Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

March 14 2016

3 Facts About Millennial Attendee Beverage Preferences

David McMillin

Over the past five years, I’ve heard one consistent word in the meetings industry: Millennials. Planners are searching for tools to get this generation to register for their meetings. Hoteliers are aiming to earn their loyalty in an era marked by alternatives like Airbnb. Destinations are working to showcase what makes their offering more compelling for these adventure-seeking travelers. As leaders in the convention industry continue to outline strategies for Millennial engagement, there is another important factor in the conversation: what’s at the bar.

Earlier this year, I wrote about how the craft beer craze is impacting attendees. This week, I’m digging into another side of the bar to see what kind of cocktails will be well-received by young conference crowds.

1) They want something new.

When young attendees arrive at the evening event, many of them won’t be looking for their parents’ favorite cocktail. According to research from Technomic, members of this age bracket are more likely to want to try a drink they’ve never had. While eight percent of the general population experimented with a new drink on their most recent trip to a restaurant, 18 percent of young Millennials did so during their last dining experience.

2) They want options.

Depending on the budget for an evening event, it may be tempting to limit the number of options. However, for Millennials, they want to be able to choose from a wide range of bottles. In fact, 50 percent prioritize variety in spirits and cocktail offerings. Many of them aren’t sticking to one type of spirit. According to research from Nielsen, more than 20 percent of Millennials indicate that they regularly consume vodka, rum, whiskey and tequila. Among Generation X-ers, that list is shorter. More than 20 percent claim to consume only vodka and rum.

3) They want to learn.

As planners make arrangements for receptions, the ingredients behind the bar aren’t the only piece of the puzzle; who’s serving plays a crucial role in the experience. The National Restaurant Association recommends having bartenders with a full encyclopedia of cocktail knowledge. “Satisfy their interest in spirits, wine and beer by ensuring bartenders and service staff can speak to their flavor profiles, production methods and origins of your drinks list’s various offerings with authority,” the organization writes.

Appealing To Everyone

While meeting planners can use creative approaches to bar menus to connect with Millennials, it’s important to make sure that the selection appeals to everyone on the registration list. To get a sense of how to do this, I caught up with Jacquelyn Zykan, Master Bourbon Specialist at Louisville’s Old Forester. I’m a bourbon fanatic; I’m actually a member of the Bourbon of the Month Club. However, I know that not everyone shares my love for exploring barrel-aged recipes. So how can planners inspire attendees to take a step outside their cocktail comfort zones?

“One strategy that seems to have worked in my experiences is to offer two different bourbon drinks, readily made,” Zykan says. “That way, you can have something that speaks to the more spirit-forward cocktail drinker, and something that appeals to the more high-ball inclined consumer. At the very least, offering something in a familiar, approachable template that compliments the bourbon without hiding it completely is a great middle ground.”

Scottie Ellis, Marketing Communications Manager, Convention Services Specialist at the Louisville Convention Visitors Bureau, says that organizers who bring groups to Louisville are falling in love with bourbon as an authentic way of bringing the destination to life. The US Travel Association recently hosted an educational seminar that featured a Mint Julep during a morning meeting welcome, a bourbon tasting experience leading up to the final reception and an infused chocolate and Woodford Reserve drink during dinner. “The Bourbon boom is a huge driver for conventions as it adds an authentic piece of Louisville to the overall experience,” Ellis says. “Many conventions feature our well-known, traditional drinks like the Mint Julep or Seelbach cocktail.”

Has this article inspired you to explore the cocktail landscape? We recommend Zykan’s favorite bourbon recipe for a perfectly crafted Old Fashioned. Enjoy!

2 oz Old Forester 100 Proof

0.5 oz Demerara Syrup (2 parts demerara sugar: 1 part water)

2 Dashes Angostura Bitters

1 Dash Fee Brother's Old Fashioned Bitters

This educational article was brought to you by the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, the tourism authority for the official home of bourbon. In addition to bourbon, the city is known for its thriving culinary scene. It was recently named one of Travel + Leisure’s “Best Cities for Barbecue” and one of the “Nation’s Best Local Food Scenes” by USA TODAY. For more information on what makes the city such an ideal place for conferences, click here.

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