The Skinny on Skinny Drinks

Consider: Among the under-200-calorie Spa-tinis at Morton’s The Steakhouse is the Antioxidant Me, highlighting ABSOLUT Berri Acai, Monin Superfruit Puree and POM Pomegranate Juice, while at Columbia Sussex properties, a 10-drink menu of low-cal sips includes The Stone Sour, which comes in at 111 calories thanks to Finest Call Lite sour mix. The Skinny Sexy Sailor at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar ranks at 99 calories, involving Sailor Jerry Rum, black iced tea and fresh lemon juice. P.F. Chang’s, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Morton’s each showcase drinks involving the inherently low-cal TY-KU Soju and TY-KU Liqueur.

Spa-Tinis from Morton's The Steakhouse.

These are just a few of the skinny cocktails gracing restaurant menus lately, and Beam’s acquisition of the Skinnygirl brand expands the low-cal trend’s position in RTD occasions. While thin is in this summer, there’s more to the trend than meets the eye. For savvy operators, skinny drinks transcend summer fad status — there are multiple, ongoing benefits to mixing thin:

• The drinks side of the chain restaurant business may have dodged a bullet when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration excluded alcohol beverages from the calorie-count requirement in the new menu labeling regulations going into effect later this year. But guests really didn’t give us a pass on this. The demand for skinny cocktails demonstrates their interest in the calorie counts of their favorite quaffs, so the onus is on us to know that information and be prepared to share it. Doing so puts us all in a better (i.e., proactive) position when the food police target alcohol on their next wave of regulations (and you know they will). If we are voluntarily and visibly providing low-cal alternatives, could nutrition labeling for adult beverages be less likely to be required down the line? Good question.

• The popularity of skinny drinks tells us something very important about how today’s patrons are thinking about dining out: They want to indulge, but yearn to do so conservatively and not just in terms of spending. Yes, give me a Martini, but make it low-cal, so I feel better about the indulgence. Throw in an ingredient high in antioxidants and the patron perceives the libation as being healthy — major bonus! Given the current economic trend, it’s likely that any way to make the patron feel “good” about the indulgence of a cocktail — or a glass of beer or wine — makes the decision to have one that much easier. I don’t see the demand for skinny sips disappearing as the mercury rises and would warn against removing these trimmed tipples from menus come fall. In fact, the holiday season is a perfect time to tap into that conservative indulgence desire once again by showcasing your skinny offerings.

• Responsible service is an underlying benefit of skinny sips. The higher the alcohol content, the higher the calories; one way to cut calories is to reduce the alcohol content by using a lower-proof spirit or fewer ounces of spirit. Talk about a win-win!

• At a time when we’re all chasing higher margins, the real beauty of low-cal cocktails is that they can be priced at the same level of their full-calorie counterparts; today’s patrons will spend on a drink with perceived health benefits. If made with lower proof or a smaller measure of spirits, skinny drinks can deliver a higher or at least equal profit margin to full-cal drinks, depending on other ingredients involved. Win-win-win!

Thin is in, and it’s not a passing fad. It speaks to today’s patron’s mindset — their desire for guiltless indulgences — and also to your profit and responsible-service objectives. Let me know how your skinny sales are trending by clicking here, and be sure to think thin well into Q4 and beyond.


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