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 is predicted for bars and restaurants, 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 will help operators stock up (and staff up) more strategically in the summer of 2023.

“Late August into Labor Day weekend is the strongest summer sales period. This should be a key focus for on-premise venues, more so than Fourth of July, which is more of an off-premise holiday,” said Gary Ross, Union’s Chief Growth Officer. “This insight can help operators and brands better plan for their summer inventory and staffing.” 

Ride the Waves of Beverage Alcohol Summer Sales

Throughout the summer months, sales at bars and restaurants are full of ebbs and flows. Most noticeably, traffic picks up toward the end of the summer leading into Labor Day weekend, marking the end of the summer season with an uptick in sales. This makes Labor Day the busiest of all summer holidays for on-premise venues. In fact, it was the busiest day (by sales) since St. Patrick’s Day for the on-premise channel. 

While the Labor Day period showed surprising strength, Fourth of July proved to be the slowest summer holiday, coming in behind Memorial Day weekend. The busiest day of summer 2022 was Saturday, August 27, the week prior to Labor Day weekend. The Saturday of Labor Day weekend, September 3, was also one of the busiest of summer 2022. Notably, the lowest Saturday sales of the summer were on Saturday, July 2, followed by Saturday, July 9. The slowest non-Monday of the summer was Tuesday, July 5, which followed the Monday holiday.)

Labor Day leads as the strongest summer drinking day.
Based on weekly 2022 sales by dollar share across Union venues, May 2, 2022 – September 25, 2022. Source: OnPrem Insights by Union.

In the summer, sales increase steadily as the day goes on. Operators should take note that with the warmer weather and longer daylight hours, summer overall skews to Late Night hours (after 10 pm), which represents 44 percent of all sales by daypart — slightly more than average for full-year 2022 (by 2.5 percent). The firework shows draw in the later crowds for Fourth of July; the holiday skews toward Late Night hours — over 5 percent higher than the average for full-year 2022, and 3 percent higher than average for the summer period.

Summer drinking trends; top traffic by daypart.
Source: OnPrem Insights by Union. Fourth of July week represents June 29 to July 6, 2022; Memorial Day week May 25 to 31, 2022; Labor Day week August 31 to September 6;  Summer period May 25 to September 7, 2022.

Anticipate the Summer Holiday Weekend Rush

The summer holidays are full of surprises. Operators can expect waves of sales: slammed days followed by week-long lulls after a holiday, and quiet Monday holidays.

According to Union data, on-premise sales traffic kicked up on Thursdays before an upcoming holiday, but by the following Monday — even on observed national holidays — sales dropped significantly, as they always do on Mondays. For Labor Day and Memorial Day, which always fall on a Monday, sales are busy Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but completely drop off on the holiday (Monday). Fourth of July 2022 was on a Monday and followed the same trend.

Whether consumers are done drinking by the end of a holiday week, or whether they transition to drinking off-premise, is hard to say. But one thing is for sure: Bars and restaurants are relatively quiet at the tail end of extended holiday weekends in the summer season. 

In general, venues had higher sales on Sundays of a holiday weekend compared to an average summer Sunday. But by Monday, business was almost back to usual, though a drop busier than the average summer Monday. 

Summer drinking trends: Summer holiday sales by day of week.
Source: OnPrem Insights by Union, based on 2022 sales data.

Know What Sells Best in Summer

Spirits are the strongest summer drinking category at Union venues, outselling all other alcohol types (63 percent). Spirits are followed by Beer/RTDs (31 percent) and Wine (5 percent). 

Summer drinking trends: Alcohol type by dollar share
Caption: Spirits excludes spirit-based RTDs, which are categorized as Beer/RTDs.  Summer period represents May 25 to September 7, 2022. Source: OnPrem Insights.

Best Summer Sellers at Union Venues

Tito’s Handmade Vodka was by far the No. 1 performing alcohol brand last summer across all alcohol categories. When it comes to brand power, Tito’s flat-out dominated: Tito’s sales by dollar share were nearly 60 percent greater than sales of Casamigos Tequila, and nearly 194 percent greater than sales of Bud Light. 

Forecasting into 2023, operators would be wise to stay up-to-date with recent Bud Light declines, which showed sales volumes down 28 percent in the last four weeks, according to Nielsen beer data. The declines may or may not last throughout the summer. See Union’s Top 20 list below for the most popular lighter-style Mainstream Beer brands of last summer.

20 Best-Selling Brands of Summer at Union Venues

  1. Tito’s Handmade Vodka
  2. Casamigos
  3. Jameson
  4. Bud Light
  5. Don Julio
  6. Michelob Ultra
  7. Espolòn
  8. Crown Royal
  9. Corona
  10. Miller Lite
  11. Jack Daniel’s
  12. Coors Light
  13. Dos Equis
  14. Patron
  15. Guinness
  16. White Claw
  17. High Noon
  18. Stella Artois
  19. Modelo
  20. Grey Goose

Top Summer Drinks & Flavors at Union Venues

To no one’s surprise, the top ten best-selling cocktails of summer include two Tequila-based drinks, with the Margarita leading the bunch by a landslide, and the Paloma coming in at No. 6. 

Operators take note: Two cocktails at the top of the list stood out for their unexpectedly high rankings — the Moscow Mule (No. 3) and the Espresso Martini (No. 4). A summertime Mule can take a refreshing twist, served with a seasonal, fruity flavor profile and of course, on ice. The Espresso Martini is proving its place as an iconic cocktail that has become popular year-round.  As for flavors, Lemon, Espresso, and Lime flavors came out on top at Union venues, based on the flavor term listed in a product’s name.

Here are the top cocktails and flavor keywords of summer 2022, ranked according to on-premise sales at Union bars and restaurants.

Top 20 Summer Cocktails at Union Venues

Ranked by sales

  1. Margarita
  2. Old Fashioned
  3. Moscow Mule
  4. Espresso Martini
  5. Long Island Iced Tea
  6. Paloma
  7. Mojito
  8. Aperol Spritz
  9. Bloody Mary
  10. Martini
  11. Ranch Water
  12. Negroni
  13. Irish Coffee
  14. Piña Colada
  15. Manhattan
  16. Cosmopolitan
  17. Mai Tai
  18. Daiquiri
  19. Whiskey Sour
  20. Mezcalita

Popular Summer Flavors at Union Venues

Ranked by sales of products that include the word

  1. Lemon
  2. Espresso
  3. Lime
  4. Cherry 
  5. Mango
  6. Peach
  7. Pineapple
  8. Lemonade
  9. Watermelon
  10. Coffee

Summer drinking fads come and go but venue operators getting ready for summer 2023 can bet on these top seasonal trends uncovered by Union’s unique data capabilities. The insights are highly reliable because they are based on actual, onsite guest purchases made with Union’s app, which allows guests to directly browse, order, and pay the tab from their smartphone at busy bars and restaurants. 

So operators take note of these summer’s essential tips from OnPrem Insights: Stock up on Tito’s Vodka, Tequila for cocktails, and multiple Mainstream Beer options. And be ready to serve your signature version of an Espresso Martini to help your guests beat the heat — and keep their summer vibes buzzing well into the evening. 

Want to stay ahead of the latest on-premise trends?

Join the community of alc-bev professionals on the cutting edge of the industry