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jessegavin's avatar

Why don't bars & restaurants list prices for their hard liquor drinks?

Asked by jessegavin (85points) August 4th, 2009

Maybe I am a cheapskate and shouldn’t worry about prices on menus, but I can’t figure out why most bars and restaurants don’t list prices for liquor drinks.

My theory is that bar owners know that people don’t want to look frugal when having drinks with friends, so they won’t ask for prices and end up spending more.

Anyone have any answers here?

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22 Answers

CMaz's avatar

Bars have developed a great marketting tool.
That they dont list priceses. That would cause you to think about how much to spend.
And, after a few drinks who cares anyway.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

cause they’;re so damn expensive.

I’ve had a couple bartending jobs, and I’ll be the first one to tell you no one likes to pay 6 dollars a shot.

PapaLeo's avatar

If you have to ask you can’t afford it.

marinelife's avatar

I think the reason is that the possibilities for mixed drinks are endless. there are too many. Now I want to see what a pro says. Waiting for breedmitch.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@PapaLeo we actually have a shot at my bar called a ZJ…

breedmitch's avatar

Some places do have a separate drinks menu where each liquor is listed. Most don’t simply because of the sheer number of different things available. At my place, the liquor selection is limited but would still take up 2 pages of menu space. What you’re more likely to see is a small liquor list of select, specialty items (single malt scotch, single batch bourbons etc.) Also it’s good to remember that a large portion of our guests have a pretty good idea of what that shot of Grey Goose costs at most places (within 2 bucks or so) so they don’t need a price list.
There’s no harm in asking the price.
@ABoyNamedBoobs03: $6 a shot? That’s rich! I’m not sure I could find a drink that cheap where I live.

JLeslie's avatar

My husband and I laugh at people who drink on a regular basis at bars and restaurants…what a waste of money.

CMaz's avatar

I went to the Wynn in Vegas last year.
$13 a drink.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@breedmitch I live in Buffalo, New york, a 40,000 dollar a year job is pretty good here. when I lived in boston making 60k a year was it’s equal.

@PapaLeo lol ah, you never saw the movie Beerfest I’m guessing?

PapaLeo's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 No. No, I haven’t. But I’ve been to Oktoberfest in Munich 4 times in the last 20 years. Does that count, somehow?

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@PapaLeo woot! been there twice in the past 6, best party on the planet lol.

unfortunately though the scene I’m referring to resides under a highway pass in Colorado…

PapaLeo's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 Indeed. Best. Party. In. The. UNIVERSE!!!! The stories I’ve got from there could fill a book.

A highway underpass in Colorado? Does a highway underpass in Salt Lake City compare? If so we could swap stories.

whereisfreespeech's avatar

because they like to hide expensive things

dalepetrie's avatar

I think my brother in law and his boyfriend can exemplify the answer to this. They love to go to Old Chicago and drink Old Chicago Iced Teas, which is their version of the Long Island, but made with 3 flavors of Smirnov I believe (orange, vanilla and something else). It tastes like juice, they go down smooth and easy and get you fucked up after just one or two. It’s the kind of drink that sneaks up on you…you’ll be sitting there and then you’ll have 2 of them, you won’t feel any different, but you have to get up and take a leak, and you seem to have forgotten how to walk. But you have one and it’s so good you have another, and another and another. So, they end up drinking like 5 of them, and they have some food, after tax and tip, the bill comes to over $100, and in their mind, they “just had a few drinks”. Now, if beside the description and picture of this drink, it said $7 each, and underneath it, they showed Coke – $2.25, well, it doesn’t take a math genius to say to himself when he’s still sober, I’m going to have one (or two) of these, because I’ll be drunk after one (or two), and then I’ll order a Coke and that’ll save me $20, if we both do that, we can save $40, that’s almost half the bill, we could actually come here twice as often if we did that.

