The Cost of Indifference

by Jason Bran on September 16, 2012

in Droppin' Knowledge

A common practice in the restaurant and bar industry is to train the staff to upsell. Meaning that when asked for a vodka tonic, the server suggests a brand or asks the guest to specify a brand. If the server prompts the guest to spend an additional dollar or two per drink the final check will be higher. $6 may not seem like a lot but per person, per night, over the course of a week, month, or year it adds up.

Upselling is by no means a malicious practice. The financial benefit to the business is undeniable, however it is done for more than just increasing numbers. People have specific tastes yet don’t always call for them. Within every spirit category there is an ample amount of variety. How the spirit is made, flavor, even price point. It’s reasonable for a server to inquire further in order to insure that their guest will enjoy their drink as much as possible.

As a bartender when I ask my guests to specify a brand, the most common response I hear is “I don’t know”. As the guest scans the shelves, scrambling for an answer, they often say the first brand they can think of, or happen to make eye contact with. This seems normal, but brands being called for based on visibility and recognition creates an opportunity for businesses to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers.

Are you an unsuspecting consumer? Have you ever answered, “I don’t know” when asked to specify a brand? Better yet, after specifying the brand have you said, “will do” or “I guess”? If these scenarios apply to you, chances are that you are spending more than necessary on our nights out.

Based off of a national survey of bartending friends from various types of bars I determined an average price for the commonly accepted pricing tiers of liquors. Of course it is an estimate, depending on where you live it may vary. But for the sake of illustrating a point these numbers will suffice.

If you are a consumer of premium liquors you could save 18% of your annual drinking budget by switching to a call brand. If you are fortunate to patronize bars with decent well liquor programs, and consume cocktails that taste the same anyways, you could double your savings and save 36% per year.

If you spend $10,000 a year on drinks, saving $3,600 is a lot of incentive to stop and think about this. Furthermore if you are young and have your prime years of going out and drinking ahead of you, consider the savings over a 5-year period? How about a 10-year period? It adds up to a car, decreased student loan debt, a down payment on a house, something tangible that has much more value than a blurred memory you may have overpaid for.

So how can you start saving money? Ask yourself these questions:

What does your drink of choice cost?

What is it made/distilled from?

Where is it made/distilled?

Once you know a bit about your drink of choice, enlist the help of a local, professional bartender. This bartender should be able to talk to you knowledgably about the recently researched spirit you prefer, and be enthusiastic about your desire to explore substitutes in order to qualify for the job. Explain to him or her what you like, how you drink it and see what they can share with you. With the investment of a little free time and an open mind not only can you save some money, you will always enjoy the benefits of knowing what you like. Raise a glass to yourself and try to resist grinning when you hear people around you order “I don’t know”.

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