Pre-Packaged In The On-Premise

As they surge at retail, RTDs are also gaining footing at the bar.

The Rock Bar & Grill in Clifton, New Jersey has a plentiful selection of canned cocktails (pictured). The venue’s bar staff fully supports offering pre-packaged drinks alongside bartender-led cocktails.
The Rock Bar & Grill in Clifton, New Jersey has a plentiful selection of canned cocktails (pictured). The venue’s bar staff fully supports offering pre-packaged drinks alongside bartender-led cocktails. (Photo by Tonianne Dematteo)

While they’ve largely been viewed as an off-premise phenomenon—and a powerful and rapidly growing one at that—pre-packaged RTDs are starting to make an impact in restaurants and bars, too, especially among consumers who enjoy them at home. The canned cocktail sector has expanded rapidly over the last couple years, and their influence is now being seen on-premise in a variety of bars and restaurants that list canned options alongside traditional house-crafted mixed drinks. They’re certainly not poised to overtake bartender-led cocktails, but RTDs are emerging as a new option on-premise.

“For years, the RTD category was viewed as targeting the off-premise, but While Claw kicked that door down,” says Max Moreland, bar operating partner at FBR Management, the Austin, Texas-based operator of 15 restaurants and bars. “In the past six to seven years, we’ve seen a massive market shift in the on-premise world, with a surge of options and demands from an ever-expanding clientele. Guests now expect to see an RTD selection on menus. Our selection and demand vary in each venue, but we carry them to meet demand. We always strive to please our customer and provide the products they want.”

At FBR-managed Fieldhouse at the Crossover in Leander, Texas, the menu lists roughly 15 specialty cocktails alongside canned cocktails by Canteen and High Noon Sun Sips ($8 each). Meanwhile, the company’s bar Stagger Lee in Austin, offers The Finnish Long Drink and Canteen ($8), and its Gibson Street Bar, also in Austin, serves Canteen and Coco Vodka canned cocktails ($8). Moreland says the younger legal-drinking-age group is a primary driver of sales, but adds that the appeal of canned RTD cocktails has definitely expanded to a wider variety of clientele recently. 

“A lot of health-conscious guests tend to gravitate to RTDs due to their low calorie, low sugar, and low carb options,” Moreland explains. He adds that bartenders at FBR’s venues happily serve canned cocktails and don’t view them as an afront to their mixology skills. “I would be surprised to see an RTD at a high-end cocktail bar because they have a clientele who is there for creative and well-inspired drinks,” Moreland notes. “But I think most veteran bartenders are happy with the easy and fast model of service of RTDs. It’s part of the industry now.”

The ease of service is a big draw for canned RTDs on-premise. High-volume bars like Howl At The Moon, which boasts 15 locations nationwide and is known as a party venue, offers house-made cocktails alongside canned options like Bacardi Mojito. And Ala Carte Entertainment in greater Chicago lists High Noon and Freshie canned cocktails on several menus across its eight Windy City area concepts. Even Walt Disney World, with its breadth of on-premise outlets, lists canned cocktails at some venues, like the Cabana Bar and Beach Club at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel, which offers High Noon alongside Ketel One Vodka Spritz and Jack Daniel’s RTDs.

In Clifton, New Jersey, The Rock Bar & Grill is an Irish-American pub and tavern with a lengthy menu of food and drinks. Along with roughly ten specialty cocktails and 30-plus beers, The Rock lists canned cocktails by Cutwater, Jameson, and Jack Daniel’s Country Cocktails in a wide variety of flavors ($5-$6). Head bartender Tonianne DeMatteo says her staff embraces them and even sometimes gives suggestions on well-made RTD cocktails that could be added to the program. “Our customers who order canned cocktails know exactly what they’re getting in terms of alcohol percentage, calories, etc.,” DeMatteo says. “They fly off our shelves. People get excited and love to try new canned cocktails. We will definitely continue to offer RTDs for the foreseeable future. They go well with the grand scheme of our bar and cocktail program.”