead, the order (descending) in Chicago is the Old Fashioned, Mimosa, Martini, Moscow Mule, and Manhattan. In Boston, the rankings are Margarita, Martini, Espresso Martini, Bloody Mary, and Cosmopolitan. Just like Boston, the Margarita and Martini are numbers one and two, respectively, in Los Angeles, followed by the Old Fashioned, classic Mojito, and flavored Margarita. The top 5 in Miami are the Margarita, classic Mojito, Martini, flavored Margarita, and Old Fashioned. The top 3 in New York, interestingly, are identical to Los Angeles—Margarita, Martini and Old Fashioned—with the Manhattan and classic Mojito rounding out spots four and five. Finally, in Tampa, the top 5 cocktails are the Margarita, Martini, Manhattan, Sangria, and Cosmopolitan.

In terms of pricing, the average cocktail price across the total United States is $9.00. That’s actually less than the price consumers state they would pay for a standard cocktail in the most recent consumer-based On-Premise Use Survey (OPUS), which is $9.48. That price drops to $8.00 during happy hour.

However, the average price of the top-selling cocktail, the Margarita, is $9.49 in the U.S. This shows that consumers are willing to pay more for the favored cocktail, which is good news for operators with Margaritas on the menu as 56 percent state it would be their on-premise beverage alcohol choice. The number two cocktail, the Martini, enjoys an average price of $8.50.

Average prices jump up during the evening and night dayparts. Consumers spend, on average, $9.75 per cocktail during the evening and $10.00 at night. In the morning and afternoon, the average prices are $8.50 and $8.00 respectively. Perhaps not surprisingly, New York, at $11.00, and Chicago, $11.95, are the markets with the highest average cocktail prices. Tampa, according to Nielsen CGA, is the middle market when compared to the other five in terms of average cocktail prices.

On Monday, March 25, 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show attendees will learn how to maximize their cocktail programs and leverage popular drinks during sessions such as "Profits Meet Practicality" with Erick Castro, "The History of the Martini" with Charlotte Voisey, and "Creating an Exclusive Beverage Experience" with Chris Adams. Operator Laura Newman, also the USBG's 2018 Bartender of the Year, presents "Creating Cocktail Programs that Drive Business" on Tuesday, March 26. And on Wednesday, March 27, attendees have the opportunity to learn about the future of cocktail service with sessions like "Pouring Out Tips for Cocktails on Tap" by Missy and Kristin Koefod of 18.21 Bitters, "The Future of Booze: From Low-ABV to Cannabis to Crypto," and "The Evolution of Edibles & Infused Cocktails."

You don't want to miss out on these cutting edge educational opportunities, so register now!

Nielsen CGA Methodology

  • Nielsen CGA Check Level Insights Pool (CLIP), Sept.-Dec. 2018
  • Nielsen CGA On-Premise Consumer Survey (OPUS), Sept.-Dec. 2018

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