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<p>Not just for Mexican eateries: If you don&#39;t already have a margarita on your drinks list, you should.</p>

Drink menus often ignore consumer preferences

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Not so long ago, smoky cocktails represented the epitome of cool for many bars and restaurants. But what many patrons of those establishments crave is a nice margarita or dirty martini.

That’s the problem with trends. Just because mixologists discover what they consider a cutting-edge way to serve alcohol does not mean that consumers will swallow it. Datassential, which tracks these things (by comparing data about what’s on more than 30,000 restaurant menus vs. what 1,000-plus consumers report they order or prefer), has found more than a few disconnects in the drinks department. Here are some of the latest trends in adult beverages.

Cocktails: Sweet, healthy, safe choices

“We’ve seen really high growth in smoky, bitter and spicy flavors on menus,” says Jennifer Aranas, a project director for Datassential. “But they did not score well with consumers.” Instead, they favor tiki cocktails, dessert-themed drinks and skinny/healthy cocktails.

“Consumers like an indulgent treat now and then, but they’re also looking for options that take away a bit of the bad,” Aranas says.

Some restaurants are plugged into that demand with dessert shots—mini, alcohol-infused versions of traditional desserts that pair flavored liqueurs with sweet items like graham crackers, marshmallows or milkshakes.

Margaritas score highest among consumers, and they happen to be one of the more menued drinks. Martinis, on the other hand, are also popular on menus, but they did not score a lot of “love” votes from consumers. Nor did other cocktails that blend two types of alcohol, such as the blood & sand or vesper—two drinks that are trending up on menus.

Two high-scoring choices that are absent from many menus: sangria and mimosas. “Sweet, blended drinks are what folks like,” Aranas says.

Beer: Light rules, but demand for more variety

Beer remains the most popular alcohol choice, with more than half of those the study opting for a brew the last time they ordered a drink away from home. Light beers and ales scored the highest, but menus are pushing session and sour beers as well as fruit-flavored versions. The top-trending flavor: banana bread.

Not surprisingly, “Americans love light beer and it’s already on everybody’s menu,” Aranas says. But they also want to see more sour and session beers, which are not yet common on menus.

Consumers polled by Datassential also said they would welcome versions flavored with chocolate and pumpkin. There’s also a growing interest in shandies, beer-based bloody Marys and radlers (beer mixed with a soft drink), Aranas says.

Wine: Guests are afraid to make a mistake

The biggest finding in this category is that consumers are less likely to order wine, a pattern that other industry observers have confirmed. “I think their lack of knowledge prevents them from taking a risk and ordering a full bottle,” Aranas says. The solution for operators, of course, is to offer more choices by the glass.

And which wines would those be? “Consumers are very clear in terms of what they like,” she says. “They love fruity, and they love sweet.” Varietals such as moscato, chardonnay, pinot gris and reisling play into that preference. And consumers said they love zinfandel, cabernet and other traditional reds, with some opening up to malbec, syrah and other options. Encouraging orders of these less-familiar reds is a matter of promoting and educating consumers.

Contact Megan Rowe: [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @restaurantrowe

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