Beverages are by no means overlooked in the restaurant world, but at the same time may not always be utilized to their fullest potential. Simply put, a wider beverage selection has dramatic potential to increase average checks, word of mouth marketing and customer loyalty. 

Wine lists, craft beers and cocktail programs are among the first beverage program elements that come to mind, but don’t overlook nonalcoholic drinks, as they can play a vital role in appealing to a broader audience. More and more establishments are sourcing ‘craft sodas’ that venture outside the general Coca Cola and Pepsi labels. Ginger beer and kombucha are on the rise. Soft drinks with real sugar are in high demand…Boylan soda fountains are even popping up. 

These nuances make for pleasant surprises and great conversation among guests, and while they probably aren’t the reasons someone walked through your doors, they may be that extra bump that will sway them to come back. Not to mention that beverages come with significantly higher margins, longer shelf life and less-demanding storage needs.

So, if you are looking to expand your beverage selection, where do you start? Of course there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but where to place your focus depends on the type of restaurant. Follow these simple guidelines to determine the best place to harness your attention. 

When to expand your alcoholic drink selection

A broad alcoholic drink selection will certainly add a new dimension to your restaurant, inviting guests to linger over drinks and visit for reasons beyond food. It also comes with more complications in sourcing, and in cases of expanding from beer/wine to spirits, obtaining a full liquor license. If you’re prepared for these hurdles, however, then your restaurant is ripe for alcoholic drink expansion if… 

• You have a foodie menu. If you serve hip items like bone marrow and truffle mac ‘n’ cheese, you should have an equally enticing drink program. Craft cocktails really come into play here, where you can show off that you put just as much attention into your drinks as you do your food.

• You’re located in a high-energy part of town. If your neighbors are trendy bars and restaurants where people come to see and be seen, they likely will want to do so with a drink in their hand. Your establishment should reflect the mood of your neighborhood, exotic drinks in tow. The only exception comes when you’re the spot everyone goes to at 2 a.m. when the bars close.

• You want your guests to linger. If your ambiance calls for guests to stay, whether it’s a beautiful view or good people-watching, you want them to give you more business compared to a higher-turnover establishment. Patrons are much more likely to order another round of drinks than extra appetizers, though you could also bolster your dessert sales in cases of longer dining times.

When to expand your nonalcoholic drink selection

Coffee, soda, juice and the like will see higher purchase volume than alcoholic drinks, and often higher margins. While nonalcoholic drinks won’t necessarily bring new identity to your restaurant like a fleshed-out cocktail program, they will bolster your menu with a sense of novelty and variety that reflects positively on your brand. Here’s some reasons why nonalcoholic drink expansion may be good for you…

• You offer more than just dinner. Breakfast and lunch guests are much more prone to skipping out on the booze, especially during the week. Giving them incentive to add a sweet or healthy beverage to their meal can boost average checks across the bulk of your operating hours.

• Your target customer includes children and/or the elderly. Both of these demographics are prone to ordering nonalcoholic drinks [children for obvious reasons], and a slew of great soft drinks may spark their desire to return.

• You’re at a lower price point. It’s hard to justify a $12 cocktail when your burger costs $11. On the other hand, a $5 milkshake may just do the trick for a guest looking to add flair to their order. Fewer casual restaurants are expected to have alcoholic drink programs relative to their pricier peers, and granted it doesn’t hurt to have some beer and wine available in these settings, but you will go far by offering new and different soft drinks in these cases. 

Whether alcoholic or nonalcoholic, your drink selection is a critical asset for your restaurant’s menu and brand perception. Be sure to leverage it for its ease and profitability.