OnPrem Insights’ Top Stories of 2023

These were the biggest alcohol insights of the year
top 10 alcohol insights of 2023

Looking back at most-read OnPrem Insights articles from this past year, our readers were especially interested in stories about the seismic shifts happening across nearly all beverage alcohol categories.  

Union’s unique set of on-premise data, which shows actual customer orders instead of depletions or survey data, revealed the trends and factors at play for today’s busiest bars and restaurants. Truly, it was a year of eye-popping headlines as consumer tastes evolved with record-breaking speed.

We saw Tequila’s unstoppable rise, the evolution of the RTD category, and the growing niche of Celebrity Spirits brands. But it was Bud Light’s astounding drop in popularity that got the most attention this year from our readers — as well as from the New York Times and Newsweek, who both featured Union’s OnPrem Insights data in articles about the state of Bud Light sales in U.S. bars and restaurants.

These were our ten biggest stories of 2023. 

10. Saturday Night at the Bar: A Data-Driven Guide to Maximizing Sales

Hour-by-hour, here’s how guests order on the busiest night of the week

Saturday night at the bar

If there’s one universal truth for bar and restaurant operators, it’s that the Saturday night rush is formidable. The bar gets packed, the drink orders rush in, and the staff kicks into high gear.  It’s a venue’s most important night, with Saturdays representing over 25 percent of weekly sales at Union’s high-volume bars and restaurants.

OnPrem Insights took a deep dive into its customer ordering data to help operators better understand what’s happening in each daypart of a typical Saturday night — from pre-dinner Happy Hour, through Dinner and Late Night, and into the After Hours. Some of the findings surprised us, and were contrary to conventional thinking. Guests who open their tabs between 4 to 7 pm don’t duck out early, for example. In fact, they tend to stay the longest and drive up the largest check totals. [Read more]

9. Summer Drinking: Essential Insights to Optimize On-Premise Alcohol Sales

Understand seasonal trends — from the top-selling Vodka to the busiest sales day of the season

A strong summer season was predicted for bars and restaurants — and it delivered — full of on-premise drinking and dining now that we’re back to a post-COVID “normal.” In fact, the National Restaurant Association reports that three out of four operators say business conditions are nearing a pre-pandemic state. 

At Union venues, there are more than 10 million consumer transactions during the summer period. There’s a huge opportunity for maximizing profits when guests are primed for fun and relaxation. We dove into last year’s summer drinking data, the 15-week period between Memorial Day and Labor Day 2022, to help owners, bartenders, and brands strategize for a seasonal period that’s notorious for its inconsistent foot traffic. What we found helped operators stock up (and staff up) more strategically in the summer of 2023. [Read more]

8. Which RTDs Sell Best at Bars and Restaurants?

White Claw and High Noon lead bar and restaurant sales — but just one dominates its subcategory

Best-Selling RTDs at Bars and Restaurants

It’s a golden age for ready-to-drink (RTD) alcohol, with new and innovative product launches hitting the market in record numbers this year. The wide variety of flavors and brands drives the fast-growing category’s appeal, especially at retail. Yet for on-premise, new data from Union’s OnPrem Insights shows that just a handful of RTD brands still dominate bar and restaurant sales. 

Two RTD brands led on-premise in the 12 months ending the first quarter of 2023: White Claw and High Noon. But the category is rapidly evolving, and it’s not clear yet whether on-premise will ever follow off-premise RTD trends. In this report, we looked at this evolving category to see which RTDs are being consumed by guests at on-premise venues. [Read more]

7. The Great RTD Divide: Understanding Malt-Based vs. Spirit-Based Drinkers

White Claw and High Noon lead bar and restaurant sales — but just one dominates its subcategory

RTDs: understanding malt-based vs. spirit-based drinkers

Ready-to-drink (RTD) sales have been on a steady upward trajectory, growing at a faster rate than most other alcohol segments. Market research company IWSR reports that RTD volume is expected to double its total market share of total beverage alcohol to eight percent by 2025, up from about 4 percent in 2020. 

Still, RTDs represent a relatively small piece of all on-premise alcohol sales, totaling 1.3 percent of alcohol sales by dollar share at Union’s high-volume bars and restaurants, and representing 7 percent of the Beer/RTD category. But it’s growing and experiencing significant shifts across two distinct malt-based and spirit-based subcategories.

And just because they both come in a can, malt-based and spirit-based RTDs are not necessarily directly in competition with each other, according to Union data. [Read more]

6. How Well Do Celebrity Spirits Sell at Bars & Restaurants?

Celebrity brands are growing, and at a premium — guests pay on average 73% more per drink

Celebrity spirit sales at bars and restaurants

From actors to athletes, the parade of celebrities investing in and promoting their own alcohol brands these days seems unending. This is especially true for the Spirits category, which has seen a rush of high-profile brands enter the market following George Clooney’s mega success with Casamigos Tequila. From world-famous athletes like LeBron James to glitzy media personalities like Kendall Jenner, these stars-turned-spirits moguls are giving the drinks industry something to talk about.

