By now, all operators in the on trade should be well stocked and well organised for the craziness that December brings. Through careful forward planning and a drinks menu that gives customers what they want, operators should be ready to embrace the season of merriment and enjoy its effect on the bottom line.
Last year, 38 million consumers visited the on trade in the four weeks of Christmas, according to research carried out by CGA Strategy.
“From menus to events, staffing to decorations, licensees have to ensure that they are prepared to exact any sales uplift available,” advises Philip Montgomery, Senior Accounts Manager, CGA Strategy. “After all, over Christmas 2014, venues sold an average of 569 more drinks than in an average month, which demonstrates the scale of the opportunity.
“Integral to any of this is both preparation and ensuring that the drinks offer and range is appropriate to tap into consumer purchasing habits at this time. Aside from relying on traditional seasonal offerings such as Mulled Wine and Glühwein, licensees are advised to capitalise on an array of trends in drinks that are gaining most traction with consumers.”
With so much to think about at this time of year, Phil advises not to lose sight of the following:
Seasonal brand stocking goes hand in hand with Christmas; categories such as Cream Liqueurs and Speciality drinks see pronounced sales uplifts at this time.
Gin and Golden/Spiced Rum have become increasingly popular outside the festive period; stock them now if you don’t already.
With cocktails now stocked in a ¼ of the on trade, making this an element of an offer can bring licensees notable potential returns.
Tap into seasonal sales uplifts by understanding consumer expectations of visits to the on trade. Treat spend is a habit that consumers are actively engaging with over the Christmas period with 2.2 million consumers trying a new drink when out eating or drinking.
Engage with the Premiumisation trend (the growth in importance of premium brands) that is happening across the alcohol market. Premium brands have a higher share of sales at Christmas than the rest of the year. The benefit for the consumer is choice, while the licensee has scope to drive sales in higher margin products, boosting overall sales return.
Ensure drinks choice accommodates the different events in the festive period; this is key to maximising sales.
As the food/drink sales mix equates to 50/50, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure that drinks choice fits with both the high and low-tempo occasions of the different events over Christmas.
New Year is still a vital event, with 11.3 million people visiting the trade, but it is not simply a high-tempo event, with many choosing the convenience of local pubs and bars for a lower tempo night.
The real opportunity at this time of year appears to exist around Christmas Day itself, with 3.8 million consumers visiting the trade on 25 December. While food has a natural association here, licensees can capitalise by ensuring that wines and Champagnes are integral to menu provisions, while tapping into the pre/post-dinner occasions with Spirits and Beer may bring even bigger returns.
Phil concludes: “By engaging with macro drinks trends in and outside of the festive period, while having a stocking policy that can accommodate the varying occasions at this time of year, licensees can ensure that their outlet enjoys the very merriest of Christmases.”
Keep it cool
“The festive season is the busiest time of year for the hospitality and catering industry,” acknowledges Serge Kremer, CEO of refrigeration company Husky. “For most, the majority of profits at this time are made from an increase in drinks sales. Operators need to plan ahead for this so that they can consistently deliver drinks that are cooled to perfection.”
Serge offers the following advice on how best to ensure you always have chilled drinks on offer:
- Ensure your fridges are stocked to maximum capacity so you can cater for the increase in customers
- Re-stock fridges regularly so you can always offer beverages at the optimum drinking temperature
- If possible, it is a good idea to invest in back-of-house fridges to keep up with the increased demand for drinks
- Customers are more likely to arrive in large groups at this time of year, so stocking and chilling more bottles of wine and champagne is a good idea.
Sherry is back
After a few years in the drinks wilderness, sherry is back on the drinks menu. Chris Richardson, Customer Marketing Controller at Maxxium UK comments: “Sherry is another category that is synonymous with Christmas. Harveys, the UK’s No. 1 sherry, is gaining momentum with a young adult audience as they begin to experience this complex fortified wine in cocktails being served in their favourite bars.
