October 11

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Bars Must Appeal to Millennial Drinkers…

Behind the Bar

Overhead shot of friends drinking at a bar

For this generation of bar-goers, it’s all about having a unique (and yes, perhaps Instagram-worthy) experience. Photo: Anchiy via iStock

Labels are funny things. By their very nature, they pigeonhole by assigning a title or category to people and things. Take, for instance, the word “millennial.” This amorphous term generally applies to people from the ages of 18 to their mid-30’s, who are defined by their ties to technology, their need for authenticity, and their desire for experiences. Why does the bar community need to think about this? According to the Pew Research Foundation, Millennials comprise about 69.2 million people and are poised to be the biggest consumer and policy-making group in the decades to come. For bar professionals, not to mention the brands themselves, this means doing your homework in order to tap into a demographic that will be paying your bills for years to come.

Cocktail guru Tony Abou-Ganim, who has been in the business for over 36 years, has served nearly four generations of customers. His observations strongly influenced his menu planning at new Las Vegas hotspot Libertine Social. “I’ve noticed the millennial generation’s return to quality,” he stresses, “and their desire for knowledge and understanding of the spirits and cocktails they are consuming. At Libertine Social we have addressed this by providing two separate bar experiences.

“For example, at the Main Bar we offer a large variety of drink experiences that give our guests the opportunity to be educated while enjoying a new, approachable tipple. At Libertine Social’s Arcade Bar – a more intimate bar within the Main Bar – we provide a little more insight into cocktail culture and history with a menu that focuses on lost and forgotten pre-prohibition classics. Our Swizzles are served in pitchers that are perfectly shareable, making for a very social experience.”

Libertine Social's large-format Queen's Park Swizzle, served in a pitcher

At Tony Abou-Ganim’s Libertine Social, a large-format Queen’s Park Swizzle is served in shareable form, which instantly elevates the drink into a social experience. Photo courtesy of Libertine Social.

Millennials may defy definition on many levels, but one commonality is that they are the first generation to come of age in and be shaped by the tech era. Conventional media like billboards and TV ads don’t mean a lot when your mobile device — with its instant gratification, immediate knowledge, and vivid imagery — is an extension of who you are. The concept of community is fluid as well, often being defined by your “friends” or “likes,” and it is often this same community that leads millennials to hunger for things that are “real.”

In response to this desire for such experiential needs, many spirits brands strive to show purpose and identity, giving bartenders fresh ways to engage their customers. For instance, Kimo Sabe Mezcal created their Agave Gives Back initiative, which donates agave plants to local growers. Snow Leopard vodka supports snow leopard conservation. Along with its socially conscious Water for the People initiative, Absolut Elyx has created a line of whimsical copper cocktail servers (from single serving gnomes to a flamingo punch bowl) that tangibly elevate the drinking experience, not to mention provide Instagram eye candy. Even the big brands — Plymouth and its ties to the pilgrims, Bacardi and the bat logo — have intriguing histories, all of which today’s bartenders can mine when creating cocktails and overall bar programs.

The desire to connect with one’s community can be developed by showcasing local or regional brands, which have exploded thanks to the craft spirits revolution. Hyper-localism can even translate into a bartender’s personal drinks style. At Loa in New Orleans, “Spirit Handler” Alan Walter focuses on foraged ingredients — from Spanish moss to pine needles to cat nip — that capture the feel of the city. Ensuring that millennials get a bead on Loa’s fanciful cocktail culture, Loa’s Instagram feed chronicles the bar’s adventures with images that feature everything from a costumed teacup-toting server in a donkey mask to a rosé tasting accompanied by an array of pink Pantone color sheets.

Bartender at Loa in New Orleans At Loa in New Orleans, “spirit handler” Alan Walter uses foraged ingredients like Spanish moss and pine needles to bring a sense of provenance to the drinks. Photo courtesy of International House Hotel.

Whether it’s about authenticity or community, education or experience, millennials demand transparency and creative thinking. Because their world — even their definition of self — is often reflected mainly through new media, the spirits they choose and the cocktails they drink need to reflect who they are. As the current and long term patrons of the spirits world, the millennial generation is the one we need to please through personal, local, and authentic experiences… all of them infinitely Instagram-able, of course.

Five Ways to Attract Millennials to Your Bar

Ketchum is on the cutting edge of millennial research. Aaron Berger, Millennial Expertise Lead for Ketchum, explains the millennial mind set quite succinctly when he says, “For millennials, it’s all about the authentic experience, and that remains true when it comes to what they drink… They want it to be an extension of their environment and themselves.” His strategies are listed below.

  1. Know your audience. For millennials, it’s all about experience. These customers will choose a drink that reflects the experience they are having at that moment.
  2. Feature local. Millennials care about their community and they want their drink choices to reflect that, so they tend to be interested in brands or ingredients that have a local tie.
  3. Have a story. Millennials want to be educated about what they’re drinking. They aren’t afraid to try something new, even if it’s different, and are not afraid to ask about the background of the alcohol.
  4. Make it social, and fun. Millennials want their drink of choice to be a conversation starter, whether it’s with friends, a bartender, a group of strangers or their social community.
  5. Think of the drink as an extension of one’s personality. Millennials want to reflect an individual ethos, so if they find a drink that conveys their unique personality in a specific setting, they’ll remain loyal to it.