What are thirsty restaurant guests ordering to go with their meals? Most are still opting for soda, according to new data from Beverage Marketing Corp., although Americans drank nearly seven gallons less per capita last year than they did in 2005, according to a story in Advertising Age. Bottled water came in a distant but growing second, followed by beer in third place. Beer also ranks as the most popular alcoholic beverage, although wine and spirits have been gaining.

Speaking of spirits, industry analysts offered some optimistic news this week. Alcoholic beverages weathered the downturn relatively well, as one of the recession-resistant if not recession-proof segments of the economy, and sales of liquor, wine and beer continued to rise in the 12-month period that ended May 31 at both liquor stores and bars, although some economists and industry analysts have different takes on just how much sales rose.

Pricier wines took a hit during the recession, but consumers spent more last year; sales of bottles priced at between $7 and $14 rose 5%. Even more encouraging for vintners: U.S. consumers drank more wine than the French for the first time ever, in 2010. Sales of domestic wines grew 7%, according to a Los Angeles Times article, and restaurateurs are reporting that more guests have returned to ordering full bottles rather than stopping at a glass or two.

When it comes to cocktails, bartenders once again displayed the newest trends at Food & Wine’s Aspen Classic this month, and PDT bartender Jim Meehan and Food & Wine’s Kate Krader shared their favorites with the blog yumsugar. Hot trends range from an increase in chefs like Alinea’s Grant Achatz taking their talents behind the bar to herb-flavored cocktails to drink recipes that match the sweetener with the liquor. Oh, and they also share a short list of trends best avoided, starting with bacon-flavored libations.

On the softer side, coffee sales held steady, and Americans drank a bit more tea in 2010 than they did five years earlier. And despite higher bean prices, sales of iced and frozen java drinks have steadily risen in the past half-decade, from simple espresso over ice to thick, flavored sweet drinks that have more in common with dessert than a morning cuppa joe. Premium beans, a rich variety of recipes and a concerted effort by chains from Starbucks to McDonald’s to use cold coffee cravings to boost beverage sales paid off, even during the downturn. Restaurants served about 500 million frozen coffee drinks last year, up from 400 million in 2006, The Associated Press reported. More women than men order the frosty treats, and more than half are sold at breakfast, but 20% of the time consumers opt for frozen joe as a snack.

Has your restaurant introduced new drinks designed to boost beverage sales? Are your guests once again ordering bottles of wine? Tell us about it in the comments.

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