Grownup beverages are big business: $100.6 billion in 2014. But they're not all created equal. At a recent lecture at the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Show in Orlando, Jackie Rodriguez, a senior manager at food service consultant Technomic, gave an audience of chefs and restaurant industry folks the lowdown on the state of the drinks business.
First, some basic stats: One out of three people orders an alcoholic drink when dining out. (Clearly all my friends are lushes.) Beer dominates, at 85 percent of those bevs, but it's struggling to keep its wide margin, having slipped a point this year. Wine makes up 8.9 percent of the drinks pie chart, with good growth, and spirits trail at 6.2 percent. People do 40 percent of their drinking in bars, 38 percent at casual dining spots, a tiny 9 percent at hotels and 5 percent in fine-dining restaurants.
According to Rodriguez, here is what's hot right now:
• Craft beer, super-premium domestics and imports "have not reached saturation" (which means the big beer losers are the national name brands), but cider has come on strong in the past 12 months.
• With spirits there has been a lot of innovation in whiskeys, tequilas, cognacs and liqueurs; consumers are moving away from sweet taste profiles to more complex, assertive and nuanced flavors (think spicy, herbal or bitter drinks). Add words "artisan," "housemade" or "craft" to anything and sales increase 35 percent; and smaller boutique brands have captured consumers' attention.
• In wine sales, attention has turned to domestic tables wines, emerging varietals and — surprise winner — Italian sparklers.
And then she gets into prognostication. What will be liquid gold looking forward?
• Millennials, at the leading edge of trends, enjoy frequenting establishments known for a particular type of alcohol. ("Meet me at the new bourbon bar.")
• Wine on tap is surging. (Also, customers love the novelty of self-serve taps, whether for beer, wine or even cocktails.) Seventy percent of people polled said that wine from a tap tastes as good or better than wine in bottles.
• The most interesting area in cocktail growth is those made without hard liquor — expect a flurry of wine-, beer- and cider-based cocktails. (Again, it's millennials leading the charge on that one.)
• Fine-dining restaurants are expected to see a return to classic cocktails like the martini and Tom Collins.
• That said, Rodriguez says drinkers will be influenced by a few key factors in 2016: boutique brands; better-for-you or hand-crafted options (think cold-pressed juices in cocktails); more choice in serving sizes (wines in small, medium and it's-been-a-tough-work-week); and glamorous or unusual garnishes.
At the end of the day, for some customers value is still king. For one in four customers, price is the biggest drive. Stay tuned for more happy hours.
Contact Laura Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.