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What are the most popular drinks for college students?

Emma Woodward
Freelance Blogger

Ah, the good old college days of regularly staying out late with little consequence and sleeping till noon. The typical college student has a few priorities for drinking — fun, cheap, and preferably doesn’t taste like alcohol.

If you’re looking to maximize revenue by attracting college students to your bar, it’s a good idea to know the best alcohol for college students so that you can serve their needs. The most popular college alcohol beverages are cheap, easy, and uncomplicated.

Your craft cocktail list may be too daunting for new drinkers, and most bottles of wine may be a bit out of their PT work budget. So, what are the popular college alcohol options you can serve? Let’s discuss.

How bar management can handle supply chain issues

Are you tired of hearing about supply chain issues? Us, too. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. You probably know that many things are hard to find for many reasons. (Read: difficulties finding staff, glass shortages, potatoes, etc.)

Revenue growth can seem impossible with these seemingly never-ending supply problems. Supply chain issues suck, dammit, but they’re here, and it looks like they are here for a while, so what can bar managers do to help their bottom lines?

Flexibility is the word of the year for handling supply chain issues. Set up your bar to be adaptable and work around missing ingredients easily. Formulate recipes with interchangeable ingredients. Use digital menus or online ordering to remove, add, or modify menu items quickly.

Best alcohol for college students

College students aren’t complicated. And while there may be the occasional anomaly, college drinks are most often for the social camaraderie. You can use this knowledge to supply your bar with drink options that cater to groups. Offer sharable pitchers of beer or flights of drinks. Think through each category of alcohol to come up with the best college alcohol offerings that cater to the college crowd in each.

Liquor

College students enjoy cheap liquor options and typically mix them with something that masks the taste. Some popular cheap brands include Jose Cuervo, Smirnoff, and Fireball. A quick search on Pinterest will return buckets of mixed drink ideas with these liquors because college students are used to DIYing their beverages. If you want to gain college students as new customers, pique their interest with something familiar.

To serve college students, come up with simple cocktails with familiar ingredients. They probably won’t be drawn in by your barrel-aged bitters or upscale liquor brands.  Here are some ideas of drinks you could serve with liquor:

  • Whiskey and Lemonade: Simple. Sweet. Effective. Known as Hemingway’s Lemonade, this drink is a great warm-weather option for simple satisfaction.
  • Gin and Grapefruit juice: For those college drinkers who like something a bit more herbal or floral, offer a gin drink option. Typically served over ice, this one is called “The Greyhound.”
  • Rum and Coke: The classic rum drink. For a change, try substituting coke for other fizzy beverages such as Dr. Pepper or Root Beer.
  • Lemon Drop: For the college student looking for a touch of sophistication, bring on the Lemon Drop. This drink consists of vodka, lemon juice, Triple Sec, and simple syrup. For a classy touch, sugar the rim of the glass.
  • Dirty Shirley: Ok, maybe you enjoyed a Shirley Temple as a kid — just Sprite and grenadine syrup. Kick the childhood favorite into adult beverage territory by adding vodka to make it a Dirty Shirley.
  • Margarita: Everyone loves a good marg, even the college kids. For bonus points, offer an option to order a pitcher of Margaritas to cater to groups of students. 
  • Vodka Soda: Offer this mix of vodka and soda water for a lighter option. Serve with a twist of lime for maximum freshness vibes.

Hard Seltzer

Maybe, hard seltzer didn’t exist back in your college days, but these days it’s a whole category. And it’s close to the top of the list for best alcohol for college students. With major brands such as White Claw and Truly dominating the scene, other alcohol mainstay brands such as Bud Light have also gotten in on the hard seltzer scene.

Hard seltzer comes in a large variety of flavors. They are an easy option to serve on their own, but they can also be great for making some creative new mixed drink options. You can even mix drinks in the can to save you some dishwashing. Zhuzh up your hard seltzer offerings with these tips:

  • Sub it for a non-alcoholic mixer: Use hard seltzer to make a mixed drink a little stronger. Maybe you replace the soda water in your vodka tonic or mix it with gin instead of tonic water. Now you’ve got yourself a whole new set of cocktails. Offer this as an option for any mixed drink and upcharge customers in addition to increasing revenue.
  • Make a simple wine spritzer: Wine is the least popular college alcohol (see below). But a wine spritzer is more approachable for those who don’t want to be the only friend in the party holding a wine glass. Mix hard seltzer with wine to serve a simple spritzer option.
  • Accessorize: Add an extra flair to hard seltzer by serving it with some fresh fruit or herbs. Things like a basil leaf with a watermelon seltzer or a sprig of thyme and a handful of berries with a blackberry seltzer can elevate your hard seltzer offering and allow you to charge a little extra for this simple swig.

Beer

Beer is that classic drink many think of when it comes to the college scene. We can all picture the quintessential keg party from memory or that frat party movie scene. (High-energy events like these may attract college students to your brewery or bar.) While we often think of games like Beer pong, beer is only the top adult beverage choice for about 13% of college students.

Still, there are ways that you can cater to college beer drinkers in your bar. Remember the preferences of college students - cheap and simple. Top preferred beer brands for college students include Corona, Budlight, and Coors. With this in mind, you probably won’t be serving a wide range of craft beers to college customers. Instead, you should keep a few cheap beers on tap and also have the option to serve them in a can or a bottle.

You may draw more college drinkers to the option of beer by offering some creative serving options. Try these ideas:

  • Make it a shandy: Mix beer and orange juice to serve a shandy-like beverage. 
  • Serve pitchers: College students typically travel in packs. Offer discounts on ordering a whole pitcher of beer to cater to groups.
  • Mix it with more alcohol: Think of some combos of liquors you can serve with beers. College students would rather have a good time than a good drink, meaning prioritize alcohol content. A common combo is a shot of tequila in a Corona, and the more recent TikTok innovation of this beverage includes orange juice and grenadine.

Wine

Wine clocks in as the least popular drink option for college students, but this doesn’t mean you can’t bring them wine options they like. It may be less popular for its higher price or because it feels less approachable. You probably won’t win over college drinkers with your most expensive bottle of wine, but they might like some other options for wine drinking.

Try mixing it with other things or offering promos on certain types of wine to draw them in. Maybe Wednesdays you have discounts on “Rosé all day,” or Tuesdays are Sangria day. Think of these ideas as you craft wine offerings to cater to college students:

  • Serve wine flights: College students may find wine intimidating. Offering a flight means customers can feel free to try a few options to get familiar with different types of wine.
  • Make mixed drinks with wine: College drinkers are still working on their palate, so serving wine mixed drinks gives students a wine option that doesn’t drop them in the deep end.
  • Don’t grab the priciest bottle: College students probably won’t be your customer who purchases the most expensive wine bottle. Instead, curate an offering of affordable yet tasty wines so they have options to choose from on your menu.

Bottom line

One last point before we go, it’s important to make sure you are serving customers who are the legal age — otherwise, you are putting your business in jeopardy. When serving college students, make sure you are carding regularly.

Remember that affordability, approachability — and fun — add up to an enjoyable bar experience for college drinkers. Focus on the most popular preferred beverages, liquor and hard seltzer, to maximize profit from college student customers.

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