THINK small

Ned Barker - Portion Sizes - in the Mix Magazine

Would you visit a circus that featured its “Small Top” tent? What if the 1988 Tom Hanks movie had been called Small, would USA sales have topped $115 million? Would you buy a CD by Notorious S.M.A.L.L.?

Apparently it’s good to think “big” as we do this a lot when we sell drinks. For example, we offer beer by the pitcher, margaritas by the pitcher, everything by the pitcher. And then there are 20-oz. or larger beers – $1.00 more for a double. Well, maybe it’s $2.00 now. We use oversized martini glasses or margarita glasses, serve wine in quarter-liter glass portions, sell large format bottles of beer, and on and on. It seems to me that these are sound selling tactics and I, as a consumer, am inclined to accept offers for a larger portion.

Contrast the “big” trend in drinking to the “small” trend in eating. Small plates are popular and whole concepts have been created around the small plate experience. The University of Massachusetts has switched exclusively to small plates for the 40,000 meals it serves daily. What is driving this?

There seem to be many reasons. Small plates fit our lifestyle. Small plates make it easy to sample, share, munch, taste, nosh, experiment with new flavors, eat light, eat healthy, eat heavy, control portions, make a meal, snack before a meal, snack after a meal – in short, the customer is in control. Sequence of service is gone. Boundaries and rules are gone. It’s fun. Eating meets Socializing.

Sound familiar? Doesn’t this describe the bar experience?

OK, so here is what I’m getting at: where is the sampling, tasting, controlling portions, and sharing on the cocktail menu? Some beverage menus offer tastings for beer, wine, and spirits. Great. These educate the consumer and meet a couple of the trends mentioned above.

But what about cocktails? Usually we offer only regular sized, or sometimes regular and extra large (pitchers) sizes. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Don’t be silly. Small portions of cocktails won’t work. What about all that labor for one-third the price; and we don’t have the right size glass, how does the garnish fit, the straw is too big . . . are you kidding?”

Good question. But your cocktails are the most creative and unique offering behind the bar, right? Don’t you want people to sample them?

Here are some ways to make it work:   Consider offering to split a cocktail into three minis for a reasonable upcharge. Maybe a $12 signature cocktail becomes three minis for $15? This can’t and shouldn’t be offered for every cocktail and, in fact, won’t work for many. So just maybe the “mini” option brings an additional allure to the few cocktails that carry this designation? As for the glass, straw, and garnish issues - these challenges can be solved pretty easily so don’t let those things stop you. Finally, some people are already trying this. Caterers are selling mini cocktails at weddings and receptions. Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille in Dallas offers a Pick Three Mini-Martinis as part of its campaign to promote their new martini offerings.

Consider this small new way to get customers to try your best items while increasing checks and enhancing the guest experience. The push to sample, experiment, share, and control the portion and the experience is upon us. You’ll be ahead of the curve if you find ways to make the most of this trend.

Grill Ventures Consulting, Inc.