Cheers: raising bar sales in your pizzeria

Some of you probably offer some sort of alcohol in your store. We've got a two part series to help you better market your bar offerings and to help you with inventory.

In this first installment, Robert Plotkin, president of Bar Media, will offer six tips that can help you increase your alcohol sales 25 to 35 percent. Let's get started.

BEHIND THE BAR

There are three key areas you need to focus on from an operations standpoint if you want to increase your bar sales: the back bar, house recipes and glassware. Here are some simple ways to make these basic parts of your bar more marketable.

Your Back Bar

The back bar is the primary marketing device a restaurant or bar owner has, according to Robert. "It sends out so many marketing messages," he says. "The operator needs to understand that appreciate its importance operationally and as a marketing device."

There are three things you need to do to maximize your back bar:

1.                   Delete dead stock. Anything you have back there that has been sitting for six to nine months needs to leave, Robert says. If you have a product that's not popular or just isn't hitting, such as blackberry brandy or root beer schnapps, take it down.

It's just taking up valuable space. You only have a limited amount of space to merchandise products, so only devote it to what people are buying.

"For the last ten years, Americans have been drinking less because of concerns over DWIs, health issues and general tendencies away from alcohol," Robert says. That leads us to the next tip.

2.                   Offer the "good stuff." You need to go through your liquors on your back bar and make a list of what you are serving. "Americans are saying, 'Let's drink the good stuff,'" Robert says. "Consumption of distilled spirits is on a five-year upward trend. Beer is flat. Wine is creeping forward. Life's too short to drink cheap tequila." Robert recommends dropping the cheap items off your shelves, and make sure you are offering the best of each type of spirit. "When somebody sits down and says, 'I love vodkas, what do you have?' you want to offer them the best," he says. "If you're going to play the game, you have to have the good stuff."

3.                   Put good liquors in your well. Robert says the guideline here should be, if the owner or the manager wouldn't drink it, why would you serve it to your guests. He recommends at least pouring the Jim Beams, Bacardis and Smirnoffs and charge an extra 25 to 50 cents to cover costs. "You're going to make more money per drink and take care of your guests," he says. "You're going to serve them a legitimate drink: a Bacardi and Coke as opposed to a Walgreen's rum and Coke."

House Recipes

Next, you need to focus on your house recipes. Robert says the best thing you can do is go up to your customers and say, "I'm the owner of this place. Let me buy you a couple of drinks and ask you what it is that you like." You can't get any better ideas for your recipes than from listening to your customers. The most popular drink in America is the margarita, Robert says. "If you look at the margarita as an example of drinking tendencies and how operators should approach specialty drinks, it would be my advice to offer the very best margarita as the house margarita that you can."

There are two areas to look at when it comes to making a great house drink such as a margarita:

1.                   Liquor – As said before, use the good stuff. For a margarita, use something like 1800 or Sauza Hornitos. Instead of using triple sec, Robert recommends using something like Grand Marnier or Cointreau.

2.                   Mixers – Sweet 'n' Sour mix is the most used mixer in alcoholic drinks. Yours should taste good on its own. There shouldn't be a chemical taste to it.

Glassware

The last thing you need to look at behind the bar is your glassware. What you want to avoid is only buying thin glasswares that break easily. "They do nothing to enhance the look of a drink," Robert says. "One of the biggest marketing advantages a bar has is spending a little extra to get glasses that have a little heft, some weight to them, that look good, that are heat tempered and are durable enough to last more than two nights."

Think about it, the better the glass looks, the better the drink is going to look. You have two options when it comes to portraying your drink. You can raise your price a little to cover the cost of a great glass give the drink a look of quality worth every red cent, or you can stick to your current pricing structure and portray it as a great deal by making it look better. "Either tactic is market-worthy," Robert says. "That 50 cents extra a drink you charge covers the cost of the enhanced glass after two drinks. You've got heat-tempered glasses that lasts forever; it's just strong management."

IN FRONT OF THE BAR

There are three things you need to do from a marketing standpoint to increase your bar sales. They are create a bar menu, put your best sellers on table tents and use wipe-off boards to display specials.

Bar Menu

"Everyone from bowling centers to pizzerias to Italian restaurants should have a bar menu," Robert says. "It's easy to do. The basics are easily achieved. You don't have to spend a ton of money to create it. Just instituting it will drive your sales up 25 to 35 percent." A menu gives you the opportunity to make a recommendation to your customers when you or your staff can't have face time with them.                  

Robert says the average American will spend 20 seconds looking at the menu, and he offered these tips for creating your menu:

1.                   Create your menu on light colored paper, and laminate it for extra durability.

2.                   Put no more than six specialty drinks on your menu. How do you do that? First, we need to define "specialty" drink. A specialty drink is offered everywhere, Robert says. "Almost every beverage operation now offers specialty drinks. They're ubiquitous." What you need to do is identify six drinks that are good sellers in your restaurant. You'll want to have some variety as well. You probably want to offer a margarita, a frozen drink and something for after dinner. The best way to define your specialty drinks is to experiment with three different menus over six months. Put one menu out for the first two months, the second out for the next two months and the third the last two months. Track what your two or three bestsellers are for those three menus. These become your specialty drinks.

3.                   While you are working out which drinks are to be your specialties on those three menus, it's important to list your wines and beers and sizes you offer.

4.                   If you are planning on offering food in your bar area, you need to make that part of your menu. The back cover or side of the menu is a good place to put these dishes.

5.                   You want your menu to be as visual as possible. Once you've decided on your specialty drinks you will want to take pictures of them and incorporate them into the menu. Robert says this can be done on an amateur basis to cut costs. Take your own photos, take it to a place such as Kinko's and have them done up in color. Most often, places like Kinko's can help you with the design.

6.                   Make sure your staff is trained to make the drinks as they appear in the picture.

You want to live up to your promise.

Table Tents

"Whatever sales you want to drive, put it on a table tent," Robert says, "and that will be your best or second bestseller in the house. You also want the servers and bartenders to make these the recommendations they tell customers about. That leads to another term you need to know, "signature drink."

Robert recommends taking one or two of your specialty drinks and making them your signature offering. "A signature drink requires a higher degree of commitment, more production value," he says. "The house is saying 'We do a lot of things well, but this is unique to us. This is as unique to us as our signature. We have a lot at stake in this, invested a lot of ourselves in this and this is our personal commitment to you.' Today, I think consumers are looking for and responding to personal commitments."

Once you've established your signature drink or drinks, you need to shout it from the rooftops on your bar, tables and from your servers. Here's an example: Somebody sits down. The bartender says, "So, what would you like this evening." The customer says, "Well, umm…" That is the moment of action, Robert says. "That hesitation is the sales window. The bartender says, 'Well, while you're thinking about it, you can look at our menu, but let me just recommend, money-back guarantee, our two signature drinks: the Napoli Bellini and the pizano margarita. Fabulous drinks.' The guy comes back and what do you think they are probably going to buy?"

Wipe-Off Boards

These are everywhere from delis to bars. Robert says you should have daily specials in your bar like you see at lunchtime. "They're not passe; they're good point of purchase," he says. Specials on a wipe-off board give the idea that you are willing to give your patrons a good deal. Plus, it's just another place to get what you want to sell a lot of into the minds of customers.

If you follow the three points behind the bar and the three points in front of the bar, you're going to increase your sales, Robert says. "You can't help it; you just can't help it," he says. "How much? I'm saying minimally 25 to 35 percent. You have to be in a coma not to get those results."