The US On Premise in 2021: Ten CGA insights

CGA presented exclusive data and expert analysis of the US market at the recent VIBE Conference in California. Here are some of the key trends and developments.

1 Destinations are down but sales are up

CGA’s outlet data shows the number of dining and drinking outlets in the US has dropped by 6.7% since March 2020, to just over 282,000. The 17.7% decline in the fine dining segment is around twice as steep as the casual dining (down 9.0%) and Quick Service Restaurant (down 8.7%) categories, with city centre locations hit particularly hard. However, for outlets remaining open, sales velocity has remained steady, outpacing 2019 in nearly every week since April. Many consumers have been making up for lost time in the On Premise, ordering an average of 2.9 alcoholic drinks per visit in 2021, compared to 2.3 in 2019.

 

2 Visits are shifting to weekends

One of the most notable patterns in drinking-out this year has been a shift in sales to weekends. For example, Saturdays and Sundays have increased their share of wine sales by 3 and 2 percentage points respectively. This has largely been driven by COVID restrictions, which have cut the volume of after-work drinking occasions on weekdays.

 

3 Digital is driving delivery and takeout

Lockdowns have created surges in orders of food and drink for delivery or takeout, and the habit looks likely to stick. On Premise users now make an average of 2.1 orders a week, up from 1.9 in 2019, with alcoholic beverages an increasingly important component. Digital technology has powered this market, with online or app orders up by 19% on 2019, and phone call orders down 19%. What’s more, at-home dining and drinking can complement in-outlet sales, when managed strategically. More than half (54%) of consumers say takeout from a restaurant makes them more likely to eat there in the future, while just 3% are less likely to do so.

 

4 Independents are growing in popularity

Casual Dining Chains remain the most frequented outlets with visitation driven by price, convenience, and consistency. But more than half (53%) of respondents to CGA’s VIBE survey say they prefer visiting independent restaurants now—13 percentage points up on the figure in 2019. This may be a result of consumers’ renewed desire to support local businesses and stay close to home, and it follows campaigns like Save Restaurants that promote indie businesses. The research suggests that if chains want to reclaim some of the share they have lost to independents, the priority is to improve food and beverage quality.

 

5 The On Premise is vital for brand building

Since lockdowns around the US eased, the On Premise has cemented its pivotal role in encouraging drinkers to trial and trade up. Two in five (42%) consumers typically try new drinks in bars and restaurants, while more than a quarter (28%) say they have paid more for better quality drinks there. Half (50%) say experiences in the On Premise have prompted them to buy drinks in the Off Premise too.

 

6 Drinks choice is based on situational and occasion factors

For all bars, restaurants and suppliers, understanding what lies behind consumers choices is the first step to building beverage brands. CGA’s Path to Purchase report shows the complexity of these factors, with more than a quarter of drinkers influenced by occasion (37%), time of day (34%), who they are visiting with (31%) and what they’ve had before (26%). Venue type, day of the week, menus and discounts all feed into decisions as well.

 

The Path to Purchase research, which will launch as series of reports this month, provides a detailed understanding of how consumers are influenced before a drink purchase and how suppliers can drive sales, helping clients determine where to spend to influence consumer choice in the On Premise. The findings will also enable Operators to better control the guest experience and offer data-driven strategies for top line growth.

 

7 Quality is important in happy hours

VIBE research shows the value of focusing LTOs on premium beverage brands. With consumers favouring higher quality drinks for special prices outnumbering those who prefer lower quality drinks for deep discounts by more than two to one, there are sizeable opportunities to increase traffic, spend and satisfaction.

 

8 Beer still leads, but spirits and seltzers are gaining share

Nearly half (48%) of those visiting restaurants or bars typically order beer, putting it ahead of wine (44%) and cocktails or mixed drinks (41%) on the list of most popular choices. However, seltzers and spirits have each gained around one percentage point in On Premise spend since 2019. To maximise appeal to beer drinkers, a well curated assortment of both bottled and draft domestic, craft and imported brands is needed, while rotating the offering can promote social media engagement.

 

9 Cocktail consumers are open to influences

Cocktail consumers remain relatively unchanged in their habits—the margarita is still their most popular choice, and they continue to prioritise quality at good value—but there are multiple opportunities to intercept them on their paths to purchase. Only a third (36%) say they know the specific type of cocktails they will drink before entering a venue, and three quarters (76%) would be likely to accept a server’s suggested modification for a dollar or two more. Menus, promotions and food pairings are among other influences.

 

10 Some consumers remain nervous

While the majority of consumers are visiting the On Premise as often (55%) or more than (23%) they did before COVID, a significant proportion of 22% are visiting less. Of these, two thirds (67%) are restricting their visits because of concerns about the Delta variant, with the 55+ age group particularly hesitant. Understanding these anxious consumers’ intersections with beverage brands and categories will be crucial in overcoming any challenges to sales in the months ahead.

 

Results from CGA’s VIBE Consumer Trend study were presented by Matthew Crompton and Andrew Hummel. They were based on an exclusive in-depth survey of 5,000 consumers who have visited a restaurant and consumed alcohol over the last 30 days, complemented by sources including the CGA On Premise Measurement Service, BeverageTrak, REACH and Consumer Pulse surveys and Path to Purchase report.

 

To discover how these and other CGA services can support the decision-making of all suppliers and operators in the US On Premise into 2022, click here and email matthew.crompton@cgastrategy.com or andrew.hummel@cgastrategy.com

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