With many pub operators reporting the winter months as particularly tricky for them, pulling out all the stops and making sure every base is covered is integral to drawing in those celebrating a special occasion.
The average consumer will spend more than £70 on a night out, according to late-night bar and club operator Deltic in its latest Night Index report.
However, the majority of people on a night out (89%) are conscious of spending money and try to budget in some form, the index also revealed.
Willing to spend
So, whether it’s a hen party or works Christmas drinks, consumers have high expectations when they are looking for something out of the ordinary that they are willing to spend more than they would on a standard pub visit.
On the release of the data back in September, Deltic chief executive Peter Marks explained that while consumers were spending a significant proportion of their disposable income on nights out, they were still cautious when it came to parting with cash.
Marks says: “These aren’t impulse purchases. People are clearly thinking about where and when they spend their money, as shown by the percentage of people that budget, and seek out the best value while enjoying a fantastic night out.
“Ultimately, the data shows that people are willing to spend money – but only for the right experience”.
A wish for something different
Flavoured drinks are driving the spirits category and holidays are a linchpin for new product launches – so keep an eye out for how to push up prices with limited-edition drinks.
Diageo’s Captain Morgan rum brand has released a limited-edition gingerbread variant with the purpose of appealing to drinkers who want to drink spiced products in the winter and are more open to trying new serves.
CGA research reveals that more than half (51%) of UK consumers will try something new if they are told about it during the festive season.
For Diageo, one of the most interesting trends that could take off this winter is an increase in single malts being used in cocktails.
A spokesperson for the spirits and beers producer explains this trend is set to have its heyday in the pub sector, saying: “The best bars in the world have always been unafraid to feature single malts on their cocktail lists, with more bars appreciating the diversity of taste, texture and flavour that single malts can offer, realising they can be very versatile too.”
Jägermeister UK marketing director Nicole Goodwin believes that you can use this time to experiment with selling new products, even if they don’t have a festive twist or particular theme.
She says the rise in coffee-flavoured cocktails is one the brand has capitalised on and encourages pub operators to get on board too – a cocktail report by CGA placed the Espresso Martini as seventh in the UK’s top 10 cocktails.
Goodwin explains: “Over the past two months, we’ve seen a positive response from operators and consumers about our latest innovation, Jägermeister Cold Brew Coffee.
“It is best enjoyed as an ice-cold shot, shaken and served at -18°C from the freezer or a Jägermeister tap machine.
“The flavour profile of the product allows for the celebratory shot to happen earlier in the evening. It works very well after dinner and it’s a great addition to the back bar of food-led venues.”
Searching for X-factor
Goodwin adds theatrics are the key to pleasing customers during special nights out.
She says: “When consumers are enjoying a night out, they are looking for some theatre with their cocktails, particularly during this time of year. This could be how a drink is made, what the finished cocktail looks like or the garnish.
“In addition to cocktails being popular, we find that, during special occasions, shots are also popular, often bringing groups back together throughout the night to celebrate.”
Consumers buy 3.1 shots in a single purchase on average, which helps drive profits in what can be a tricky season for some sites.
Less can be more
Special occasions are the perfect time to experiment with different shot serves, such as a coffee-inspired mix or themed recipes.
For example, a ‘Santa shot’ is a green and red layered aperitif with mint and berry flavours made with grenadine syrup, creme de menthe and peppermint schnapps.
However, Ounal Bailey, co-founder of mixer brand the London Essence Company, believes that less can be more when it comes to the presentation of drinks.
Flavours can speak for themselves, she says. “It’s those sorts of flavours that are perhaps a bit out of the ordinary that give people the sense of being able to enjoy something.”
Alcohol awareness organisation Drinkaware says it is important to be extra vigilant about customers’ consumption of alcohol when it comes to special occasions and the Christmas period.
Chief executive of the group Elaine Hindal said: “A visit to the pub with friends, family or workmates is part of the fun of Christmas for many people, and most will enjoy a glass of wine or a pint of seasonal ale responsibly.
“However, the sheer number of people coming into pubs, clubs and bars over the festive season inevitably means a heightened risk of alcohol harms, especially as it often involves drinking over a long period of time – the office Christmas lunch followed by drinks, for example – or group drinking, where people feel under pressure to join rounds.
“Responsible operators will be aware of these risks and plan now to mitigate them. They’ll also be looking at how customers who choose not to drink alcohol – whether because they’re driving or for other reasons – are made to feel just as welcome as those who are drinking.”
