If you run a restaurant, you know drink menus are your bread and butter (metaphorically speaking). Just as your food menu should adapt based on profitability, available ingredients, and guest preferences, the same amount of effort should go into your drink menu. This is especially true if you’re anticipating holiday gatherings, celebratory dinners, or private parties in the months to come. 

To prepare for the holiday season, start by assessing the popular drinks and the ingredients gathering dust behind the bar. This can give you a sense of the flavors, types of alcohol, or styles of drinks that your guests prefer. Shaken or stirred? Top shelf, well, or somewhere in between? Innovative craft cocktails with local ingredients, or familiar old standbys? Diving into your sales reports and creating a simple menu engineering matrix can help you identify which drinks are driving major profits and might be ripe for tweaking. 

Once you’ve taken the pulse of your guest preferences, it’s time to revisit your drink menu. Here are some holiday drink ideas to make sure spirits stay high this holiday season.

1. Stay on theme 

The holidays evoke nostalgia. Many celebrate by rewatching their favorite holiday movies, listening to Christmas music, and revisiting their favorite themed episodes on TV. If it makes sense with your restaurant concept, the holidays are a great time to tap into pop culture themes when it comes to your drink menu.

Give your classic drinks clever, seasonal names to shine a light on your offerings. Perhaps “The Gimlet that Stole Christmas,” the “Jack Frost and Coke,” or a “Polar Expresso Martini,” anyone? A quick brainstorm and a specials chalkboard and you’re good to go.

2. Zhuzh up the kid’s menu

Who said adults get to have all the fun? What the under 21 crowd lacks in ABV, they make up for in creativity. Branch out from the typical soda, juice, and milk offerings by creating a drink menu for whole families to enjoy. These can be kid-friendly mocktails in fancy glasses that add panache to a shirley temple, or more interesting concoctions that make use of existing ingredients in your bar and kitchen. 

A family of three clinks their glasses while enjoying a restaurant meal
Don't forget the kiddos when planning your holiday drink menu. Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes / Unsplash

3. Drinks for a crowd

Ask any holiday movie, and you’ll find the real meaning of the holiday season isn’t the presents, or the decorations, it’s the joy of being together. Between coworker gatherings, friendsgivings, and family get togethers, plenty of groups are looking for spaces to catch up over a few drinks. 

Offering group deals can be a great tool for bringing large groups through the door and getting them to stick around for another round. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2023 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast, shareables are dominating guest preferences for the foreseeable future. Apply this trend to your drink menu by showcasing pitchers, beer buckets, and fishbowls so the whole group can partake in the fun.

4. Zero-proof, zero problems

Alcohol isn’t for everyone. Abstaining from drinking could be preference, health-related, or part of a person’s religious beliefs. Attractive, diverse zero-proof options are a must if you’re catering to different tastes. Zero-proof drinks and mocktails run the gamut from non-alcoholic dupes of actual cocktails with alcohol-free spirits, non-alcoholic beer, or options like kombucha and craft sodas. 

Many alcohol-free spirits and canned mixed drinks, like Ghia and Kin Euphorics, have gained popularity in drinking and non-drinking people’s bar cabinets alike. Featuring a variety of brand name non-alcoholic spirits and custom crafted zero-proof drinks is a great way to get the party started (for everyone).

a cup of tea and some sliced oranges on a table with zero-proof whiskey
When temperatures drop, there's nothing like a hot cocktail to keep spirits high. Photo by Misunderstood Whiskey / Unsplash

5. Cold weather means hot cocktails

If you operate a restaurant in a cold climate, winter is a mixed bag. It can mean diminished foot traffic, potential inclement weather, and pricier produce. On the plus side? It’s the coziest time to cuddle up with a hot cocktail. 

Mulled wine, glögg, hot toddies, can be crowd favorites during the holiday season. If they’re not featured on your menu, guests might not think to order them so it’s a great idea to add them to your specials board, server’s pitch, or call them out on your menu during the holidays. 

“At Urban Roast, we’re very festive, no matter the occasion, and people love the decorations and DIY s’mores bar. We became a cocktail bar, a place to meet up with friends and get an espresso martini and charcuterie board.” - Kamal Azzouz, Urban Roast

6. Make a great pair 

Your food menu and your drink menu should be the best of friends. Highlight their partnership by showcasing which drinks will complement your flagship dishes, whether that’s a particular bottle of wine, classic cocktail, or craft beer. This could be printed on your menu itself, provided as an inset, or expressed by the server. Be sure to coach your staff on upselling drinks to pair with menu items—doing so could provide a big boost to their tip averages, and everyone could use a little extra cash around the holidays. 

You could even go one step further and develop a beverage set menu to go alongside any special prix fixe or set menus you might be offering around the holidays. Set menus are powerful tools to boost sales around festive dining events like Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.

a group of people sitting around a wooden table drinking a flight of beer
Offering holiday drink flights is a great way to boost sales while letting guests try a variety of options. Photo by Ben Black / Unsplash

7. Take flights

Sure, if you’re a restaurant operator with long hours and booked weekends, you might not be traveling during the holidays. But you should definitely still consider flights. Beer flights, wine flights, even digestif flights, can be a win-win for your guests and bottom line. Guests get to try a variety of beverages and decide on their favorite, and you can sell a little more alcohol while still giving your guests a good deal. 

If you want to go whole hog, perhaps consider hosting a wine or whiskey tasting to get more folks through the door during a slower night. With event booking software and marketing automation tools, you can quickly email your loyal guests to book a spot and shift your focus to sourcing your offerings and developing food add-ons. 

8. Get social 

If you haven’t already incorporated social media into your restaurant’s marketing strategy, the time is now. It’s a low-cost tool to get tables booked and guests through the door, especially during a time where everyone is looking for options and holiday travel can bring a new pool of potential customers to your area. 

How does your drink menu play into this? Specialty cocktails, in particular, can be huge draws on social media. They’re visually appealing and have been the crown jewel of many a viral moment. Think novelty glasses, fully-loaded bloody marys, even the humble moscow mule mug has a knack for grabbing people’s attention. If it worked for Barbie, it could work for you.

9. Drinks for a sweet tooth 

Some guests never want the meal to end. So if they’re going to stay at the table, preventing another turn, why not give them options to keep the night going. Offering dessert drinks in the form of digestifs, dessert wines, and sweetened-up martinis, adds a delicious complement to your dessert menu and helps you cater to another kind of guest.

Dessert drinks don’t have to require extensive sourcing and a large investment. Even adding spiked hot chocolate or coffee to your dessert menu can help boost sales and delight the guests who know that there’s never too much of a good thing. 

a person pours something into a glass
Don't forget about holiday dessert drinks! Photo by pariwat pannium / Unsplash

10. Showcase local ingredients

Sometimes the most impactful menu updates are the most simple. Take stock of the drinks you already have, and highlight all of the local ingredients or purveyors. The holidays can bring foot traffic from out of town, so it’s great to give other local businesses some visibility on your menu. This could be the farms or growers who provide fruit and herbs, a local spice house, or breweries and distilleries that provide the beer and spirits. 

A thriving small business is good for the whole community, and the season of giving is the perfect time to share the spotlight. 

Looking for some behind-the-bar inspo? Meet Carlo Splendorini of Bar Sprezzatura (splash of prosecco not included).

If there was ever a time to refresh your drink menu ideas and expand your options, it’s in advance of the holiday season. The holidays are when people are at their most indulgent, looking to spend time (and spend money) with loved ones and support their favorite local businesses. With a little extra creativity, some savvy marketing, and a nod to current trends, your drink menu is guaranteed to quench thirsts (until Dry January, that is).

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