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The Most Popular Cocktails: Popular Cocktails in the U.S.

Scott Schulfer
Table of Contents

An easy way to increase your cocktail sales is to give the people what they want. And what people want is out there. First, we’ve got some great lists of easy, profitable, and popular cocktail recipes based around ingredient seasonality. Check out our easy winter cocktails, summer cocktails, spring cocktails, and fall cocktails. All standardized recipes, easy to make.

Second, there’s invaluable market research done by reputable market research firms just floating around out there. All based on the most popular cocktails. The kind of drinks every bartender should know. If you’re in the business of selling cocktails for money, you have to look at research like that. It’s literally indispensable.

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Thankfully, you’re in the right place. Nielsen looked into what the most popular cocktails are across the U.S. and we drew some conclusions we think will help beverage programs grow their profitability. But this isn’t your average most popular cocktails list. Nielsen went further. They also supply the most popular cocktails by time of day and market.

The results provide a glimpse not only into what sells the most, but cocktail drinkers’ tastes change. Either throughout the day or from region to region. Even if you don’t think these results apply to you, there are very valuable conclusions to draw to use as you construct your own cocktail menu. Do you need to keep club soda on hand or not?

At the bottom of the three following tables, you’ll find our conclusions based on the data. We think, regardless of your bar concept or location, there are takeaways to boost your bar profit margin.

The Most Popular Cocktails List Nationwide

Rank Cocktail
1 Margarita
2 Martini
3 Old Fashioned
4 Mimosa
5 Moscow Mule

The Most Popular Cocktails List by Major Market

Rank Boston Chicago Los Angeles Miami New York Tampa
1 Margarita Old Fashioned Margarita Margarita Margarita Margarita
2 Martini Mimosa Martini Mojito Martini Martini
3 Espresso Martini Martini Old Fashioned Martini Old Fashioned Manhattan
4 Bloody Mary Moscow Mule Mojito Flavored Margarita Manhattan Sangria
5 Cosmo Manhattan Flavored Margarita Mojito Mojito Cosmo

The Most Popular Cocktails List by Time of Day

Rank Morning Afternoon Evening Night
1 Mimosa Margarita Margarita Martini
2 Bloody Mary Martini Martini Long Island Iced Tea
3 Margarita Mimosa Old Fashioned Margarita
4 Bellini Old Fashioned Moscow Mule Old Fashioned
5 Old Fashioned Bloody Mary Mojito Moscow Mule

Most Popular Cocktails: Conclusions to Draw

Even if you don’t think these drinks apply to your clientele or you’re not in any of those markets, there are still valuable conclusions to draw here.

  1. According to Nielsen, margarita cost almost 50 cents more than the national average cocktail price of $9 and they’re still the most popular. 56% of bar-goers say the margarita is their usual order. It doesn’t really matter what your concept is, you can’t afford not to offer a margarita or margarita-adjacent cocktail on your menu. Unless you’re in Chicago.
  2. But the popularity of the margarita goes down early in the morning and late at night. Maybe it's not considered one of the aphrodisiac drinks, hm? What they’re replaced with is notable. In the morning, they’re overtaken by mimosas while bellinis also shoot up in popularity. And at night, martinis and Long Island Iced Teas beat out the margarita. That means in the morning folks are looking for drinks with types of alcohol that have lower alcohol content and at night they’re looking for drinks with higher alcohol content.
  3. Given that martinis and Long Islands have higher alcohol content, they’re usually more expensive. Not only are people looking for stiffer drinks at night, they’re willing to pay for it. The average cocktail at night costs $10, as opposed to around $8 in the morning. At night, you have a lower pour cost and your profit goes up (see our liquor cost calculator guide). This is when you should market your stiffest, most expensive drinks—martini or not.
  4. The martini, like the margarita, is generally unaffected by region. Given that martinis are universally popular and the most popular during the time of day when people are looking to spend more money on strong drinks, you should always have a traditional martini on your evening and night time cocktail menu. Maybe it's time to bone up on your martini lingo.
  5. If you’re running or managing a bar in Chicago, for god’s sake have an old fashioned on the menu. That's how to stock a bar in Chicago. People in the windy city go nutty for them. We here at BinWise, based in Chicago, can personally attest to that. It’s a nationally popular cocktail, anyway, so it’ll be a wise cocktail to put on your menu no matter where you live.
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Popular Cocktail Drinks and You

Use these conclusions about the most popular cocktails to tweak your alcohol pricing strategies. Or do some menu engineering to put the right cocktails in the right part of the menu at the right time. This works for all menu types, whether an a la carte menu, table d hote menu, or a prix fixe menu. You can also check out some of the best bartending books for more inspiration. The research can also inform the drinks you offer for bar happy hour ideas and other bar promotion ideas. Just make sure you know what is happy hour and the best happy hour times.

However you use it, you’ll be doing what you can to drive your bar’s sales, and that’s arguably the most important of the bar manager duties.