By Amanda Baltazar
Free marketing, advertising and exposure are invaluable to all beverage distributors and suppliers, but are such things really free? They are—or at least low cost—if you work with on-premise accounts to leverage their platform. There are a number of ways to work with bars and restaurants and many advantages to doing so.
Revamp the Drinks Menu
Kenny’s Restaurant Group in Dallas would never have come up with its cocktail list were it not for Republic National Distributing Co. (RNDC). The distributor invited nine people from the restaurant group to its headquarters “and shook up stuff for four hours and talked about what worked and what didn’t,” says Kenny’s spokesperson Shaena Rowland.
During the session RNDC helped revamp Kenny’s entire cocktail menu, “and showed us drinks that we wouldn’t have thought of,” Rowland points out. “Just getting their perspective and their new ideas was great.”
Sales of RNDC’s products have increased since Kenny’s worked with the company, “due to the fact that a majority of our specialty cocktails are made from primarily their products,” Rowland explains.
Bulldog Gin also works closely with its customers. “A lot of restaurants and managers don’t have the time to invest in creating new menus all the time, so every season we come out with suggestions of cocktails that we put together,” explains Daniel Udell, global brand manager for the New York City-based company.
Bulldog has a library of cocktails that it offers to restaurants and bars that they can use or adapt. It also creates exclusive cocktails for a particular venue and does food pairings.
Learn About the Brands
Education is key to beverage sales.
“The more employees know about the beer, the more they’re selling,” says Patrick Morrison, on-premise account manager for Harris, Inc., a beer wholesaler in Durham, N.C.
He visits the accounts himself. “I prefer to speak directly to the employees,” he says, “because when you educate a bar manager and he passes it on, there’s a dilution of information.”
Mims Distributing of Raleigh, N.C., aims to talk to on-premise staff at new venues before they’ve even opened. At this point, says vice president of sales, Roger MacKay, their customers have not yet formed drinking habits with them.
MacKay advises keeping the employee education as simple as possible. “We try to use general terms and educate them on the beers, the alcohol content and sampling if they’re 21 and above.”
Beyond product training, Mims also gives some general information on alcohol awareness and how to recognize intoxication signs.
The beer wholesaler also educates bartenders and operators on how to properly pour draft beer, as well as how and why to have proper—and clean—glassware.
Build on Relationships
The human touch should never be underestimated because good relationships breed employees keen to get behind your products.
“Operators see we’re dedicated to helping them run their business,” says MacKay. “Our whole job is to make sure their customer base is taken care of.”
Mims Distributing runs regular promotions through its clients and serves usually three different styles of beer at each event. Sometimes Mims runs a blind taste-off, letting customers sample a variety of beers. The customers then rate which ones they like the best.
“You really want to engage the consumer,” points out Chip Mims, owner of Mims Distributing. “If they’re having fun they’re going to come back.”
Morrison advises: Make sure there’s a clear and concise concept behind an event; make sure the location has all the things it needs for it and that the venue is completely educated before the promotional night.
Hold Special Dinners
Working with restaurant operators to create special dinners with beverage pairings is an excellent way to have consumers sample drinks and teach them how to pair beer.
“So many restaurants are still hung up on food and wine and it’s our job to help the retailers teach the public that beer often goes better with some foods than wine does,” says Mims.
To hold these events, Mims Distributing picks a brand or a supplier that carries multiple styles and then lets the restaurant create the menus around them.