What consumers want: US bartenders divulge what’s driving sales in the on-premise

US bartenders share the spirits, cocktails and flavours that are driving consumers' drinks choices


Based on one-on-one interviews with bartenders from across 15 US cities, and from across account tiers, here are 3 key trends from the US on-premise:


Move over tequila: consumers are increasingly intrigued by mezcal and its versatility

Americans drink more tequila than any other nation in the world. Off of this, mezcal is making serious inroads with the American consumer, and, although from a small base, mezcal consumption in the US was up 32.4% in 2018. Collectively, the agave-based spirits category is forecasted to grow in the US by 4% CAGR through 2022. Consumers are increasingly intrigued by mezcal, thanks in part to the increased marketing and advertising by the category’s brand owners. Bartenders highlight that mezcal’s versatility means it is requested for everything from group shots to use in signature toddies. As more consumers learn about this category, bartenders stress that it is a key spirit to watch.


Consumer demand for low sugar and low ABV spurs the need for product innovation

As the IWSR has previously reported, ‘better for you’ and ‘health and wellness’ trends have dominated consumer drinking choices, particularly over the past year. Bartenders have noticed consumers are increasingly enquiring about sugar content and low ABV options when making consumption choices. More and more consumers want beverages that contain less sugar, like vodka and soda, hard seltzers, whisky or tequila neat. Bartenders are now looking for creative ways to meet this growing demand. To meet the request for lower ABV options, bartenders have started using sake, sherry and other lower ABV spirits as a cocktail base as well. There is an opportunity for brand owners to innovate and offer more products.


A resurgence of the classic cocktail and the movement towards lower sugar have fuelled a preference for less sweet cocktail flavours

10-ingredient and complicated drinks are falling out of fashion with today’s consumers. Bartenders across the US, and from across account tiers, have noted a return to simpler classic cocktails. Interestingly, with this resurgence of the classics alongside a shift away from high-sugar drinks, bartenders have noticed that consumer choice for cocktail flavour profiles are skewing towards spicy, smoky, bitter and even herbal flavors, eschewing overly-sweet cocktails in the process.

Spicy flavours aren’t new to innovation in the spirits category; IWSR has tracked the growing appeal of the chilli pepper flavour profile since as far back as 2015, with spirits brands embracing spicier variants to increasingly appeal to millennials. At the time, however, it was the cinnamon whisky shot ritual that fuelled interest in spice flavours. Bartenders now, however, are approaching the flavour profile with increasing sophistication. Fresh ingredients, such as ginger, jalapeno, habanero peppers and pepper infusions, are being used to add texture and flavour to cocktails. It will be interesting to see how bartenders further fuel simpler cocktail innovation with spicier flavour profiles.

Driven by these key 3 trends, there are a number of brands that consumers are consistently calling out for across all 15 cities, a few of which have surprised the bartenders interviewed. To learn more about on-promise trends directly from bartenders, we recommend taking a look at the IWSR’s US Bartender Strategic Study.


Read more about the US Bartender Strategic Study here


You may also be interested in reading:

IWSR’s top 5 US beverage trends for 2020

Cocktail innovation: spices and savoury notes are the flavour profiles to watch on both coasts of the US

Spirits Forecasted to Lead ‘Share of Servings’ by 2030 in the US


To stay ahead of market trends and analysis, subscribe to receive our Industry Insights directly to your inbox.

Sign up to receive IWSR's Industry Insights


You might also like

Stay in the front

Get report updates, latest news and industry insights straight into your inbox