How to Price Alcoholic Beverages in Your Bar or Restaurant


how to price alcohol

Learning how to price alcoholic beverages in your bar or restaurant involves finding a calculated balance between profit and customer satisfaction. On one hand, you want to gain the most profit for your business, but on the other, you need to retain value for the customer’s dollar. This balance includes many factors including beverage cost and overhead. Let’s dive in and get down to the nuts and bolts of how to find the best beverage cost for your business.

Know Your Alcohol Cost

When all is said and done, it’s important that your products make a profit for your business. The first – and most important thing – is to consider your total beverage cost. By definition, the beverage cost equals how much you are paying for your beer, wine and liquor/cocktail recipe.

Experts suggest an ideal beverage cost of 20 to 30 percent of the sale price. Meaning, the price you pay per drink should be  20 – 30 percent of the price you charge your customers. If you know the cost of your drink’s recipe, then you’ll be ahead of the curve for this equation.

For bottles or pints of beer, you’ll need to know how many pints are in each keg or how many bottles are in each case. For wine, you’ll need to have a good handle on how many x-ounce size glasses are poured per bottle. As for cocktails, you’ll need to price out each measured ingredient, and then add them together to come to a total cost per drink.

Pricing Example for a Cosmopolitan Recipe:

  • The Amount Paid for the Ingredients per Recipe:
  • 1.5 oz Vodka = $1.20
  • .5 oz Cointreau = $0.70
  • 1.5 oz Cranberry Juice = $0.12
  • Squeeze of Lime = $0.05
  • Lime zest, garnish = $0.05
  • Recipe Total: $2.12
  • With this information, you can figure out the best menu price for a reasonable profit.
  • Since $2.12 represents 20%, or 1/5, of your drink price, multiply your drink cost by 5 to reach your final menu price.
  • The Ideal Beverage Cost is: 20%
  • The Math: $2.12 x 5 = $10.60
  • The Menu Price: $10.60

In order to make a profit, you need to know how much you are paying for your inventory. Once you’ve priced out the cost per recipe, you can mark up your drinks accordingly to ensure that enough money is collected to cover business expenses (rent/mortgage, labor, equipment, etc.) while still making a profit.

Analyzing bar competition

Analyze the Competition

Unless you’re opening up a bar in an incredibly remote area, chances are you’ll have some competition to work with. Even greater are the chances that customers will be comparing your menu to the competition. Because this is the likely case, you’ll need to get a feel for what the competition is offering and charging. From there, you can determine a price range in your area with an acceptable maximum that customers will pay for beverages.

Competitive Analysis Example:

If the four-star restaurant downtown charges $12 for a cocktail, but the neighborhood bar on the corner charges $4 for a cocktail, then you know you are probably safe to price your cocktails somewhere between $4 and $12, depending on the quality of ingredients and level of service you offer.

Higher prices, if not a clue to higher beverage costs, are usually adjusting for entertainment, ambiance, service quality or a prime location. If your establishment is more casual, then a lower price may be more appropriate. If customers are used to low prices at their neighborhood bars, and your neighborhood bar charges more, even just a dollar more, people will notice. It all depends on what your customers expect, and what they are willing to pay. 

Establish Standard Recipes for Each Drink

Standardization is key when it comes to making drinks. For example, if all of your bartenders make long island iced teas differently, it will be very difficult to accurately track your ingredients and cost. This can result in a loss of profit and inventory. Standardization keeps costs even and builds a set of quality expectations for your customers.

Charge for Entertainment

Bars or restaurants that offer entertainment have a few options when it comes to pricing. Usually the bar pays a band, artist or other group to entertain, so subsequently the establishment needs to come up with the money to pay for it.

Introduce a cover charge. Often, managers or owners will introduce a cover charge on the nights when they provide entertainment. Guests pay $10 to get in, and this helps cover the charge for the band.

Raise drink prices. Some operations will incorporate the cost of their entertainment into the prices of the drinks. For instance, on nights when a bar offers live jazz, their drinks might go up slightly in price to compensate the overhead of providing live entertainment.

how to price alcoholic beverages in your bar or restaurantCharge for masterful preparation.

Some drinks can be priced higher because they require more skill to make. Additionally, flair bartending can be considered a form of entertainment and skill even though it takes place behind the bar. Since this kind of bartending adds an element of perceived difficulty and performance, the bar manager can charge more for drinks.

Price for Promotions

Who doesn’t love a good happy hour?  Happy hours vary across the board, from once a week to three times a day in some bars. Specials like this are designed to draw customers into your bar at off-peak times with lower prices than usual. Although bars may be making less profit per drink by offering lower prices, they hope to make up for it in volume. Bring in a lot of people during your specials, and your sales volume may just bring in more profit for you in the long run.

Pricing Example by Volume:

  • During a 4-hour period, your bar typically sells 100 cocktails at $4.00 each.
  • You lower the price to $2.00 per drink for the same 4-hour period and your bar attracts 300 people.
  • $4/drink x 100 = $400.00
  • $2/drink x 300 = $600.00
  • By lowering prices for a limited time, you could potentially make an extra $200.00 in sales.

If you make that cocktail with a slightly different kind of liquor for your promotion period, something that perhaps you can get a volume discount on, then you can increase your sales by more. This is a common tactic to make the most money on promotional drinks.

