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The Top 6 Bar Trends of 2021
In 2020, a global pandemic forced establishments in the hospitality industry to completely rethink, recreate, and reinvent strategies to maintain a revenue stream. And while many bars have begun to return to “business as usual,” the lockdowns from COVID-19 started new bar trends that will keep developing throughout 2021 and beyond. Above all, the top bar trends for the year reflect the inventive ways which bar owners have adapted and persevered to keep their businesses alive and their patrons happy.
Here Are The Top 6 Bar Trends of 2021:
- Bar Trend #1: E-commerce Sales and Alcohol Delivery
- Bar Trend #2: Serving Beyond Beer
- Bar Trend #3: Creative Places to Drink
- Bar Trend #4: A New World Order
- Bar Trend #5: Social Media
- Bar Trend #6: Diversity, Inclusion, Equity
Bar Trend #1: E-commerce Sales and Alcohol Delivery
While on-premise sales suffered during COVID-19, the e-commerce industry excelled. With normal selling channels disrupted, alcohol delivery, direct-to-consumer (DTC) shipping, e-commerce platforms, and third-party delivery apps skyrocketed in popularity.
“In the first eight weeks of COVID-19, we saw decades worth of e-commerce adaptation in the industry,” says Trace Smith, CEO of Next Glass.
The sudden leap forward resulted as many states relaxed the convoluted laws maintained around shipping alcohol. And bars, taprooms, and other hospitality establishments took advantage.
According to data from IWSR, in the U.S. specifically, alcohol e-commerce has grown at such a rapid rate (a value growth of over eighty percent from 2019 to 2020) that the country will overtake China as the largest alcohol e-commerce market worldwide by the end of 2021. Driven mostly by a surge in new e-commerce users, the U.S. alcohol e-commerce market has seen a huge adoption rate, with forty-four percent of consumers in the U.S. reporting that 2020 was the first time they ever purchased alcohol online. And this trend shows no signs of slowing down.
“Boy, did 2020 give us a crash course in selling stuff in new ways,” says Bart Watson, the Chief Economist for the Brewers Association. “And now that people have made investments, they have a greater incentive to stick in the space and sell beer this way.”
Not everyone thinks the trend will stay. For bar owners like Brian Chan, who founded Tiger’s Taproom in Oakland, CA, online sales were very helpful during the pandemic. But now that his establishment is fully open, the webshop orders have dropped to only a few per week. Recently, he pulled his online store.
“It’s a lot of work to maintain, so it wasn’t worth it to me,” says Chan.
Similarly at The Good Hop, a corner bar and retail to-go craft beer spot also located in Oakland, owner Melissa Myers says that her online activity has changed significantly since they fully reopened to the public.
“We noticed online sales dropped considerably because people are excited to come in to the point where it’s almost harder to keep up with it,” says Myers.
Instead of relying on the online shop for daily orders, Myers says they’re potentially planning to just utilize it for very seasonal, exclusive, or limited-edition releases.
Whether redefining the main use of your webstore or continuing to operate it on a full scale, the data points to e-commerce and alcohol delivery as a major area of investment across the board for both retailers and beverage companies.
“Even if only a small number of users stick to e-commerce after the pandemic, that will still make a meaningful impact,” says Smith.
Bar Trend #2: Serving Beyond Beer
In order to keep loyal consumers engaged and attract new ones, a diversified tap list is crucial. While this held true even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the global crisis accelerated it as fans looked for new, unique things to drink at home. Here are a few of the most popular:
(Photography courtesy of Mindful Hospitality Group)
Draft, Canned, and Ready-to-Drink (R2D) Cocktails - According to a Bacardi Limited 2021 annual Cocktail Trends Report with external research commissioned by Nielsen CGA, ready-to-drink beverages such as canned cocktails grew 131 percent in the U.S. market. As we mentioned, this trend started before the pandemic, but the lockdowns only accelerated this movement. Now, as people start safely returning to their barstools, they’re looking for more creative and experimental ways to consume their mixed drinks.
