Christmas is big business in the drinks world. Consumers are likely to spend an additional £562m on drinks out of the home, according to new figures from CGA, with some 211 million visits expected to be made to pubs, bars and restaurants over the festive period.
Moreover, drinks sales accounted for 55% of total sales in pubs, bars and restaurants last year. “Christmas is a crucial time for operators who need to ensure they are making the most of footfall throughout December by encouraging customers to trade up with special promotions, new products and exciting, tempting offers,” says CGA’s Philip Montgomery.
Thankfully for the industry, there continues to be much innovation in the drinks category, whether it be with spirits, mixers or soft drinks, enabling restaurants to offer customers a wide variety of drinks suitable for the festive period.
Here are four areas in particular you should be focusing on:
Serving cocktails is a no-brainer in the run-up to Christmas, but getting your cocktail offer right does take some brain power. The challenge, says Andre King, MD of cocktail mixer brand Funkin, is creating a cocktail list broad enough to please everyone and with enough creativity to keep people interested, but that is also manageable at what is one of the busiest times of the year.
“Restaurants need to work within their limitations,” he advises. “If you have a modest range of cocktails, don’t suddenly double your list for Christmas. It’s the time of the year with the most footfall and when drinkers are most engaged.”
King suggests bars stick to the classics and popular Christmas drinks – Pornstar and Espresso Martinis, Mojitos, Daiquiris, Pina Coladas – and then look for easy wins by creating twists on them where possible. “If you have five or six key drinks and then introduce some twists on each, you quickly have a strong but manageable list.”
One such example is the Cosmopolitan Christmas cocktail, a warming take on the original serve that sees Lillet Rose vermouth, ruby port, maraschino liqueur, lemon, cranberry and orange juices, ginger and spiced syrups gently heated and served in a cafetiere.
“Smoky and spiced drinks have a warming feel and certainly appeal as we get closer to Christmas,” says King.
Schweppes owner Coca-Cola also suggests restaurants give their cocktails a seasonal twist. “Although cocktails are often associated with summer, 45% of consumers are now enjoying cocktails during winter (CGA Mixed Drinks report, April 2016) and outlets are increasingly looking to update cocktail menus to cater for more wintery tastes,” says Amy Burgess, external communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners. “As we move into colder months, licensees will have an opportunity to create winter-themed serves and give consumers new drinks to try, other than their go-to summer drinks.”
One of its suggestions is the G&T Royale, made with gin, Schweppes tonic, a splash of champagne, 10ml of vanilla syrup and orange bitters. “This is the ideal mix for a right royal knees up this Christmas.”
King is also an advocate of extending gin beyond its traditional tonic serve. “With the plethora of gins on the market, drinkers are now looking for serves beyond with just tonic water,” he says, suggesting cocktails such as Elderflower Collins and Bramble as winning choices. “People are beginning to expect to see gin in cocktails as it becomes a principal repertoire drink – and they are looking for it to be served in different ways.”
Lee Hyde, beverage innovation manager at syrup brand Monin UK, echoes this view. “In 2016, we saw a rise in restaurants adding festive cocktails to their menus and this trend is set to continue. For restaurants to maximise profits, menus should feature festive design and present winter flavours, while creativity and visual presentation, including extravagant garnish, is key.”
He suggests restaurant bars stock popular festive-flavoured syrups such as gingerbread, chocolate orange, cranberry, sloe berry, cherry and amaretto to give drinks that festive feel. Whatever you choose to serve, it’s vital you do it quickly. “Some customers will leave a venue if they are made to wait too long for a drink,” says King, who advises that restaurants consider pre-batched drinks. “Even the best bars in the world are pre-batching and making flavoured syrups – during busy times they can turn out twice as many drinks that way.”
For example, if the Cosmopolitan Christmas cocktail sounded too onerous to make from scratch, Funkin has a solution: simply mix its pre-batched Cosmopolitan mixer with Lillet Rose, ruby port and maraschino liqueur, heat and serve.
The rise of the G&T and increasingly sophisticated mixers, not just for gin but for dark spirits as well, means that opportunities for serving interesting and creative mixed drinks has never been greater. Over the past few years, drinks companies have looked beyond their standard tonic, lemonade and cola offerings to create softs and mixers that complement a larger range of spirits.
Franklin & Sons says that its range of mixers and tonics, which includes Sicilian Lemon, Ginger Ale, Ginger Beer, Scottish Artesian Water and Scottish Soda Water, has been designed to bring out the flavours of premium quality spirits, such as gin, vodka, port, and tequila. Its drinks have the highest carbonation possible to lift the most delicate botanicals of any spirit. For a more Christmasy alternative to the standard G&T, the company suggests switching normal gin for sloe gin and serving it with its Sicilian lemon tonic, garnished with a twist of lemon peel.
“We all know that Christmas is one of the key sales times for pubs and bars. Premium spirits and mixers are one of the most popular types of drink at present. Gin & tonics currently top the list, with 34% stating this was their drink of choice, but the idea of ‘something else’ and tonic has become increasingly popular,” says Jen Draper, head of marketing at Franklin & Sons.
“With Christmas being such a celebratory time of year as well as a time often seen for indulging, we forecast premium drinks – both soft and alcoholic – will continue to be a firm fixture throughout the season.”
