The media tell restaurant operators that handcrafted cocktails made from small-batch spirits and artfully blended by super-hip master mixologists are what bar customers want today. That may be the case, but point-of-sale numbers collected by food-and-beverage sales tracking firm Restaurant Sciences LLC tell a different tale. This summer, it was less-edgy cocktails, most of them harkening back to the Mad Men era or before, that were making cash registers ring.

Restaurant Sciences analyzed more than 50 million cocktail and spirit purchases made between June and August of this year to reach its conclusions. Its numbers show that the margarita was far and away the most popular cocktail sold in foodservice this summer.



“Margaritas were the clear-cut adult beverage concoction winner throughout the 2013 summer season," says Restaurant Sciences c.e.o. Chuck Ellis. "Margaritas' versatility and extensive flavor variety held more appeal for consumers over multi-spirit iced teas and martinis."

So can you just tinker with your cocktail menu to reflect these statistics and be ready to cash in next summer? It might not be that easy.

To be sure, the Restaurant Sciences data gives a good indication of what will sell and what won’t at restaurant bars during the summer months. It’s good to keep this information in mind as you prepare your cocktail menu for 2014.

But keep in mind that highball-style drinks—i.e., those that combine a shot of spirits and a mixer, such as a gin and tonic, a rum and Coke, a dark & stormy, a vodka and Red Bull and dozens more–were not included in the results. “As a large and diverse group of drinks, they outsell all concoctions shown on the list above,” Restaurant Sciences points out.

The upshot for operators: come next summer, be ready to highlight the most popular cocktails—some creative spins on the basic margarita are a good place to start—but be sure your bar staff is ready to roll on highball-style concoctions. Do both right and you’ll be ready to optimize the revenue coming out of your bar during a prime drinking season.