Inside the bar, draft cocktails (also called cocktails on tap are an innovative way to serve hard beverages—and they have a huge amount of benefits. From being more efficient than regular cocktails, to requiring fewer employees to serve, lowering operational costs and increasing profits, cocktails on tap are a smart, viable strategy for any bar, restaurant, brewery, or taproom.
“Speed behind a bar is essential, especially right now when there’s a huge staffing crisis across the country,” says Cat Cannon, Chief Operating Officer at Mindful Hospitality Group, a bar consulting, education, and events company that specializes in staffing, education, and helping bars elevate their cocktail menus. Cannon also opened her own bar, St. Clair Social, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, last August. “You have [fewer] people on staff at one time, but [your consumers] are raring to go, so you’re taking care of people all the time. With [cocktails on tap] you do all the prep on the backend, so bartenders just have to pour and go. The faster you get drinks in peoples’ hands, the more money is on the table. The quicker people drink, the more they’ll drink, and the happier they’ll be. It’s a win-win-win for everybody.”
Similarly, canned cocktails are safer to serve and are perfect for customers on the go who want to take their drinks outside to a picnic, barbecue, or whatever else.
“Bars stayed afloat with pre-packaged cocktails,” says Myers. “If the Alcohol Beverage Commission (ABC) allows us to continue to do that, it's a trend that will stay.”
(Photography courtesy of Tiger’s Taproom)
Growler Fills - At the bar, draft drinks are king. It’s where businesses make the best margins. Even though Chan’s can sales rose thirty percent during the pandemic, he said the margins weren’t great, giving him just enough revenue to stay afloat. Instead he pushed growlers.
Together with Myers from The Good Hop and Ruben Dominguez, the General Manager at The Trappist, Chan started a three-way growler program. Buying a $6, 32-oz growler earned a customer the chance to fill up on beer from any of the three locations.
“We all just wanted to move more draft… because draft is where you make money,” says Chan. “Before COVID, the three of us were going to brew a beer together as a way to bring people from one spot to another, then COVID happened. We decided this could be the collab we wanted to do.”
On average Chan sells thirty to forty growlers per week, a decent amount for a taproom.
Premium Products - Following the trend of easier-to-make and easier-to-serve cocktails, bars are also upping their game with ingredients. Many bartenders that were stuck at home during the pandemic had time on their hands to experiment. And consumers getting back into bars are looking to treat themselves and spend money on a premium product. This means bars are leveraging top-shelf spirits, local ingredients, homemade bitters and simple syrups, and more.
(Photography courtesy of The Good Hop)
Subscription Boxes and Mix Packs - For those continuing to focus on beer, creating a new variety of offerings became imperative during the pandemic. Subscription boxes were a great way to keep consumers entertained, whether by creating their own box or using a third-party service such as Tavour.
At The Good Hop, Myers leveraged her holiday beer boxes. Normally released around the holidays, these boxes feature a mix of beers. And while their biggest sale pre-COVID hit only thirty-four boxes amidst the holiday season, during the pandemic the bar sold a whopping 364 boxes.
“Generally at the bar in normal times you open a tap, you pour a beer in a pint, and you turn around and put the beer on the bar. And that’s it. Now bars are doing all these boxes because COVID forced us all to figure out how to survive,” says Myers.
And Myers points out this option doesn’t just have to feature beer. Think about offering a mystery mixed pack, a box with snacks and beverage pairings, one dedicated just for wine or hard seltzer.
“These mix packs or pairing boxes come all together neatly wrapped and help customers have conversations because they take that mix box and share it with other people, telling them, ‘I got this at The Good Hop and I love this bar,’” said Myers.
(Photograph courtesy of Tiger’s Taproom)
Bar Trend #3: Creative Places to Drink
With indoor dining and drinking shut down for much of 2020, bars were forced to get creative. Parklets, or designated sidewalk extensions, became common on city streets, alleyways turned into outdoor taprooms, shipping containers became booth spaces, and more.