But in reality, they won’t come twice as often, they’ll go to OC whenever they want to drink OC Ice Teas and have pizza, they’re not going to crave that experience twice as often, now they might go OUT twice as often, but they’ll probably go somewhere else. So the restaurant makes 60% of what it would have made. And because basically restaurants generally LOSE money or at best break even on the entrees and make virtually ALL their profits on beverages and appetizers, having someone drink 2 of something instead of 5 or 6 of something is a big hit to the bottom line. And not everyone who sees the price on the menu will limit themselves to 2 (or will be able to stop themselves at 2, even if they decide to do so while still sober), but enough will that it would be downright stupid for them to advertise the price.

Also, consider this. You go to the store to buy a PS3, you know that it costs Sony more money to make that thing than you’re paying for it, even though it’s outrageously expensive. And you get a blu ray player to boot, so you feel OK, it’s worth the high price. But if you went to the gas station to buy milk and it was $3.99 a gallon and the grocery store across the street was selling it for $1.68 (exact prices in my neck of the woods), you might think, fuck the gas station, I’m walking across the street. So, alright, consider that if you buy a 750ml bottle of each of the 4 liquors that goes into an OC Iced Tea, it would cost you about $60. But you’d get 25 drinks. $2.40 to get the same thing that costs you $7 in the restaurant. You start to put those numbers out there, SOME people (not all) will do the math and say, fuck this, I’m drinking at home.

breedmitch's avatar

“And because basically restaurants generally LOSE money or at best break even on the entrees and make virtually ALL their profits on beverages and appetizers…”

I can’t believe I’m saying this but, “Dale, you’re wrong.”
Most (good) restaurants have about a 30% food cost across the board. So that $15 chicken entree costs around $5 to put out. Yes, the profit margin is slightly higher for drinks, but apps fall into about the same 30% food cost category.

Drinking at home is fine. (as long as you bought that bottle at our wine store)

breedmitch's avatar

Also, I think there are two issues here that are being combined. If a bar or restaurant has a “specialty” drink list (like dale’s example probably does) then there would be a price right on that list. What (I believe) the poster was asking about is a liquor price list for things like Stoli, Bacardi, Jameson’s, Jack Daniels etc.

At most bars a one-liquor-drink price is based on the price of the liquor shot (ie. Jack and Coke= $7shot of Jack, Coke is free) Once you add a second liquor or sour mix etc, the price goes up. (ie. Patron Margarita= $9 shot of patron, $X countreau, $X sour mix etc)

Also the higher markup on drinks helps to pay for rent, electricity, glassware, salaries, water, ambiance, expertise, flowers, right on down to the toothpicks on your way out the door. And the higher profit margin on liquor can actually help to keep the prices of entrees down. Just because your $7 drink costs me $3 to make, don’t assume I’m walking home with $4 profit.

dalepetrie's avatar

@breedmitch – I’m talking about all costs when you get down to it, if you factor in the overhead, etc. In other words, if you took drinks (including soft drinks) off the menu (or offered them up at cost), and just served entrees, the markup wouldn’t begin to cover the overhead. So, you said $5 for a chicken entree to put out, but you know, I’m not talking about the kind of places that charge $15 for chicken, at least in my neck of the woods $10 is what you’d expect to pay for a chicken entree which with sides well might cost $5. But consider three things.

1) A typical appetizer, say buffalo wings. You get a plate with 10 wings for $8. 10 chicken drummies (a pound) costs maybe $2 to produce…that’s a 300% profit vs. the 100% profit it if it was a grilled chicken breast on a bed of tequila lime rice and a side of steamed broccoli or what not.

2) Soft drinks. One 12 ounce glass of soda, when you factor in the cost of the syrup and the carbonated water costs no more than 9 cents. The typical person with unlimited free refills may order 3 sodas. That’s 27 cents. They charge $2.29. That’s almost 800% profit.

3) Alcoholic beverages, as I showed a drink which costs 7 or 8 bucks in a restaurant could be made by a person buying the liquors in 750ml bottles one at a time for $2.25. A restaurant which can buy its liquor in bulk and achieve some savings can probably make that drink for $1.75. About a 350% profit.

