Creating a Successful Beverage Menu

For most restaurateurs, one of the first tasks they undertake is constructing the menu—food that is. Every detail, including ingredients, portion control, and cost is painstakingly determined. But, wait a minute, what about your bar and beverage menu? Bar markup is, after all, typically high and accounts for, on average, 30 percent of a restaurant’s revenue. For some restaurants, 75 percent of their income comes from alcohol sales.

Let’s take a look at some of the restaurants that have successfully created their beverage program and what made them stand out from the crowd.

Kemuri Tatsu-Ya in Austin, Texas

Okay, this sounded a little odd even to me, an herbalist from California with a tendency to get fooled by all food labeled “natural.” Since becoming a mid-westerner, I’ve learned about the tricks food companies play and have become, if not wiser, somewhat less gullible. So, when I heard about this restaurant’s Matcha Painkiller that included buckwheat shochu and matcha tea along with tequila, pineapple and coconut served in a ceramic lucky cat mug, I had to wonder if this would be the right drink to offer Texans. Then, I noted just where in Texas—Austin—and it all made sense.

They offer six specialty cocktails, all with very unique names and ingredients as well as a long list of sakes, and an incredibly long list of whiskeys that include mostly Japanese brands. Their drink program integrates well with their food program. This is the restaurant to go to when you’re looking for an experience and taste sensation that you’ve never had before.

Husk Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina

This restaurant emphasizes classic drinks with a unique twist and a good story. Many successful restaurants with winning beverage programs have taken this stance. An example of this type of drink is their Charleston Light Dragoon’s Punch, a cocktail based on a recipe from the late 1700s. It incorporates rum and black tea as well as a story—rum was America’s first popular spirit and Charleston has the only remaining active tea plantation.

The lessons learned from these two restaurants? When putting together your beverage program, remember your brand above all else. 

Terra Mare in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

We expect Fort Lauderdale restaurants to have a pretty good alcoholic beverage program going for them. After all, this is the nation’s second-most popular spring break destination. Terra Mare has taken their program a step-above average by coming up with fresh, local fruits and vegetables to add to what is now called a “culinary cocktail.” Once again, it accomplishes the newest trend of taking a classic cocktail and adding a unique twist. Their Curious Colada includes Baileys, Myer’s rum, banana liqueur, coconut syrup, and a banana.

DANIEL in New York City

While we all can’t have world-class wine directors at our helm, it’s important to remember the importance of a good wine selection and not get too carried away with the latest cocktail craze. This fine-dining restaurant has a cellar that boasts more than 25,000 bottles of wine that range from exceptionally old-world to the new and innovative. When putting together your wine selections, make sure you target your prospective customer. It’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised when opening a wine menu to find several one-glass options available.

Birch & Barley, Washington DC

One of their reviews really said it all, “When you want a good beer but don’t want to sacrifice good food, head to Birch & Barley in Logan Circle. It’s the best of both worlds.” Nice. Their beer rotates daily with over 30 new beers popping up every week.

Even though beer may not be the bestseller as in yesteryears, it is still an American staple. And, while beer sales were down 1 percent in 2017, craft beer sales continued to grow by a rate of 5 percent. It now represents $26 billion of the $111.4 billion beer market in the U.S. Besides the traditional beers, adding a selection of craft beers that range from a hoppy IPA to a dark lager are important considerations. If space is an issue, consider instructing your staff to ask customers what beers they’d like to see on the menu, or open the conversation via your social media platforms.

When putting together your beverage program, don’t forget one of your most important assets—your sales rep. These representatives are (or should be) in on the latest trends, attending industry tastings and training programs. They know what your competitors down the street are offering and what products would help you create a fully rounded beverage program.


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