It’s no secret that consumers have grown more cautious when deciding how often to dine out and how much to spend. Recent research shows they also are watching their wine and cocktail spending, although perhaps not quite as closely. Sales of alcoholic beverages declined 1% in the three months ending Nov. 30, according to the Beverage Alcohol Report from NPD Group. Meanwhile, traffic at fine-dining and casual restaurants decreased 2%.

Highlights from the report

  • 36% of consumers ordered alcoholic drinks away from home.
  • 21- to 34-year-olds cut their cocktail orders the most.
  • Alcoholic-beverage sales increased among patrons 35 and older.
  • Survey respondents cited several motivations for visiting bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, including atmosphere, food, convenient location, price and value.

What about wine?

Nationally, wine sales have been on the rise since taking a dive during the recession, when wine drinkers cut back on pricey vintages and discovered the joys of lower-priced wine. In California, the recession-era trend had winemakers selling off existing stock and growers cutting back on production. Wine Spectator reported that vintners in the state might face a grape shortage, prompting them to cut costs as they try to avoid passing higher costs along to customers who have grown accustomed to paying less.

RestaurantOwner.com offers a primer on boosting wine sales at restaurants, with tips including having servers slip the word “wine” into their first conversation with customers and upselling to a bottle when guests order two glasses of the same wine.

Beer sales are hopping

Restaurants sold nearly a quarter of all beer sold in the U.S. last year, with their $23.6 billion representing a 9% increase compared with 2010, according to The Beer Institute.

Craft-beer sales jumped 15% in the first half of 2011, according to the Craft Brewers Association. Total domestic beer sales rose about 2% last year. Slowing sales of brand-name beer has some big brewers branching out, CNBC reported. Molson Coors Brewing plans to roll out iced-tea-flavored Coors Light in Canada next month, as part of a push to bring back former beer drinkers who have moved on to wine and spirits.

“The reality is although the beer market’s been challenged in some of our markets, the overall alcohol market is actually growing,” said CEO Peter Swinburn. “Consumers are actually finding occasions where beer doesn’t satisfy them.”

What are you doing to boost bar bills? Tell us in the comments.

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