Iconic mixer brand Schweppes has also been innovating in the mixer category. It has just launched a range of naturally flavoured premium mixers called Schweppes 1783, available in 200ml skittle glass bottles. The range, which is described by the company as featuring ‘Schweppes’ renowned effervescence in combination with unmatched natural flavours,’ comes in five flavours – three classic – Crisp Tonic Water, Light Tonic Water and Golden Ginger Ale, and two less conventional, Salty Lemon Tonic Water and Quenching Cucumber Tonic Water.
“Each flavour has been carefully created to marry perfectly with the finest spirits to elevate the taste sensation, and contains unrivalled effervescence that makes Schweppes the number one mixer brand in Great Britain,” adds Burgess.
The classic Schweppes line-up now also comes in the new skittled-shaped bottles.
“With statistics showing that more than a fifth of people are now choosing not to drink alcohol at all and with nearly a third of people claiming they would consider ordering a mocktail if offered, mocktails represent a significant opportunity for operators looking to maximise their sales,” says Coca-Cola’s Burgess. “Operators can get inventive with mocktails by making the most of exotic flavours from adult soft drinks like Appletiser and Schweppes sparkling juice drinks.”
This year’s festive mocktail suggestions from Coca-Cola include a blood orange St Clements made with blood orange juice, Lemon & Elderflower Schweppes and a blood orange slice; and a Passion Fruit Cooler, comprising mango juice, fresh lime juice, vanilla syrup, Schweppes Soda Water, half a fresh passion fruit, mint and crushed ice.
Monin says that tea-infused drinks will be more prevalent this Christmas – and indeed in the early months of 2018. “Tea-infused cocktails and mocktails have been steadily making their way onto drink menus as our cocktail culture wakes up to their beneficial effects,” says Hyde, who recommends restaurants and bars try non-alcoholic tea cocktails to boost sales. One such mocktail is cucumber and thyme tea made with Monin cucumber syrup, Monin lime rantcho, cold green tea and three sprigs of fresh thyme – infuse the green tea with the thyme for three minutes and allow to cool before adding the other ingredients and some ice.
Hyde also recommends trying different varieties of green tea such as gunpowder and sencha as well as black teas like ceylon, darjeeling and earl grey. Mocktails have an ally in the growth of zero-proof drinks, a relatively new category of drink spearheaded by the likes of Seedlip and WiseHead productions.
Like mocktails, such drinks have been created for when people don’t want to consume alcohol but don’t want a traditional sweet soft drink either. Seedlip, for example, which is dubbed the world’s first nonalcoholic spirit, comes in two flavours – Garden 108 and Spice 94 – which get their complex flavours from botanicals including peas, hay, spearmint, allspice, cardamom and oak.
“The whole area of zero-proof drinks is very interesting,” says Funkin’s King. “People talk about Millennials not drinking alcohol, but figures from CGA show that 40% of people who drink regularly also go out for a night without alcohol. This means there is a great opportunity for the on-trade to deliver complex non-alcoholic drinks.”
WiseHead, an incubator company of Britvic, has done just that with its Monte Rosso, a non-alcholic equivalent to the Aperol Spritz that is made with botanical bitters, many of which are found in Venetian amoros, mixed with cranberries, rowanberries and soda water.
Creative soft drinks
While Christmas is an obvious time to ramp up booze sales, the growing number of people choosing to abstain from alcohol means that businesses shouldn’t ignore the soft side of their business this festive period. “With 21% of adults in the UK today not consuming alcohol, and Christmas being a time when many people act as the designated driver for their group, it’s particularly important for licensees to carry a wide choice of soft drinks in the run-up to the big day. This ensures that they can meet the demands of all consumer preferences and maximise their sales as people enjoy their parties and celebrations,” says Coca-Cola’s Burgess.
However, the same rules apply with soft drinks as they do with alcoholic ones: people want something special to sup during the festivities. “All too often people are just being served standard soft drinks, something they can get anywhere or which is out of a gun. But the opportunity is there to upsell and give people a much better drinking experience,” says King.
“At Christmas, people are looking for luxury products and Funkin is ideally placed to provided complicated ingredients to help restaurants provide them.”
Dark fruits such as blueberries and blackberries, in particular, are popular this time of year, he says, as are spice flavours that can be added to standard fruit juices to create festive flavours. “We are seeing a number of bars that are taking the opportunity to serve complicated soft drinks – not non-alcoholic cocktails but blended soft drinks.”
Franklin & Sons says its range of creative soft drinks is ideal for this purpose. It range includes British dandelion and burdock with star anise; ginger beer brewed with malted barley, ginger and lemon; cloudy apple and Yorkshire rhubarb with cinnamon; and wild strawberry and Scottish raspberry with cracked black pepper.
“It can be difficult for places to make the most of premiumisation during the festive period due to the huge demand placed on them from consumers,” says Draper. The idea of premiumisation, has, historically, been placed upon premium spirits and mixers.
However, restaurants must ensure they don’t overlook the demand and importance of premium soft drinks.
“With figures suggesting that more and more consumers are willing to pay extra for premium drinks, it’s imperative that operators look at ways they can capitalise from the start of this busy season.”
Draper suggests its cloudy apple drink be used to create a Mulled Apple and Cinnamon Sipper, with the juice mixed with cloves, a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg and some grated orange rind and heated before being served.
“During the festive period, seasonal offerings have been proven to help to drive sales further,” she adds.
This is a web version of an article that first appeared in the November issue of Restaurant magazine, the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. For more features, comment, interviews and in-depth analysis of the restaurant sector subscribe to Restaurant magazine here