Managers from Charlotte City Club and Victoria National GC offer their takes on what members will want to “drink in” this year.
Anticipating member trends at the start of any year can be a challenge, but 2021 feels like even more of a wild card. Will members be more environmentally, socially, and health-conscious? Are digital menus, to-go cocktails, and social-media bartenders here to stay?
Danny Strom, Bar Manager of Charlotte (N.C.) City Club, and Matthew Hagnauer, Assistant General Manager at Victoria National Golf Club (Newburgh, Ind.), see six primary beverage trends emerging in 2021.
1. Drinking for a Cause
When it comes to responsible sourcing, both Strom and Hagnauer look to support local businesses as much as possible.
Strom in particular seeks to purchase wine, beer, and spirits produced locally, sustainably, and from companies run by women and minorities whenever possible.
“At City Club, we are also actively moving away from beverage-related products that are harmful for the environment,” he adds. “Most recently, we’ve replaced plastic straws, stirrers and garnish picks with eco-friendly wheat and bamboo products. They’ve been a big hit with our membership.”
2. A Healthy Halo
Recent “healthy” drinking trends such as low-calorie, low-ABV (alcohol by volume) beverages, seltzers, CBD infusions, and kombucha cocktails have been slow to catch on at both clubs.
Charlotte City Club attempted to introduce kombucha cocktails, Strom says, but they weren’t popular with members.
As for the seltzer buzz, Hagnauer says, “While I do think there is a huge market for these products, we haven’t really begun to see the demand yet. I try not to carry the same product in multiple formats.
“Package affords a better sure-fire return, so I probably won’t add a seltzer on draft,” he adds.
3. Grapes & Grains
At Charlotte City Club, interest for wines not produced in California has greatly increased.
“I’d venture to say about 50% of our members order wine based on name and type recognition,” says Strom. “But they are starting to get excited about trying new varietals and producers.
“Lately, our biggest requests are for organic wines and bubbles,” he adds. “We’re very fortunate to have a number of breweries in the Charlotte area that produce beers that benefit a variety of causes. When possible, we like to have one or two of the local limited selections on draft.”
Hagnauer happily agrees with the popularity of bubbles and predicts that “the typically strong names will continue to be strong.”
“But as some larger wineries pull back on expenses,” he adds, “I believe different, smaller producers might come into play, especially if members can become really involved in a good tableside story.”
At both clubs, an educated team is the key to ushering members through the selection process, to encourage them to enjoy wine, beer and food pairings they are less likely to try on their own.
4. Team Spirit
Gin, mezcal, and aged rums have been on the rise everywhere, and whiskey remains strong.
“Expect to see some lesser-known whiskey brands and those from unexpected locations begin to pop-up and solidify themselves,” says Hagnauer. “Having a great story makes selling a product so much simpler.
“I also think we tend to see a surge in spirits based on entertainment,” he adds. “If someone on a very popular show is drinking a spirit, we’ll see it surge in popularity.”
Both clubs have been discussing featuring popular house cocktails on draft, but Strom notes that in some places such as Charlotte, draft cocktails require special certificates from local liquor boards.
5. Takeaway Cocktails
While to-go cocktails don’t work for the business model at either club, Hagnauer says Victoria National is now offering canned cocktails for members to take onto the golf course.
Offerings range from the simple Jack & Coke to house-specialty creations, all canned with custom Victoria National labels. The menu features some pre-made cocktails and some made-to-order, with the pre-made cans holding carbonation and freshness for 30 to 45 days.
“This provides another way to really customize member experiences,” says Hagnauer.
Charlotte City Club is offering wine by the bottle paired with take-and-bake dinner menus.
“Just because you get dinner to-go doesn’t mean you have to forego the club experience of enjoying a recommended wine pairing with your order,” says Strom. “We’re still making at-home date nights special.”
6. Digital Bartending
At the bar and beyond at Charlotte City Club, and especially coming off the course at Victoria National, both managers say digital QR menus are going to stick around, though the demand is higher for printed menus at dinner.
In line with a multimillion-dollar renovation, Charlotte City Club has made marketing a big focus, including YouTube weekly mixology videos featuring popular cocktails, specials, and new beverage offerings.
The videos were so popular with members, Strom plans to continue them through 2021.
Still, after months of mixing martinis at home, members at Charlotte City Club are ready to kick back and let their favorite bartenders treat them to a lavish bar experience.
“We use fresh-squeezed juices and syrups made in-house,” says Strom. “Our cocktail list is enhanced with unique ingredients and the use of smoke in many of our members’ favorite cocktails, like the ‘Smoking Joe #2.’ They love the show of this cocktail’s preparation.”
Adds Hagnauer: “I think some bartenders feel digital bartending could give away all their secrets, but members are always going to desire the in-person experience they can only get at their club.”