And drinks firms contacted by SLTN reckon operators can use the category to ensure Christmas 2014 is a cracker for the trade.
Andrew King, CEO of pre-mix cocktail firm Funkin, said pub and bar operators should “absolutely be focused on their mixed drink offering” this Christmas.
“There is a significant opportunity for them to increase profits, particularly during the festive season when consumers are likely to spend a bit more and treat themselves to something special,” said King.
The festive season is about getting together, and sharing cocktails are perfect for this.
Highlighting a consumer desire for variety, King said customers in the on-trade are increasingly looking to order something out of the ordinary, “especially during the festive season”.
“Pubs, bars and restaurants that offer a cocktail menu featuring even the simplest of cocktails are at an advantage,” he said.
With Christmas parties and family gatherings par for the course over the festive season, King also advised operators to consider offering sharing cocktails to boost sales.
“Operators find that their busiest time period surrounds Christmas, which is anchored with celebration, so festive cocktails are a must.
“The festive season is about getting together with friends and family and sharing cocktails are perfect for this occasion.
“As sharing cocktails are popular during festive occasions so are sharing food platters. We are seeing a trend toward American-style foods like pulled pork and other meats and grazing or snacking foods that are perfect for sharing.”
Variety may add some seasonal spice to cocktails but publicans should also think about the visibility of their spirits range if they want to encourage customers to try something different, according to Alison Melton of Pickering’s Gin.
“The back-bar is important as it is where licensees are able to showcase the range of products they have on offer,” said Melton.
“Rearranging the back-bar to emphasise any special cocktails or drinks that they are producing to celebrate the festive season may help.”
Melton highlighted premium spirits in particular as having the potential to “enhance [an outlet’s] product offering over the festive period”.
Premium spirits were also highlighted as a potential sales driver by Crispin Stephens of Brown-Forman Brands, the firm behind whiskey brands Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve in the UK.
Stephens said that like other alcohol categories, “spirits has been shaped by the trend for premiumisation”.
“Although people may be short of money, there has been an increase in consumers who are willing to trade up to premium brands with drinkers taking a lot more time and care to look into what they are drinking,” said Stephens.
“After all, spirits are still seen as a relatively inexpensive treat in comparison to other larger priced items like electronic goods or holidays and consumers are therefore prepared to pay more for premium spirits that can be savoured and enjoyed.
“This means that whilst their number of visits to on-trade venues may have declined slightly, when people do go out they are placing an increased importance on provenance and willing to pay slightly more for brands that offer perceived premium value.”
Bar staff need to be ready to offer recommendations at this time of year.
Karen Stewart of Wemyss Malts, the firm behind Darnley’s View gin, agreed that the so-called ‘treat mentality’ could have a positive impact on bar sales this Christmas.
“Buying habits over the festive season certainly change,” she said.
“Consumers are more inclined to treat themselves, so there is a great opportunity for premium spirits to get into the orders on Christmas party occasions.”
Knowledgeable staff are also key to boosting sales, according to Stewart.
“Bar staff need to be ready to offer recommendations and hopefully bring some of the more boutique spirits onto their cocktail menus at this time of year,” she added.
Although the festive season may bring its challenges, Stewart highlighted the extraordinary events that the Scottish trade has already taken in its stride this year and said she is confident of a strong finish to 2014.
“2014 has been full of world-leading events and news for Scotland,” said Stewart.
“Hopefully, this will continue into consumer confidence in our bars and restaurants over the festive period.”