Bartending trends are evolving. How will you get your brand on the guestlist?

Written by

Sam Surl

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It’s five o’clock somewhere, but that’s not necessarily a reason to grab yourself a glass. Instead, it’s a reminder for you to make sure that, wherever it is five o’clock, it’s your brand they’re ordering.

With consumer habits forever shifting, and with a new generation of young drinkers taking to the town in the midst of a looming economic squeeze, a thorough understanding of the latest trends has never been more important for large brands looking to retain their presence in the world of top-level bartending.

So, how do you begin to understand, or even keep track of, the constantly moving target of consumer desire? The alcoholic drinks sector is a tough nut to crack, but conventional research recruiters are barely scratching the surface. The most important experts are also the most inaccessible, and it takes someone with an extensive network of industry connections across the world to build any meaningful picture of rising trends.

Since 1989, I’ve worked in a variety of capacities across the bar industry. Having opened the Alphabet Bar in Soho in ‘97, I have since grown and operated a range of establishments, while also carrying out qualitative market research and running insights projects for spirit companies. From producing crucial reports for the likes of Diageo and Bacardi, to brand development consultancy, I’m sure to always have my fingers firmly on the pulse of the industry.

Across my research in a range of locations, I have been able to build pictures of how consumer trends are shifting and evolving in bars across the world. Here’s what we’re seeing.


Less can be more

We know that almost 100% of consumers under the age of 35 use Instagram, and bars and restaurants are a favourite location for posting Instagram images. On that basis, you might assume that the more over-the-top the cocktail garnish, and the more extravagant the glassware, the more likely you are to get attention from Generation Insta. This is still true to some extent, but recent research among Generation Z suggests that simple but beautiful glassware and minimal garnishing can have just as powerful an impact as a ‘florist shop in a glass’. Bar owners who understand this not only save money on unnecessary garnishing, they’re also able to demonstrate more sustainable working practices.


The bitter truth

In a world that is full of new beers which often focus on insanely citrusy hoppy finishes, and where Aperol Spritzes and Negronis rule the terrace, we might assume that all product innovation should follow this trend. In fact, Generation Z are not all lovers of the flavours imparted by Gentian Root or the Cascade Hop. There is still a big market out there for easy early evening and summer drinking for those who want to share the moment, but not the bitterness.


Outside is in

Recent research suggests that the enforced trend for spending social time outside during lockdown is set to continue as a matter of choice for many consumers. Generation Z and younger Millennials often tell us that their favourite places to meet are no longer bars but outside spaces – Canal de l’Ourcq in Paris, the spati and the local park in Berlin or Navigli in Milan. Outside is definitely in.


Can is king

Forget the bottle – can is King. As young people spend more time outside and as brand practices become more sustainable, cans are increasingly the container of choice. The extra opportunity for impact through bold colour and design has been skilfully exploited by many brands, and plays into Gen Z’s highly visually driven world. It’s not just beer, but cocktails, soft drinks and CBD. In Berlin, the spatis are crammed full of the latest extraordinary, eye-catching designs.


What does successful research look like?

Identifying trends is one thing, but how do we apply these findings in a way that creates useful insights for businesses? From cocktails to fizzy water, I’m pleased to be teaming up with Trinity McQueen, to help major brands in the drinks industry achieve their goals.