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Top Bar Trends for 2021

The top bar trends for the new year include creative ways bar owners are adapting to save their businesses and preserve bar culture.

Off-Premise Alcohol Sales

For bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, off-premise sales will be an essential bar industry trend in 2021. Many businesses have already dipped their toe into alcohol takeout options, but the new year will see a surge of off-premise alcohol sales. The pandemic gave this already growing segment a boost and we expect breweries, distilleries, and beer distributors to get in on the action. Off-premise sales can take several forms:

Cocktail Kits – These drink kits are popping up on takeout menus everywhere. The perfect kit contains all the ingredients, and sometimes the tools, needed to create signature cocktails at home.

Growler Pours – Regulations on growler fills vary by state, but where allowed, growlers provide a safe option for beer enthusiasts to enjoy craft beer from their favourite brewery.

Adult Slushies – These boozy slushies are the adult version of your favourite childhood treat. States like Pennsylvania allow the sale of these frozen cocktails for takeout. To-go cocktail containers and supplies make it easy to send customers home with adult slushies or mixed drinks.

Whole Bottle Sales – Liquidation of liquor inventory was a knee-jerk reaction when the pandemic hit, but whole bottle sales by bars and restaurants are predicted to continue in the new year.

Alcohol Delivery

The intricate laws governing alcohol delivery were loosened in the last year, giving bars and restaurants in some states the opportunity to offer alcohol options on their delivery menu.

The demand for alcohol delivery will only continue to grow in 2021 as the expectation for convenience climbs ever higher. To take advantage of this trend, bars and restaurants may have to jump through a few hoops to make sure they are abiding by state and local regulations.

Curated Subscription Services

If the theme of 2021 is “drinking at home” then curated subscription services are another bar trend that helps to connect bar owners with their customer base, beyond just basic alcohol delivery. Some bars have kept their bartenders employed by putting them to work on cocktail subscriptions that channel their mixology talents into a slightly different medium.

Breweries are partnering with subscription services like Tavour, an app-based business that notifies subscribers immediately when new, highly rated craft beers become available for shipping. For wine bars, a hand-selected bottle with a handwritten note from the in-house sommelier makes a special monthly subscription box for wine lovers. These types of services will continue to become more creative and more sought after in the new year.

Digital Shops and Merchandise

Branded merchandise is nothing new for bars, but you can expect a more sophisticated digital shopping experience in 2021. For many bar websites, the merchandise page used to be an afterthought with a limited product offering. Standard merch might include a branded t-shirt, a shot glass, and maybe a beer glass or two.

Bars will be upping the ante and making improvements to their merchandise selection to include branded growlers, bar tools, and high-quality apparel. If customers can’t visit their favourite watering hole, they can show their support by bringing a little piece of the bar into their home.

Craft Canned Cocktails

The canned beverage trend was already quite popular when the pandemic gave it an even bigger boost. Now canned hard seltzer and canned rose wine aren’t the only stars of the show. Ready-to-drink cocktails in a can are an appealing bar trend for a few different reasons.

For one, the quality of canned cocktails has vastly improved and you can expect a perfectly blended drink that rivals a made-from-scratch cocktail. Also consider the safety benefits of offering your customers a pre-packaged beverage verses a hand-mixed cocktail. To top it off, a canned cocktail is a convenient option for imbibing in the comfort of your own home.

Premium Products

Quality over quantity is another common theme for 2021. All the time spent in quarantine has resulted in many drinkers becoming quite educated about mixing their own cocktails. This has a far-reaching impact on the industry because educated consumers expect the best and they’re willing to pay for premium spirits and ingredients.

Bars can take advantage of this shift by offering a smaller cocktail list that features local, sustainable, or top-shelf spirits. Use illustrative drink descriptions on your menu and don’t neglect the mixers. Premium bar ingredients like homemade bitters and infused simple syrups can elevate the cocktail experience even more.

Outdoor Drinking Spaces

The past year has shown that outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities, which has left many bars looking for ways to create outdoor drinking spaces. The question becomes, how do you provide an outdoor drinking space when you have no available space? For bars located in certain parts of the country, the outside temperature alone is a huge obstacle to overcome.

In 2021, bars will become more creative with their approach to outdoor drinking. Alleys, parking lots, and sidewalks will be transformed into temporary drinking spaces and remodels to balconies and rooftops will increase. To battle the cold temps and create an outdoor winter destination, bar culture will start to include a different type of BYOB in the form of bring your own blanket.

Advanced Online Ordering

Online ordering is a big part of the pivotal shift to reduce contact in the hospitality industry and allow consumers to perform most functions digitally. As the platforms designed for online ordering become more advanced, we will see enhanced options for bar service.

Instead of ordering drinks directly from a bartender, online ordering and digital payment can be performed by mobile phone to reduce person-to-person contact. In the past, online ordering was commonly used prior to arriving at the destination. In 2021, we’ll see online ordering being used as a method of ordering drinks and food onsite.

Social Media Presence

Social media is the gathering place where many go to feel like they are connected. With the present challenges imposed by the pandemic, an increased social media presence provides a way bar owners can connect with their customer base in spite of an onsite closure. But in 2021, maintaining a social media presence goes beyond just making regular Instagram updates.

Weekly video tutorials that put the mixologist front and center help to keep customers loyal to their favourite bar. Videos can be posted for free or offered as a subscription service to increase revenue. Many bars will start offering digital gatherings like wine or whiskey tastings in conjunction with an alcohol purchase so customers can follow along virtually.

For bar owners in 2021, the stakes are much higher than they’ve ever been. The bar industry trends that will shape the future bar scene are being adopted out of necessity rather than a need to keep up with changing fads. Diversifying revenue streams and providing safe, convenient methods of serving will continue to dominate bar culture for the unforeseeable future.