“I quadrupled my outdoor space and we did really well,” says Chan. Tiger’s Taproom sits on a corner, so Chan added seating on both sidewalks alongside his bar, using planters as a barrier. With a capacity for almost forty people, Chan’s outdoor area was crucial to his business. And even though he’s fully open inside now, Chan plans to keep operating at least one side of his outdoor seating.
(Photography courtesy of GoTab)
Bar Trend #4: A New World Order
One of the most pivotal turning points in bar trends during the pandemic was the introduction of contactless ordering. Creating an online space to order allowed bars to safely fulfill your drink tab with less person-to-person contact.
“COVID caused operators to take a step back and evaluate what they’re doing in their taproom and forced them to make new decisions,” says Christian Behrle, Head of Sales for GoTab, a contactless ordering and payment web service. “You couldn’t continue to run your business like your dad did or how you did in the past. You had to evolve quickly.”
Now, it’s rare to enter a bar or restaurant without simply pointing your phone at a barcode on the table and placing your order. Before March 2020, GoTab counted eighty restaurants and breweries as partners. Within just six months of the pandemic, that number rose to over 200 establishments.
Bar Trend #5: Social Media
During the pandemic, utilizing social media was integral for bars and businesses. But not necessarily in the way you might think.
Before COVID, Myers at The Good Hop used social media to spread the word about new beers.
“It was just a way to get information out,” says Myers. “But we shifted our voice [during the pandemic] to actually talk and post about things that you might have a conversation about just like you were sitting at the bar.”
Important social movements like Black Lives Matter became an open discussion for Myers.
“We kept it really personal and in people’s faces as if they were a part of this community and to make them start speaking up and having conversations.”
The strategy worked. Myers said her social following grew by over fifty percent during COVID. And now those posts that get the most likes and interactions have nothing to do with beer.
“I think it’s huge. It worked. Our posts turned into short conversations instead of just people picking up beer,” says Myers. “Our community kept us going, so we’re definitely going to stick with it.”
Similarly, at Tiger’s Taproom, Chan leveraged his monthly newsletter as a tool to reach his customers during COVID.
“Things were changing all of the time. I put my heart out there and said, Listen, we need your help. That’s not something I ever did before. But the community just rallied and supported. I had a lot of customers tell me that I sent a great email, thanking me for updating them, and saying they're here to support me. It was really nice to hear.”
(Photography courtesy of The Good Hop)
Bar Trend #6: Diversity, Inclusion, Equity
These are unprecedented times in our industry. Yes, a global pandemic shifted the way many of us do business overnight. But various movements around the industry have also led bars and breweries to take a visible stand.
Across the country, we’ve seen bars and breweries stand up for racial injustice with beers like Black Is Beautiful and women stand up to sexism in the industry with Brave Noise. If you’re a brewery, consider brewing one of these beers. And if you’re a bar or restaurant, think about how you can contribute, whether by donating a certain amount from pints per month to a specific organization, hosting a specific socially minded event that fits with your tenets, or just starting conversations around important issues online.
Being candid helps a business foster a like-minded community.
“We just celebrated seven years and up until recently I just considered myself a bar owner. Now I’m a female, lesbian bar owner. It used to make me very uncomfortable to put my personal stances out there, but by doing that, I gave a personality to the bar,” says Myers. “And, in our fight to stay alive, we really, really, really built a community of people. That didn’t always equate to dollars, but it equated to support.”
How 2021 Bar Trends Will Affect Your Business
Overall, this year will be crucial for brewery and bar owners as they look to bounce back after a calamitous 2020. Embracing trends for the next six months means continuing to find ways to generate revenue while welcoming back customers and loyal supporters. Giving people the opportunity to buy or order online without person-to-person contact will prove your establishment is safe, while mixing up your offerings with canned cocktails or mixed boxes along with new spaces to drink will keep your consumers engaged. Lastly, cultivating a community by backing important issues through your social media will keep your fans coming back to support your business for the foreseeable future.
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