Bars are working ‘harder than ever’ to deliver a unique drinking experience

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

"Bars/restaurants must work harder than ever before to provide customers with a unique drinking experience or lose out to [at home] drinking occasions.” Pic: ©GettyImages/ipopba
"Bars/restaurants must work harder than ever before to provide customers with a unique drinking experience or lose out to [at home] drinking occasions.” Pic: ©GettyImages/ipopba

Related tags Alcohol Beer Wine Cocktail Millennials

A Mintel report found that 55% of all American consumers prefer drinking at home to going out; and 61% of millennials say the reason they stay home is because it’s cheaper. In response, bars need to think about offering consumers a unique experience.

It takes more effort than it used to to entice the younger demographic to drink alcohol away from home. The millennial wants more from a night out than just drinks--they want a full experience to make it worth their while.

Drinking on the cheap

Today’s 22-35 year old generation has more debt and less disposable income than their parents’ generation did at their age. Student loan debt in the US was at $1.3 trillion in June 2017, and the average college graduate owes $37,000, according to the Pew Research Center.

Pew also reports that “about one-in-five employed adults ages 25 to 39 with at least a bachelor’s degree and outstanding student loans (21%) have more than one job.”

So when millennials do have the time to consume alcohol in between multiple jobs to pay off their outstanding debts, they are often choosing the cheapest and easiest option for recreational drinking.

Twenty-eight percent of younger millennials said it takes too much effort to go out, according to Mintel, and only 30% who do drink away from home cite a disposal income as a reason.

Many consumers prefer to try new drinks at bars before buying them from stores (27%) and are mostly drinking away from home in order to try new drinks (49%) and have access to more exciting drinks (27%).

But when asked about the type of drinks they like to see at bars, millennials overwhelming prefer different types of beer—the cheaper option, on average—over spirits, ciders and sparkling waters.

Going the extra mile

The report explains that “bars/restaurants must work harder than ever before to provide customers with a unique drinking experience or lose out to [at home] drinking occasions.”

Indeed, those 22 and older agree that more bars should offer activities like trivia and darts (22%), more bars should give out free swag (20%) and they are motivated to drink away from home by ‘special pricing’ (32%).

To get the social drinker off their couch and out into the world, bars need to expand their offerings and plan for the future.

Marketing strategies that connect with social media appeal well, particularly to young people. Rewards programs, ‘Instagramable’ photo locations and limited engagement pop culture-themed pop-up bars all help draw out the crowds.

In 2017, Chicago-area bars alone saw themed pop-ups from “Stranger Things”, “Saved by the Bell” and “The Simpsons”, all of which attracted thousands more consumers than the bar typically would. A bar in Denver took the technology factor up a notch this year when “Spring Break Bar” popped up and offered patrons the chance to wear a VR headset while underneath a heat lamp to get the full beach experience.

Pop-ups give people the opportunity to connect with other fans of the pop culture theme, enjoy specially curated food and drinks and post about the event on social media.

Consumers are attracted to the limited-time quality of pop-up bars, knowing that they are a unique experience they can’t get anywhere else. Opening a permanent “Stranger Things” themed bar in several major cities wouldn’t have the same effect or ultimately draw as much of a crowd.

Holding your attention

This shift towards experience-related occasions is shown by declining alcohol consumption in nightclubs, cocktail bars and sports bars; while attendance at breweries and entertainment venues is up.

Meanwhile, bars have an important role to play in introducing consumers to different drinks.

Mintel says that “consumers will generally order an unfamiliar drink if it is made with an alcohol type or flavor they already enjoy,” and that “younger consumers tend to be the most open to trying new drinks [away from home].”

On-premise experimenting gives foodservice retailers the opportunity “to innovate their drink menus and create better experiences to further encourage consumers to drink more away from home,”​ said Caleb Bryant, senior foodservice analyst at Mintel.

The drinking landscape has certainly changed for young people and is likely to continue similar adapting behaviors to accommodate future generations

“The preference for at-home drinking will likely be even greater among the up-and-coming iGeneration, who are generally regarded as more frugal and pragmatic than millennials,”​ said Bryant.

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