They’ve certainly got hype. But are they actually selling well on-premise? To explore this expanding category, we dove into Union’s guest ordering data to uncover what’s really happening with Celebrity Spirits brands — defined as those founded by a celebrity or operating with a known celebrity ownership stake — at high-volume bars and restaurants. [Read more]

5. Revealing Seasonal Cocktail Insights at High-Volume Venues Across America

Union’s OnPrem Insights takes the guessing game out of seasonal cocktail planning

Seasonal cocktails at bars and restaurants

Venue operators know that rotating menus with seasonal cocktails can be a winning sales strategy. But too often, their approach is based on conventional assumptions around the impact of holiday calendars and temperatures, rather than observed consumer behaviors. 

“Seasonal cocktail sales have been a guessing game until now,” said Layne Cox, Union’s chief marketing officer. “Union’s OnPrem data looks at actual guest behavior at large bars and restaurants in big cities — a first in beverage-alcohol data reporting. This data is unique because it’s granular and precise, entirely based on actual on-premise guest purchases. These insights provide actionable take-aways that can support bars and restaurants to drive sales via the right cocktails at the right time of year.”

These unique findings from Union’s 2022 data helped both venues and brands get ahead of seasonal preferences, and highlight the sales opportunities they should have on their radar. [Read more]

4. Five Insights to Drive Whiskey Sales at Bars and Restaurants

New data shows how Whiskey is being consumed at high-volume venues

Whiskey sales at bars and restaurants

The latest research from Union’s OnPrem Insights confirms that Whiskey, in all its forms, is a powerhouse spirit for high-volume bars and restaurants. We took a closer look at on-premise Whiskey orders to dive into customer behavior within this category, from the preferred types of Whiskey to what gets reordered the most.

Here are the five top insights that will help operators and brands fully leverage Whiskey’s popularity, based on real on-premise consumption data from thousands of Union venues across the United States. [Read more]

3. These 4 Tequila Brands Are Driving Half of the Category’s On-Premise Sales

While big brands dominate orders, House/Well Tequila drinks shouldn’t be ignored


​​Tequila’s skyrocketing popularity is no secret. According to recent OnPrem Insights data, Tequila commanded nearly one-third of all spirit sales at Union venues, racing ahead of Whiskey sales. Meanwhile, Margaritas are far and away the most popular cocktail — during every month of the year. But what are the best-selling Tequila brands leading this trending category?

We identified the top Tequilas and Mezcals at Union venues by dollar share in the 12-month period ending March 31, 2023 to offer insights on how to best stock your shelves with the bottles that drive sales. In a sea of brands that run the spectrum of prices and styles, just a few came out on top — a finding that highlights the importance of carrying the brands that matter the most to your guests. [Read more]

2. Top Tequila Cocktails at On-Premise Venues, Ranked

From Margaritas to Ranch Water, these are the best-selling Tequila cocktails at bars and restaurants

Top tequila cocktails at bars and restaurants

All eyes are on Tequila. The Margarita is officially the most popular on-premise cocktail year-round at Union bars and restaurants, and its cocktail cousin the Paloma ranked in the Top 10 last year. 

With brands jockeying for share, and venues working to optimize their product offerings to increase sales, operators should continue to fine-tune their Tequila programs to capitalize on this seemingly boundless growth. We took a look at actual guest purchases in the 12-month period ending March 31, 2023 to bring you insights on how to best leverage this winning spirit through your cocktail offerings. [Read more]

1. Miller Lite Tops Bud Light at Bars and Restaurants, According to Guest Ordering Data

OnPrem Insights reveals that Bud Light has slipped to the No. 4 beer brand at high-volume venues

Miller Lite tops Bud Light at bars and restaurants

Guest ordering data from Union’s OnPrem Insights reveals that the brand’s fall from No. 1 was swift following the marketing controversy that spurred a nationwide boycott. Sales of what was once America’s best-selling beer dropped 2.6 points from 11.3 percent dollar sales share to 8.73 percent at Union’s network of thousands of high-volume venues in the first week of the boycott alone. That sales spiral continued throughout Q2 at Union venues as the boycott took a stronghold across the U.S., dropping 34 percent in sales share compared to the prior year, since the fallout began on April 1. 

“Our on-premise ordering data shows that domestic beer brands are reaping the most benefits from the Bud Light fallout,” says Layne Cox, chief marketing officer at Union. “Modelo may have unseated Bud Light at retail, but at high-volume bars and restaurants it’s a different story.”

While Modelo has been widely reported as the new king of beers in the off-premise channel, Union data reveals that guests are now spending more on Miller Lite than Bud Light in on-premise accounts. Miller Lite’s sales were up nearly 21 percent in the 3-month period ending June 30, while Bud Light’s sales were down by 34 percent. [Read more]

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