Take a fresh look at summer menus

Customers could have higher expectations after a year of experimentation


IN Scotland, with our less than tropical climate, summer can often seem like it’s been a long time in coming.

But after a winter of lockdown, summer 2021 really can’t come soon enough for Scotland’s licensed trade.

“After a terrible year, there is finally an air of positivity in the licensed trade and licensees will have a fresh set of eyes on the businesses,” said a spokesman for Glasgow gin brand GlasweGin.

“The demand to get back into licensed venues is high and this will really help drive businesses back to where they should be.”

Others were optimistic that, after so long away from their favourite venues, customers will be keen to treat themselves over the summer months.

“60% surveyed confirmed they will be more willing to trade up to premium options and keen to sample new innovations in the category,” said John Gemmell of Heineken.

“Recent Heineken consumer sentiment research shows 42% are excited to try new drinks brands and 37% plan to make their on-trade visits more special by choosing more premium drinks and food, making more premium trade-up options a real opportunity for on-trade businesses.”

It won’t necessarily be business as usual, however.

One of the trends established during the last year’s lockdowns was consumers experimenting with new drinks and serves while stuck in their houses – something many Scottish operators embraced by introducing their own home-delivery services.

This, said drinks companies, is bound to have an effect on which products those customers order when they visit licensed premises over the summer.

Dickie Cullimore of Bacardi said that consumers “have become savvier and more experimental with 43% of UK consumers having attempted to perfect cocktails at home since the nation’s lockdown began”.

Faith Holland of Diageo agreed.

She said that after the events of the past year, “bar teams will need to carefully consider refreshed drinks menus to excite and entice customers”.

“As and when the restrictions of 2021 are eased, it is highly likely consumers will seek out drinks and serves that they haven’t been able to recreate at home,” said Holland.

Subsequently cocktails – which are often difficult for people to make at home – are expected to be particularly popular in the coming months.

“Cocktails are one of the key categories most missed by consumers, as cocktails can be more difficult to make at home,” said Dougie Partridge of Whyte & Mackay.

“Having a menu of easy to understand, refreshing and appealing cocktails will drive up consumption occasions as consumers look to get back out and about.”

Partridge added that, when customers are visiting a venue for food, the beginning of the meal tends to be the time that offers the biggest opportunity for cocktail sales.

Chris Wilfred Hughes, founder of non-alcoholic aperitif Wilfred’s, advised operators to incorporate “bright cocktails that look like sunshine and taste of summer”.

“People need to be reminded of how great summer can really be again,” he said.

Spirits such as gin and rum were both suggested as ideal bases for summer cocktails, with whisky a more unusual but equally effective option. Longer serves including highballs and spritzes were predicted to be among the most popular choices.

“All spirits categories growth increased as a result of lockdown,” said James Stocker of Halewood International.

“However, flavoured and spiced rum had already seen incredibly strong growth rates prior to the pandemic that only strengthened post-lockdown.

“As things start to return to normal and people start returning to the on-trade, we expect that the popularity of rum will continue.”

And with premises likely to be bustling over the summer months, operators were advised to pre-batch cocktails ahead of busier periods in order to save time.

Jody Buchan, brand ambassador for Monkey Shoulder at William Grant & Sons, said pre-prepared or easy to prepare drinks “can be the difference between a table having one round or three rounds, in the time they’re in your venue”.

“That’s key for a lot of places in Scotland, but now I would imagine even more so,” said Buchan.

“With limits being placed on length of time consumers can spend at tables, venues now have a set window for their guests to enjoy and experience their offering.

“So it’s definitely important to have simple serves or batched cocktails for speed and consistency.”

Teddy Joseph of Edrington-Beam Suntory agreed.

He said: “Pre-batched serves will be of benefit in these circumstances as they offer speed of service.

“This is important if the on-trade is operating with limiting reservations as it will enable quick turnarounds, maximising revenue.”

Social media is likely to be an effective tool for showcasing a venue’s summer drinks selection, but with so many businesses using the medium it will be essential for operators to stand out.

“Customers are so social media savvy nowadays that they expect venues to be engaging on various platforms all of the time, so to get noticed bars will need to think creatively about the content they post,” said Jody Williamson of distributor Maverick Drinks.

Neil Donachie of mixer brand Fentimans advised operators to ensure their social media posts contain “great imagery with one simple message per post”.

Neil Boyd of Ian Macleod Distillers, parent company of Edinburgh Gin, agreed.

He said: “It goes without saying, social media posts live and die by their content, so strong, eye-catching and mouth watering serve imagery is a must.”

The quality of imagery was also stressed by Jane Maher of Harpalion Spirits, who said the photography itself is often “overlooked” when operators post on social media.

“Taking the time to take good quality photos of the serves, and even hiring a professional to do it, will go a long way in the success of any drinks menu,” said Maher.

Outside of ensuring their photography skills are sharp, operators could consider initiatives such as prize giveaways to encourage engagement with their social media channels.

Dale McQueen of McQueen Gin said giveaways are “a great way to spread your brand as well as increase followers and increase customers through the door”.

This was reinforced by Claire Murray of Dunnet Bay Distillers, the company behind Rock Rose gin.

She said prizes tied to social media posts can create a “ripple effect” that can attract more eyes to a venue.

“Reward those customers who in turn promote you on their social channels,” said Murray.

“Consider spot prizes, for example for sharing images of a cocktail in your bar using a suggested hashtag.”

Engaging with brands online is another way to boost the visibility of social posts, according to Rob McArdle of Brockmans Gin.

“By tagging major brands that have not only a large but a highly engaged following, you will benefit from support by those brands for particular serves, offers, or other stories,” said McArdle.