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1–2 July 2024
Olympia London

Best Affordable Luxury & Post-Premium Beverage Selections

It’s not exactly been plain sailing for UK hospitality in recent years, and there’s not much sign of improvement ahead, with a combination of challenges including inflation, cost-of-living crisis, post-Covid recovery and changing consumer habits, to name a few. The situation calls for the industry to adapt to these new conditions – now’s the time to be offering guests better service, and better value than ever before. There are several ways to achieve this, keeping your business profitable in the process.

While Alessandro Mannello, bars manager at London’s JOIA Bar and The Brush Cocktail Bar & Lounge, hasn’t noticed a significant change in his venues, he’s aware of the pressures the industry’s facing overall. “We are recognising that the increase in cost of living continues to impact our industry. Dining out is becoming more and more of a luxury and we’ve noticed that mid-week trade has declined, as well as the average spend – with beverage being the most affected,” he says. “Guests are looking for a reason to go out and celebrate with intention, and as a result the delivery must be of a high standard – great service, great food and great drinks.”

As partner in Experimental Group, which includes hotels, bars and restaurants across London, Paris and beyond, Xavier Padovani has broad perspective when it comes to the industry and the changes it’s undergoing. “Yes, there has been a change in consumer behaviour,” he says. “In terms of our hotel venues, we’ve noticed an increase in American clientele, who seem to have a larger budget to spend, while in STEREO [in London’s Covent Garden], people really enjoy the draft batch cocktails that range from about £10 - £12.”

He’s also seeing a rise in demand for non-alc and low-alc options and, conversely, “a large increase in the number of tequila shots bought” – in keeping with Mannello’s observation of guests celebrating with intention.

Jack Sotti, bar consultant for the recent launch of Archive & Myth at the Hippodrome, says that it’s too soon to gauge the impact of these pressures on that venue, but that overall, “consumer behaviour is gearing towards more consumption at home”.

Cafe Pacifico co-owner Carlos Londoño has noticed a decline in the number of people in Covent Garden in general. “With online shopping, we get fewer shoppers in Covent Garden coming to the shops, and with the rising cost of fuel and plane tickets, we get less tourism. Meanwhile people are working from home rather than from offices, so we have fewer workers in town – this has had an incredible impact on our businesses. And of course we’re paying more rent, more electricity, more energy – more everything.”

It’s crucial, therefore, for bars to draw guests in with an offering that’s not only appealing, but well priced, while keeping the business profitable too. “It’s about bringing added value to your guests’ time at the bar whilst trying to keep prices as reasonable as possible. As well as offering our guests an experience, we also do happy hour, and try to keep prices as low as possible,” says Padovani.

“It’s important to offer guests different options,” he continues. “At STEREO, for example, guests can come in and have a beer or cocktail and listen to live music, or they can book a table and order a big bottle of Dom Perignon, then eat at the restaurant for dinner. Giving guests a range of options helps create that affordable luxury for consumers.”

When it comes to price, Sotti says: “I’m a firm believer in not discounting your product if you are working in the realm of luxury. We have invested heavily in the interiors, glassware, ingredients and sound and lighting and we want to make an experience at A&M as equitable as possible.”

To achieve this, he’s introduced a selection of smaller sized cocktails at Archive & Myth. “They pack a serious punch, so you can try more than one, and you will still receive the same experience, he says”.

“Ensuring prices are competitive without affecting the quality is the key – exploring set menu offerings and looking at how a menu can be reduced to feature fewer but still very high-quality signature dishes and cocktails,” says Mannello.

He adds that the team have implemented a centralised lab for creating the majority of the bars’ ingredients, rather than source these externally. “We can manage costs and keep them low whilst still ensuring a very high quality,” he says.

Making better use of ingredients, and minimising waste, not only helps to manage costs, but benefits the planet too. “We’re incorporating our zero-waste policy, using surplus ingredients to create products we can use,” he says, giving the example of fruit from the bar’s Sangria being used to make bitters. “Sourcing ingredients locally, reducing waste, using surplus ingredients and increasing prep inhouse are all key strategies that help to reduce the cost of offering a premium product and experience at an affordable price,” he adds.

At Cafe Pacifico, Londoño works with suppliers to reduce costs too. “We put pressure, just like we did over Covid, with our suppliers, with brand owners, and with our landlords, to be able to create a sustainable circle, reminding them that, yes, everything is going up, but if we’re all able to sacrifice a little bit of margin, then we may be able to ride this wave,” he says.

When it comes to providing a premium experience for your guests, service is arguably even more important than the drinks you’re providing. “We have noticed that guests want an experience rather than just sitting down and having a drink then leaving,” says Padovani.

For Sotti, service is the way to offer guests an experience they can’t have at home. “When out and about, people are seeking experiences rather than just transactional service,” he says. “Despite all the PR around the drinks and the space, our guiding light at Archive & Myth is pure, old-fashioned hospitality. The team has been hired with this very notion in mind.”

Londoño agrees. “There is no better luxury, in any place, than service. And if you have a happy server, bartender, or manager, that will reflect in the experience, whether you’re drinking a lower quality tequila or a higher quality one – the experience will always be better.”

Consequently, he prioritises paying his staff more. “If we are able to keep the family happy, we are able to keep everything else working, even if we sacrifice certain luxury products.”

Don’t miss To Serve Is to Sell: Offering Affordable Luxury In 2024, with spirits educator Philip Duff and Vesper Bar at the Dorchester bar manager Lucia Montanelli, at the Cocktail Lounge at Imbibe Live, 2 July 2024.

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