“Signature by Harveys, the latest product in the portfolio of award-winning wines, is the ultimate expression of a rare cream sherry. Signature by Harveys is perfect for special occasions and can be savoured chilled over ice as an appetiser, shared among friends with tapas or as an accompaniment to cheese or desserts at the end of a meal.”
Harveys Mulled Apple & Winter Spice
- 200ml Harveys Bristol Cream
- 500ml premium pressed apple juice
- 6 cloves
- 50g vanilla sugar
Slowly warm all the ingredients in a pan for 10-15 minutes to release the flavours. Strain the liquid into a warmed 2 pint/ 1 litre punch bowl. Garnish with apple slices and serve in glass mugs decorated with star anise.
Harveys Frosted Apple & Ginger
- 50ml Signature by Harveys
- 50ml premium pressed apple juice
- Top up with a dash of ginger ale
Fill a highball glass with crushed ice, pour in ingredients, swirl with a cinnamon stick and leave in the glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint and apple slices.
Cognac for Christmas
“The Christmas period represents a great sales opportunity for spirits and in particular cognac,” says Chris Anderson, Maxxium UK’s Marketing Controller for Luxury Brands. “Cognac is among the top-performing spirits categories during this time of the year with sales outperforming other leading spirits. Two-thirds (65%) of cognac shoppers buy only at Christmas.”
Courvoisier Champagne Cocktail
- 25ml Courvoisier VSOP
- 1 Demerara sugar cube
- 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
- Top with Champagne
Soak a sugar cube in bitters and drop into a Champagne flute. Cover with Courvoisier VSOP and slowly top with Champagne.
Midnight in Paris
- 2 parts Courvoisier VSOP
- Top up with ginger ale
- Lime wedge
Build all ingredients in a highball glass over cubed ice.
Matthieu Longuere, Master Sommelier and Lecturer of the Diploma in Wine, Gastronomy and Management at Le Cordon Bleu London advises on how to get the most out of your wine offer during the festive period.
At this festive time it is so important that everyone feels included when they come into your establishment. Why not introduce a sparkling mulled wine that can be served as an aperitif? Prepare a base, pour 4cl into a champagne glass and top up with sparkling red wine, preferably sparkling Shiraz, then decorate with a maraschino cherry.
To create 20 glasses
- 35cl brandy or Cognac
- 45cl Ruby Port
- 5cl French cassis syrup
- 1 cinnamon stick
- The peel of 1 large orange
- 5 cloves
- 1 vanilla pod
- 1 dry star anise flower.
Mix the base ingredients together, macerate for a day, sieve and keep refrigerated in a glass bottle or jug.
There is a trick to mulled wine, and the secret is to go for a wine with a high alcohol content, around 15%, so there will be fewer tannins present – but don’t worry, the alcohol will evaporate when heated, along with the alcohol from the port and brandy. To this, simply add mulled spices, then finish with raisins and blanched almonds.
For children, indulge them with an orange peel and mulled spice hot chocolate – and if you can serve in matching Christmas mugs, it will add a little extra magic to their visit.
Upgrade your menu
During the Christmas and New Year period it is advisable to add some vintage Champagne and an extended range of prestigious brands available by the glass, giving people the option to upgrade their drink. Another way to upgrade your menu is to include magnums on your drinks menu. These work brilliantly for corporate parties as they are large enough for 8-10 covers and can be served with panach.
Mature red wines are always popular during the festive period, so try to take the extra measure with these delicate wines when serving. If there are unfiltered wines on your menu do be aware of sediment. To avoid disappointment when pouring, try to leave the bottle standing upright for at least a day (two is better) prior to serving so that the sediment collects at the bottom of the bottle, making it easier for decanting. If you have a selection of very old wines, open and decant them gently just before serving. These wines are so fragile, that allowing them too much breathing time will just oxidise them. Once a wine is oxidised, there really is no way back.
There are many special and traditional dishes on a Christmas menu, one of these being a Christmas pudding; a great match for this is an oxidised fortified wine such as Banyuls, tawny port or Rutherglen Liquor Muscat.
Finally, at all times ensure that you include a variety of wines at price points relevant to your local demographics.
