With alcoholic drink sales in the UK estimated at around £37 billion ($58.6 billion) each year, bars, clubs, and drinks companies need to fight hard, think ahead, and sometimes get down and dirty with the competition to win their piece of this lucrative pie. BBC Newsbeat reporter, Jim Reed, asked industry insiders about the top five tricks bars use to keep their customers drinking alcohol for longer and buying the drinks they want to sell. Here is what they said.
(1) The ‘three second’ rule
“Most punters just focus on the products right in front of them”, said one former bar manager. Three seconds is the amount of time the customer has to make a decision after staff ask for his order. The key to his choice is visibility; the drinks which are easiest to see behind the bar are more likely to be chosen. As a result, drinks companies strike deals with bars to ensure their drinks get ‘profitable placement’ behind the bar. This isn’t all that different from the famous “sugary cereal placement” issue common in American Supermarkets and includes alcopops being placed on the top shelf of the fridges, draft beers with oversized, illuminated pumps, and a row of spirit optics hanging right behind the bar. The latest eye-catching marketing gimmick – the “extra cold” beer pump covered in condensation – will be in your bar soon.
(2) Turn up the volume and heating and pack people in
People drink more alcohol when the music is louder and the room is hotter. Results from a recent field study of the effect of music volume and beer consumption showed that louder music led to an increase in beer consumption and a decrease in time customers took to drink their glass. Clubs want people on the dance floor, but not all night. Some DJs told the reporter that they are often asked to drop in a couple of dodgy tunes to push people towards the bar, known as ‘persuaded drink breaks’. Some bar staff also said that they are told to turn up the heating, even in summer, to get people to drink faster and head back up for more. Door staff are also encouraged to fill the club to capacity and sometimes, over capacity. A packed club means long queues at the bar, and so people tend to buy more than they actually want in one visit to avoid having to wait later on. Having bought two to three rounds worth of drinks, the customer then feels obligated to drink them, even if he has to force them down.
(3) Cocktails – Making alcohol sexier
Alcoholic cocktails are that “something a bit different” on the menu. First, cocktail names are memorable, often sexually suggestive, evocative, and often humorous. Usually involving an elaborate creative process in full view of the customer, cocktail making is as much a treat for the eyes as it is for the tongue. Infusing the flavours of gins, vodkas, whiskeys, tequilas or rums with fruit juices, liqueurs, and soft drinks and garnishing the glass with pieces of fresh fruit, mint leaves, cream, sugar, coconut milk and other fancy touches to produce a unique blended taste and exotic colouring all explain why cocktails are a staple of the alcoholic drinks menu in bars and clubs. The often lengthy time taken to make cocktails also gives bars the excuse to sell cocktail pitchers as well as single glasses, meaning more is sold to the same number of customers. And for this grandiose procedure, customers are willing to pay a premium price.
The customer pays, in part, for the image, the back-story, the ‘show’ which preceded the cocktail; they are not buying the ingredients, they are buying the cocktail experience, or at least this is the marketing intention to justify hiking up prices for a combination of ingredients which on their own would cost significantly less than the price of a cocktail. Some bar managers reported being more than happy to repackage a £3 rum-and-coke as a £8 Cuba Libre. While vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry juice and orange juice may be tasty drink, a “Sex on the Beach” with a straw umbrella and sugar-rimmed glass is a ‘product’ which commands an exponentially higher price. Cosmopolitans and French martinis say “class”; mojito’s say “cool”; mai tai’s say “relax”. One trainer of cocktail makers said “Are the drinks made using fresh fruit? Does the bar tender look technically confident? All those are signs that you are getting value for money”. In much the same way that clothes, cars, and colognes are sold as “more than just these things”, the cocktail is the bars’ opportunity to repackage ordinary ingerdients as an extraordinary product for which an extraordinary price is justified.
(4) Skilled, attractive staff
The best bar staff are those who can get you to buy more than you wanted. You ask for a vodka and coke, the barman might offer to make it a double. You ask for a glass of wine, the barman might suggest you buy a bottle because it works out cheaper than buying individual glasses all night, pre-empting your decision to actually drink more than one glass. The downside of upselling is that customers drink more than they had intended to when they arrived at the bar. It is also well-known that the most popular bars and the bars with the highest turnovers generally employ the most attractive bar staff. Attractive, flirtatious male and female bar staff can ensure customers choose their bar for their next night out and ensure that customers visit the bar more regularly throughout the night.
(5) In-venue alcohol marketing
According to a former marketing executive, eight out of ten drinkers walk through the door of a pub without knowing what they want, so “if you can put a brand name in their head they are very likely to remember it when they get to the bar”. Strategically placed posters, beer mats, printed glasses and illuminated signage all serve to keep the name of a drink at the front of the mind and the tip of the tongue. Bars and clubs receive incentives, discounts, and promotional products from drinks companies for the right to preferential placement of their marketing materials throughout a venue. The idea again is that an effective advertising can make the choice for the undecided customer, that he can be persuaded to buy a drink he either didn’t want or doesn’t even like.
These are just some of the tricks which bars and clubs use to persuade the customer to spend more money and time in their premises. However, it must be remembered that no one and nothing can literally make you drink. People drink when it makes sense for them to drink, and the tricks described here are intended to make the customer see drinking as something which makes sense at that moment. Effective marketing is that which presents ‘good’ reasons to drink, but these should be tempered with your own reasons for why you should or should not keep drinking.
By being aware of some of the tricks bar owners and bar staff are using to make more drinking seem like a good idea, you can keep in mind a quantity and speed of drinking which you consider sensible and so make sensible decisions about when you should call it a day.
Gueguen, N., Jacob, C., Le Guellec, H., Morineau, T., Lourel, M. (2008). Sound level of environmental music and drinking behavior: a field experiment with beer drinkers. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 32(10), 1795-1798.
Reed, J. (2011). Five tricks to make you buy more booze. Accessed 28/01/11 at http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/12299877