One of London Essence’s suggested serves for the festive season is to mix half a glass of its crafted sodas with half a glass of Champagne or Prosecco.
Bailey says: “It’s kind of like making a Bellini, if you took our White Peach & Jasmine soda and half a glass of Prosecco, served in a Champagne flute, it is really easy, looks beautiful, nice and peachy in colour.
“It is really easy for pubs to do and people just love it. It’s so easy to make.
“It’s one of those things that, to your guests, feels like you have made that extra effort. But it’s the simplest thing for you to do and it’s the small details that matter.
“Sometimes over-garnishing drinks actually means you are taking away from the fact that you have done something amazing with the drink itself, so don’t try and distract too much. Just do the little things really well.
“Don’t feel like you have to put a whole bowl of fruit into a glass because actually what you do, if you over-garnish drinks, particularly carbonated drinks, you’re actually losing carbonation, you remove it from the drink.
“So if you want a good, fizzy G&T for example, what we recommend are simple things like use a zest not a wedge and actually it’s really easy.”
George Bagos, who used to be a bartender in Athens, Greece, before cofounding the mixer brand Three Cents, agrees that it is the little details that can make or break a drink.
His philosophy was inspired by the bartender Darcy O Neil, who wrote the book Fix the Pumps on the history and science of drink carbonation.
Bagos says: “If a customer ordered a Coca-Cola at a restaurant and it was warm they would probably send it back and say it was flat. But we don’t really think like this in the tonic world.
“In the UK especially, a lot of people use mixers warm. Cold things are better for carbonation.”
A spokesperson for Diageo says operators can take advantage of the aperitivo moment, which has seen the likes of Aperol Spritz and the humble gin and tonic push up pub sales in the warm months of recent summers.
They explain the popularity of this style of drink has come hand in hand with a trend of some pubgoers preferring to end their evenings early or to drink something light before a meal.
The spokesperson says: “Early evening serves are becoming more popular as consumers look to socialise at earlier times of the day.
“Outlets are seeing an increase in the number of bookings from consumers looking to celebrate the aperitivo moment – typically an alcoholic beverage served before a meal.
“Operators should look to create innovative serves to cater to this early evening occasion: light, refreshing and perfectly executed serves such as a Gordon’s Pink Gin spritz, or a sparkling Ketel One Botanical spritz are a great way to bring this to life.”
Simple but effective
Molson Coors’ Bentley agrees that sometimes the most effective thing can be a simple, seasonal twist on a classic that you already know punters love.
He explains: “One of my top seasonal drinks would be Aspall Premier Cru Cyder finished with a stick of cinnamon – an easy way to add a touch of something festive to a drink enjoyed all year round.
“On the flip side, bringing in a seasonal drink for a limited period will create conversation and a bit of intrigue – Sharp’s Sunset Red, a limited release cask ale, is perfect for colder weather, with caramel aromas and fruity hedgerow notes. It goes brilliantly with a roast too.”
What about health-conscious drinkers, who are increasingly shunning high-sugar mixes in favour of drinks made from organic ingredients with fewer calories?
The health kick
Molson Coors’ Bentley says there is definitely money to be made from these consumers, even despite the season’s focus on indulgence.
He explains: “We often think of the party season as a time of excess, but more and more people are opting for healthier alternatives, so this trend shouldn’t be ignored when planning seasonal drinks menus.
“There’s been so much experimentation in the category, with new styles and flavours appealing to this growing consumer lifestyle.”
He points to a new Blackberry & Nettle flavour from Aspall’s Pip & Wild fruit cider range, which is naturally lower in calories.
Bentley adds: “The way it is served also mixes things up, over ice with fresh raspberries in a tumbler – broadening appeal for those who want to enjoy a naturally lighter, premium fruit flavoured cider in a smaller serve.”
Jessica Waller, head of brand at mixer producer Martin Frobisher’s, says it is also key to pay special attention to those abstaining from alcohol and they will appreciate it more in the upcoming months.
Her recommendation is to up the low-and-no offering on big nights such as Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve where other pubgoers may tend to drink more than they would normally.
She says: “Designated drivers often get the raw deal when it comes to enjoying a night out, and this is more keenly felt over the festive season.
“As more people choose to party alcohol-free, New Year’s Eve is the time to put all of your planning efforts into a sophisticated, inspiring soft drinks menu.
“Non-alcoholic cocktails will be in huge demand this Christmas and new year as consumers look to a more grownup offering”.