So, what do you have…entrees…100% markup, appetizers 300% markup, mixed drinks 350% markup, soft drinks 700% markup. A 100% markup will pay for your overhead, a 300–700% markup is where you make yoru profits.

breedmitch's avatar

@dalepetrie : So which is it? Do restaurants “generally LOSE money or at best break even on the entrees” or is it “100% profit it if it was a grilled chicken breast on a bed of tequila lime rice and a side of steamed broccoli or what not”? (btw tequila lime rice sounds awful. Maybe you meant tequila lime chicken? But even that’s very 80’s~)

“A 100% markup will pay for your overhead” If only that were true! What exactly are you basing that on? I’d love to see your source on that.

It’s best not to talk in terms of 300% profit and such, because it gives the idea that the restaurant owners actually walk with that money (this is how so many people with no restaurant experience go under.) It’s better to talk in terms of food cost percentages. Let’s get back to that wings app you mentioned. Putting the heartburn aside, the $8 app that costs $2 (in food product) gives you a food cost of 25%- which is right in line with my statement that food costs should sit right at about 30%. There’s a slightly larger margin, but it’s on a less expensive menu item, so it’s negligible.
And your chicken entree? (putting aside the fact that in this crazy fictional restaurant apps cost $8 and entrees are only $10) Well if they’re only charging $10 then they better be able to get it on the plate for $3.33 food cost- which come to think of it, could probably be done although the product probably wouldn’t be very quality. Which is always something to remember when you’re hi-fiving the fact that you just had a $5 lunch. The quality of those ingredients is probably very poor. But I digress…

Yes, the mark-up is huge on sodas, but as I stated in my first post here, most of the sodas used in mixed drinks is not charged, so we lose a bit of your profit margin there. And we’re talking about the largest percent mark-up on the least expensive item on the menu. It’s not like there’s the same percentage increase on the $32 steak entree ($10.50 food product- 30% food cost btw). If I had to make a living off of soda sales…(we sold exactly 4 sodas last week, but we’re a wine bar)

But none of this is really useful to the poster’s question. Once again to answer the original question: We don’t post the prices for liquors because most people are already aware of the price (within a buck or two) and it would take up valuable menu space. And frankly (speaking for my customers, only) most just don’t care that much.

disclaimer: I have nothing but the highest respect for dale and his logic

dalepetrie's avatar

@breedmitch – I wouldn’t say places like Chilis, Fridays, etc. are crazy, fictional restaurants. Most casual dining restaurants (such as those listed above) that I go to DO charge $7.99 for wings and the entrees usually DO start at around $8.99 or $9.99. In fact, in the last 7 days I’ve been to a restaurant where my meal (which was ½ a sandwich, a bowl of soup and fries), cost $7.50, and a plate of wings was $8.99. I can’t afford to go to restaurants which charge $32 for a steak, probably the most expensive steak I’ve ever ordered would have been in the $18 range. And when I talk about 100% profit, I should use the word “markup:”, otherwise I stand by my assertion. I don’t know the exacts on what overhead costs for a restaurant, because it’s going to vary widely from restaurant to restaurant (a cafe in the downtown skyway of a large metro area might pay several grand a month in rent and insurance and utilities, while a small mom and pop cafe where the owners have the restaurant free and clear, which was passed down for generations in the family might only have a couple hundred a month in overhead, so no, I can’t source anything “proving” that the markup on entrees pays for the overhead. But if you factor in the cost of building these large boxes that the chain stores build, hiring serving staff, paying for utilities, admin staff, etc. that’s a big chunk of change…and if you spread that out dollar for dollar in terms of revenue, bottom line is I suspect most of your restaurants don’t make MUCH money if any at all on their entrees when you allocate the costs over the revenue. And I’ve heard from many sources over the years, sorry don’t have time to find a link to one now but if you insist, after this weekend I will try to find a couple, that restaurants make MOST of their money off apps and drinks. Which when you consider the markup is a LOGICAL statement.

breedmitch's avatar

I’ll be happy to evaluate your proof when I see it. Right now I can only go on my 20+ years of restaurant experience.

dalepetrie's avatar

Last I checked though, wine bars are not your typical restaurants. And I can only go by my 38 years’ experience in dining out at casual dining restaurants. ;-)

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