Over the long-term, Restaurants, especially the casual dining sector, have seen significant growth. The number of restaurants in Britain has grown by +5.2% since 2014 to reach a total of more than 26,000 venues1. The UK spent more than £49 billion on food and drink purchased and consumed outside of the home in 2017, according to Kantar2. It seems Britain loves dining out, and who can blame us. It just choosing where to eat that we seem to struggle with; it’s been reported we each spend up to five hours a year debating this decision3.

Traditionally, the restaurant sector has been dominated by wine. The liquid has a famous affinity for food, and, as we often state, when you get a wine pairing just right both the wine and the food are elevated to higher levels. That said, restaurants are not isolated from the changing face of the national drinks industry. Over the past few years, we've seen premium spirits boom to such a level that they've arguably become the standard. Now we look at the level above, as super-premium spirit volume sales grow - up 11.9% in 20174. This, coupled with the cocktail boom, has created a significant opportunity for restaurants to expand their drinks sales.

We've noticed the importance that many restaurants have placed on their drinks offering, capturing after work drinkers and late night occasions with this new emphasis on spirits and cocktails. The trend for evening and late night drinks in slower environments, away from busy bars or noisy nightclubs is not new but one that most casual restaurants can enjoy. To take full advantage, however, staff will need to appreciate spirits and cocktails just as much as they do wine. How can anyone sell or recommend something they don't understand!

Importance of training

Our own research into the types of consumers that drink and dine out across the UK on-trade has found that staff recommendations are the key to activating premium products. Revellers, Enthusiasts and Appreciators, as we call them, are the three consumer types most likely to premiumise and are each influenced more by staff recommendations than the UK average. These three consumer types make up around 36% of the population but account for a massive 62% of total on-trade alcohol purchases5. At a time of uncertainty for restaurant chains, we believe that restaurants can benefit from attracting these consumers with premium and super-premium spirits and cocktails.

In general, we believe that having confident and knowledgeable staff will help when it comes to increasing your sales. Excellent service leads to a great experience, and a great experience will foster positive word of mouth and repeat visits. A car salesman will spend a lot of time understanding everything about the product he is selling – this is how he differentiates his offer from everyone else – the On-Trade should be no different, after all, you are selling! Having a little bit of product knowledge makes you and your outlet look more professional in the eyes of your customers – they will start to trust the venues offer.

What we did

We're always keen to put our theories to the test, so we worked with a popular national High Street restaurant group to roll out spirits and cocktail training to a selection of their venues. First, we rolled out spirits training for selected sites, covering the history, production and mixability of all major drinks categories. We then expanded on this with training on how to upsell and confidently use the gained knowledge to enhance the customer's experience.

This was followed up with cocktail training for all team members both behind the bar and working on the floor. The training covered preparation, drink production, the importance of ice and garnish, and how to balance flavours, as well as how to remember recipes easily. We added an extra layer for floor and waiting staff, delivering specific training covering how to upsell cocktails and how to describe them to customers with passion.

Our approach to spirit training

Every individual is different, as is every venue and every menu. As such, we have a 'blended' approach to training. Formal accredited qualifications have a place. As a partner to the Wine and Spirit Educational Trust (WSET), we actively encourage customers to go through the WSET to gain a universally recognised standard of spirits education. However, this isn't right for everyone, and this intensive 'face to face' training can be costly and time-consuming, especially when a business has a large number of employees. We therefore also offer Flow training, a programme of online modules that provide both consistency and flexibility. Finally, we offer bespoke training, as we used here, to create a tailored package that met the needs of the restaurant group.

The results

Spirits volumes up 13%

Unique tailored training

Increased staff confidence

After completing our training programme with the selected group of accounts, the group carefully tracked spirit sales over the next few months. We found that with the right range, cocktail menu and all importantly, staff training, spirit volumes can grow in this sector. We were delighted with the effect the exercise had, as were the group involved. In the 3 months after training, spirits volumes in the restaurant sites that were given cocktail and spirits training were up a massive 13%! We compared the sales to the sites which did not receive the training, and the results spoke volumes, in these sites, spirit sales saw a decline of 2% over the period!

  1. CGA Market Growth Monitor May 2019
  2. Kantar Eating Out 2018
  3. The Grocer
  4. CGA Going Premium
  5. Matthew Clark Portrait Data