Help Guests Make the Right Drink Decision

Digital cocktail menu on a tablet
Image: SvetaZi / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Jack Li of research firm Datassentials returns to the VIBE Conference with two sessions, one aimed at helping operators help customers make better—and more profitable—beverage decisions.

When customers enter a restaurant, sometimes they have a beverage in mind, one they always order. Other times, says Jack Li of Datassential, a leading food and beverage insights agency, they require some encouragement or help to make that final choice.

How to best steer them, and what levers an operator or beverage director can pull to influence their decision either way, is the theme of one of Li’s two presentations at the 2018 VIBE Conference. What people want, what holds them back, and what gets them over the line are three themes he’ll touch on during his interactive “Trends Supercharged” presentation. 

There are a tremendous range of factors that dictate how customers are suggestible, he says. “Environmental, social, the menu, and obviously the beverage itself. Our research shows that consumers also prefer different types of drinks depending on the occasion and consumer’s mood objective—so it’s important to play to that. Vodka, for instance, is more often associated with cheering up.”

During his time with Datassential, Li has pioneered the use of menu data to predict flavor trends. In 1999, he and his team developed the Menu Adoption Cycle, a trend framework used broadly by hundreds of companies today. Over the past decade, Li has led over 500 F&B studies, including leading edge research on the future of adult beverage. More recently, he led the development of SCORES™, which tracks millions of consumer ratings for every new item and LTO item on chain menus.

As a result, Li finds menus a neglected source of suggestion. “The menu is so critical. How you word a menu item makes a huge difference; the high-end descriptions that are just a list of unfamiliar ingredients appeal to one crowd, but not to all crowds. The first thing is to know your audience and then create a menu language that targets them.”

He says getting on trend with the changes that fit a restaurant’s profile with customers is important, but some things work across all levels. “Vintage cocktails would be one—drinks that reintroduce consumers to aperitifs and digestifs like vermouth, amaros and sherry. In the beer space, we see sour/funk beers growing. Low-ABV cocktails (and mocktails) are a good play, too.”

Li will share new consumer research on how to motivate guests by bringing the latest trends to a beverage menu, from early stage “inception” drinks and flavors to those in “ubiquity” that are enjoying a renaissance.

Trends don’t work, Li points out, unless they are actionable, and he aims to create useful solutions with proprietary research that won’t be broadly shared until after the VIBE Conference. Some trends were not so long ago taboo, he says, like tobacco and cannabis. Other flavor trends to be aware of include functional ingredients, things like charcoal, turmeric, and bee pollen.

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