When Out, 51% of Drinking-​Aged Adults Prefer Slinging Back Spirits

BY Courtney Huckabay
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What’s in your glass? That depends on who you are and where you are. Beer is the favorite at picnics and sporting events while wine is preferred for fine dining, and spirits are favored on a plane. Whether unwinding after work, catching a drink at the bar with friends, sitting down to dinner at a nice restaurant, heading to a picnic, or going to watch a major sports event  – many adults have a favorite drink-of-choice.

But just what is that favorite adult beverage? A new Harris Poll reveals that drinking-​age Americans’ preferred alcoholic beverages have a lot do with not only who they are but where they are.

When imbibing at home, those who drink at least a few times per year are most likely to tip back a glass of spirits (57%) or beer (56%) followed closely by wine (52%). When out at a restaurant or bar, beverage priorities are largely similar with half preferring spirits (51%) or beer (50%) and 4 in 10 choosing wine (41%). Looking deeper at demographic differences, however, preferences begin to shift.

Danny Brager, Senior Vice President of Nielsen’s Beverage and Alcohol Practice remarks, “America's drinking preferences of adult beverages is heavily weighted on situational choices. What's in their glass really does depend on who they are demographically and geographically, product selection availability and the venue and occasion for which they are making that choice. That ‘who’ and ‘where’ factors into every single choice – either at home, or out of home. In today's crowded marketplace, where abundant new product choices are being introduced to consumers each day, every beverage is competing to be that selection.”

The AudienceSCAN study found Frequent Bar Patrons are 74% more likely than average consumers to live in city, urban or metropolitan areas.

Not too surprisingly, men and women have different tastes when it comes to alcohol. While men prefer beer whether at home or out, women favor wine at home and spirits while out, with beer being the least likely choice in either venue. By region, the Northeast, South, and Midwest all have a hankering for spirits or beer both at home and out, while Westerners prefer wine in either setting.

LGBT individuals prefer spirits both at home and out, followed by beer, with wine well down the list of their preferences in both settings.

Bars, restaurants and night clubs should take these tastes into consideration when planning marketing campaigns – especially for upcoming New Year's Eve packages and promotions. AudienceSCAN research showed 34.6% of Frequent Bar Patrons celebrated New Year's Eve at a restaurant, bar or hotel.

Looking by generation:

  • Millennials (age 21–35) turn to beer and spirits at home, but spirits ranks first while out.
  • For Gen Xers (age 36–50), beer is king both at home and at a restaurant or bar.
  • Baby Boomers (age 51–69) prefer wine and spirits at home, with no clear preference while they’re out.
  • Matures (70+), on the other hand, prefer wine no matter where they are.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,060 U.S. adults aged 21+ (1,324 who drink alcohol at least several times a year) surveyed online between January 13 and 18, 2016.

Preferences by location

Looking beyond a general restaurant/​bar setting, legal drinking age Americans’ preferred adult beverage differs greatly based on where they’re drinking outside of their homes. Most prominently, Americans have clear favorites when it comes to a few select locations.  Beer is a clear winner with about half of imbibers preferring beer while at a picnic/​cookout (52%) or at a sporting event (48%). Beer also tops at concerts (27%).

In a fine dining setting, nearly half (49%) of drinkers prefer a glass of wine, the beverage also favored at work events (24%) and brunch (22%), albeit by a much smaller margin. Not to be forgotten, spirits are favored at bars (37%) and on planes (24%).

Frequent Bar Patrons make great targets for Thanksgiving dining messages too. AudienceSCAN data revealed 25.3% of Frequent Bar Patrons ate Thanksgiving lunch or dinner at a restaurant.

Preferences by alcohol type

Taking a deeper dive into the different types of alcohol, among regular adult beverage drinkers, their top favored spirits at home are vodka (26%), whiskey (23%), and rum (19%) – followed closely by tequila (17%). At a restaurant or bar, vodka leads (19%), followed by whiskey (16%), tequila (16%), and rum (12%).  Both in home and out of home, tequila grows in preference particularly among those 21–35 year olds.

When it comes to beer, legal aged drinkers are nearly equally likely to prefer non-​craft domestic brews (21%), craft (20%) or import beer (20%) at home. While at a restaurant or bar, import beer (21%) and craft beer (20%) are favored, followed by non-​craft domestic varieties (18%).

On the wine front, preferences for both sparkling and sangria are higher among 21–35 year olds than other age groups both at home and at restaurants and bars, as well as among females compared to males. On the other hand, preference for table wine grows with age.

Vineyards should consider marketing to Frequent Bar Patrons, because AudienceSCAN results said 19.2% of Frequent Bar Patrons visited a winery or vineyard.

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies, or with the SalesFuel API. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.