Le Cordon Bleu London has recently started offering a six-month Diploma in Wine, Gastronomy and Management. The Wine Diploma was developed by Matthieu Longuere, one of only 220 Master Sommeliers in the world.
“Premium spirits will become more and more important over the festive season,” says Ian Baines, On Trade Category Manager, William Grant & Sons UK.
“According to the William Grant & Sons UK 2015 Market Report, premium spirits are growing at +16.7% in value sales, well ahead of mainstream, which is flat at 0.0%, so we expect premium to play more of a role over the festive season as consumers splash out and experiment on drinks they perhaps wouldn’t normally order. Malt whisky, Spiced Rum and Premium Gin have been the key winners this year, so operators should ensure their back bars are well-stocked with premium offerings such as Sailor Jerry, Hendrick’s, The Balvenie, Reyka and Glenfiddich.”
Hendrick’s ‘Yuletide Eye-Opener’
Courtesy of William Grant & Sons UK
- 25ml Hendricks Gin
- Juice of 1 clementine
- 1tsp lemon juice
- 1tsp mulled sugar (mix 1 sachet of mulled wine spices with 500g sugar)
- 1tsp Cointreau
Shake all ingredients, pour into champagne flute and top with sparkling wine.
Courtesy of William Grant & Sons UK
- 30ml Tia Maria
- 30ml espresso coffee
- 30ml Reyka vodka
- 15ml liquid sugar Coffee beans for garnish.
Warninks Advocaat’s ‘Snowball’
Courtesy of William Grant & Sons UK
- 50ml Warninks Advocaat
- 25ml fresh lime juice
Shake together and then top up with lemonade. Pour over ice in a highball glass, garnish with a glacé cherry.
Sailor Jerry’s Jerry Loves Ginger’
Courtesy of William Grant & Sons UK
- 50ml Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
- Squeeze in two lime wedges
- Top up with ginger beer
Build and serve in a highball glass with a wedge of lime to top it off.
Maxxium UK On-Trade Sales Director, Jim Grierson, urges licensees to ensure they make the most of consumers’ love for cocktails right now: “Christmas is a time for celebration and cocktails are a great way to help consumers do just that. Using premium brands ensures great-tasting cocktails that will help boost sales during this important time of year.”
Herewith a selection of wintry cocktails that should bring a smile to your customers’ faces
Courtesy of Jägermeister
- 50ml Jägermeister Spice
- 25ml fresh lemon juice (or lime)
- 25ml English Breakfast Tea
- 12.5ml gomme (sugar syrup)
- 50ml orange juice
Brew the tea first and remove tea bags. Add the other ingredients and give the mixture a good stir. Garnish with orange and lemon zest and a cinnamon stick. Serve warm.
Spiced Apple Spritzer
Courtesy of Taylors of Harrogate Makes enough syrup for 22 portions
- 10 Spiced Apple tea bags
- 1 litre freshly boiled water
- 125g caster sugar
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anise
- 1/4 tsp chilli flakes
- 200ml apple juice
- To serve: sparkling wine, or water and crushed ice
Pour the boiling water over the tea bags, add the sugar and spices and infuse for 2 hours. Pour 60ml of the syrup into a glass with 120ml of sparkling wine - or for a non-alchoholic version, add 60ml of mineral water and 60g of ice.
Courtesy of Patron Tequila
- 25ml Patron Silver
- 25ml Patron XO Café
- 25ml espresso shot
- Fine sugar
- Powdered chocolate for garnish
Rim the serving glass with sugar. Combine liquors with espresso in a mixing glass; add ice, shake and strain. Garnish with powdered chocolate.
Courtesy of Maxxium UK
- 50ml Courvoisier VSOP
- 25ml fresh lemon juice
- 15ml clove syrup
- 10ml orange juice
- 1 dash aromatic bitters
Shake all ingredients and double strain into a chilled sour glass, garnish with a dried orange wheel.
Courtesy of Jägermeister
Combine 50ml Jagermeister Spice With 100ml mulled wine mix
Garnish with lime, lemon, orange zest and a cinnamon stick. Serve warm.