I don’t like listening to the Billboard Top 40. I never have. I don’t like songs that have no relation to each other. I don’t like listening to music that hasn’t proven it can stand the test of time. Don’t get me wrong, I love new music — just not what is deemed the most popular with no other context.
I prefer a curated playlist where each song supports and builds on the previous song. A proper playlist mixes well. That’s my mindset and ethos on each of my restaurants’ music; it’s also the same mindset I apply to our beer and alcohol program. Sure, it would be super easy to tell the liquor distributor, “Give me whatever is selling the best” and hope that means profit, but then you’d be a cookie-cutter soulless entity. Since you’re reading this article, proving you seek growth and advancement, it’s safe to say that ain’t you.
If you want to traverse the cookie-cutter path, you’re selling the same experience as your corporate competition. This is the Top 40 approach; it works for mass-produced chains, but it won’t work for you. (Side note: Big chains aren’t exactly thriving.) Instead, create your style and curate your list. When it comes to beers, do you want to sell only local to your state, or are you looking for different styles from across the world? Maybe a particular focus on the variety of bottles, or having tons of beers on draught. Even if you’re going to slum it, slum it with style and carry basic lagers in cans that dive bars across America in 1970 would have sold. That approach is at least different; that approach is an experience.
The best practice is to have a variety to appeal to multiple palates and not just have 10 of the harshest IPAs you can find. If you only buy the beers that can afford a TV commercial in the Super Bowl, you’re underselling your worth and value to the customer. As someone who lives local to your community, who knows what’s what, it’s on you to provide a unique experience representing you and the town you live in, done your way.
The alcohol choices you try yourself, the ones whose taste and story you believe in, will be that much easier to sell. These drinks will provide a unique selling point and customer experience. For the customers who love basic offerings that they’re loyal to, find alternatives that parallel the big boys rather than caving in and carrying mass-market basic stuff.
Your cocktail list can be the run of the mill rum and soda, vodka tonic, etc. Or curate things that are specific to you and your brand. At Andolini’s, we make a Bloody Mary out of San Marzano tomatoes. These are the same tomatoes we use for our pizza, and the Bloody Mary is fantastic, incredibly unique and represents us well. We also sell a strawberry-basil lemonade with the same fresh basil that we top our Margherita with. Making moves like this gives us the ability to cross-utilize and create something unique. That means when someone has a craving for our item, we’re the only option in town, rather than “Any Restaurant USA.”
Wines are a little trickier because it can get real expensive real quick when you choose “the best.” I suggest instead developing a varied list of craft wines that hit great margins. If you try them yourself and like them, you’re already ahead. It just takes effort to try them, which can be great, if professionally done off the clock. If alcohol isn’t for you, that’s cool too. This approach works for everything. Choose products you believe in so you can sell them with passion.
I say it’s a playlist because, like the music you play in your restaurant, you didn’t make it; you didn’t brew it; you just need to be smart enough to choose wisely. It’s not like your dough that takes years to master with endless trial and error. You just select the winners on this list. So don’t choose in a half-assed way. When done with passion and effort, the curated playlist approach, instead of “What’s popular, I guess I’ll sell that” will always yield more revenue and more return visits.
MIKE BAUSCH is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Instagram: @mikeybausch