In the end, pricing depends on the following:

  1. The amount you pay for your inventory
  2. The target market you hope to attract
  3. The resulting profit you want to achieve.

Of course, you need to charge more than you paid for your beer, wine and liquor, but charging outrageous prices will leave you high and dry without any paying customers. Price your beverages accordingly to keep your bar in business and keep your customers coming back for more.

Illustrations by Roman Martinez for FSW


About Author


  1. In your volume sales example, the bar makes $200 more in sales, not profits. Based on your 20% pour cost (80 cents per drink) the bar makes $320 profit ($3.20×100, not including other overhead) while dropping the price in half results in $360 profit on the same drink ($1.20×300).

    • The PERCENTAGE profit is LESS in the volume example as well. 100 drinks cost $80. Selling at the lower price results in higher overhead. The only advantage of the lower price is increased sales on other things like food. BUT, it you provide free food during the drink special you lose that advantage.

  2. Pingback: 3 Ways to Save Money at the Bar

  3. I was told by a bar manager at at a local pub that she needs to get the cost out of a wine on what she says “first pour” So if I understand correctly a $10 bottle of wine she pays is $10 a glass. Is that normal.

    • Maggie Moulatsiotis
      Maggie Moulatsiotis on

      Yes Steve, that very normal! Many restaurants price wine by bottle cost x3 to make sure they cover the cost of the bottle in the first pour. Think of it this way, if you opened a bottle of wine and poured out one glass, and then no one else ordered that type of wine for the next couple of days, you would have a wasted bottle. By covering your cost on the first pour, you at least avoid going in the red by offering a “by the glass” program.

  4. What if a bar had no mortgage or rent and bartenders who worked solely for tips? Is there then a lower multiplier and what would that be. Of course taxes and utilities still apply but equipment costs are somewhat null. The bar was inherited.

    • If you don’t have any major expenses, yes the bar can charge less and still be fine, but I would be careful with that. As a customer, if I go somewhere, and the prices seem of place, either too low or too high, its a bad sign usually. If the prices are low, is the bar using cheap ingredients, is this just a cover for something else to make money off of, etc. Its fine to be slightly lower than your competition, but not too far off either.
      You say equipment costs are somewhat null, which may be true right now, but no equipment will last a lifetime (although we have a 1963 refrigerator that wants to beg to differ). Maybe an expensive part will one day stop working, or maybe the whole unit needs to be replaced. Those costs can be fairly high, especially specialty equipment from a trustworthy company.
      As don’t forget, there will be insurance payments, accountant, etc. also. There may also be other fees even with no mortgage or rent.

      I don’t manage a bar, but I know if I was in your shoes, I would price everything on the low side of competitively and start saving up money. Then maybe one day, make some improvements to the place, or invest the money some how, but always keep some cash on hand for when something decides to break, or an unexpected bill comes.

  5. Maggie
    If I am looking at a P & L sheet for a bar and they have their COG at 160K, what should their sales be. Lets base it on a buyback after 3 purchased drinks, with an average price per drink.

  6. Pricing is extremely nuanced/multi-faceted, almost to the point of an art form. I believe I have a pretty strong knack for it (but not a ton of experience), but there is always insight to be gained and differing perspectives to consider, even if you ultimately reject said perspective. Please respond with knowledge I don’t have yet! I’m still very green when it comes to this stuff. And I wanna be… brown? I guess?

    I was never taught the “first pour” rule of thumb mentioned above, but it didn’t take long to realize I was pricing wine that way – nearly. What’s tricky, in my situation, is that I live in Oklahoma, where liquor tax is stacked upon sales tax (yuck). What this means is that anything containing >3.2% ABW (alcohol by weight) is taxed about 22% for on premises consumption. So a $10 glass of wine becomes $12.20, which stings a little if I know I can buy a bottle for $10.99 at the liquor store – even if I understand the why the establishment must charge this. An example of my system = $10.50-13.50 my cost/bottle, $10 my price/glass. When I choose to carry a product that costs me, let’s say, >$25/B, I drop the mark-up substantially, scaling further down as the cost goes up. I sacrifice % mark-up for a much greater profit. So instead of charging nearly five times my cost, I charge two to three, probably averaging 2.5. Far Niente Chardonnay costs me $45/B – I charge $110. Exceptions exist – because of the high esteem, name recognition, and insane ratings Belle Glos Pinot Noir has, I charge, for a $32 bottle, $110. This is for the Dairyman Vineyard version – if I could get Clark and Telephone Vineyard, which costs the same as Dairyman, I might charge $20 more, and guests would gladly pay it. This is one of many areas where staff training is tied to pricing. Let’s say it’s an anniversary, she likes pinot noir, he likes dry reds in general, but neither know this wine – my server knows to talk about awards, ratings, and, most importantly, confidently and honestly describe the wine, even if he hasn’t had it – $30 profit on what would’ve been a bottle of La Crema Pinot Noir becomes almost $100 profit on Belle Glos.

    Sorry so long-winded – I’ll shut up now. I’ll part with more of my philosophy… be fair, be honest, be your guest’s new favorite dining or drinking experience, and be yourself – for god’s sake, don’t just copy someone else’s menu, content OR pricing! Also, leave me some tips and insight I haven’t thought of! Please!

Leave A Reply