Liquid Thinking

Restaurant Licensing

Are we missing a trick? 

26th April 2023

With big hospitality brand names such as Leon, Nando’s and Pizza Express packaging their sauces for the home market, consumers are used to seeing the restaurants they love on the supermarket shelves as spin-off products. Yet few of these product lines ever extend to drinks. With the power of many restaurant brand names exceptionally strong, we ask, why are restaurants not licensing their drinks? 

What’s in a name? Spending power, that’s what. Some of the most successful new products to hit retail shelves already have something familiar about them, whether that’s a spin-off from an existing brand, or more recently, a flood of celebrity endorsements. To buy into something new, consumers need a reason and a powerful brand name gives them one. 

For drinks, celeb backing has proved one of the most powerful tools for enticing customers to give their products a go. Whether they’re buying into a sense of trust, or an air of prestige, well-known names have consistently proved enticing. 

After celebrity, comes integrity?

But where do we go from here? Though the celeb drinks trend has been with us for a while, and shows no signs of slowing down, there’s a powerful potential source of established brand names that isn’t being utilised. Restaurants. 

For most restaurant brands, food is first and foremost. And we’ve seen licensing of their brand names for packaged sauces et al fairly frequently. In the UK, high street brands such as Leon, Nando’s and Pizza Express have all licenced their names for packaged versions of their signature sauces, each well-known and distinctive to, their brands. In the US, the trend is even more prevalent with chains such as TGI Fridays lending their name to chips/ crisps and more. 

Tentative steps 

But, there’s been relatively little activity when it comes to drinks. Upmarket Bombay-inspired restaurant chain Dishoom has put its name to everything from cook-at-home bacon naan kits, to cookbooks and vinyl records. It is one of the few to brand and package its drinks for at-home consumption. Bottled cocktails include Permit Room Old-Fashioned and Premier Padmini Negroni, and its own IPA. In the US and the UK, TGI Fridays has previously packaged its cocktails, selling products such as a Passion Fruit Martini through retailers including Tesco. 

However, once the confine of large brands with scale, there are now smaller bars and restaurants beginning to package and offer their drinks nationally. London’s Hacha Bar is one such example. Its signature serve, ‘the Mirror Margarita’, was first sold as an RTD during the pandemic lockdowns. The uniquely clear cocktail has just secured a listing in Sainsbury’s supermarkets for summer 2023, as part of a black-owned brands incubator process, called ‘Thrive with Sainsbury’s’.

The Cipriani brand is another to lend its name to packaged products, offering consumers who are unable to visit Venice, access to “live the Harry’s Bar experience at home”. Giuseppe Cipriani-created drinks such as the Bellini are offered alongside branded prosecco, white, red and rosé wines. In the US, chef Wolfgang Puck is another to expand the reach of his brand through licensing. So far he has products such as Pinor Noir and coffee to his name. 

Obvious benefits

The benefits seem obvious. Licensing allows brands to scale-up far beyond the physical limits of their bricks and mortar restaurants or bars. Get your brand into a consumer’s home and the marketing value and physical presence of the brand name are multiplied exponentially. There is of course a risk… that the quality and experience doesn’t match what the restaurant brand has worked hard to establish. But get it right and the brand recognition, volumes and marketing value are potentially huge. 

So why aren’t more on-trade brands already licensing their names for off-trade products? The key part of all of the most successful examples for both food and drinks products lies with having something that is unique to the brand. From a house dressing to a hot sauce – or a uniquely clear margarita – the products need to have mainstream appeal, but for bigger brands they need to encapsulate something unique about the brand DNA with a flavour or product they’re already known for. While for newer or smaller brands they need to be doing something that is different to anything on the market, that the brand can hang its hat on. 

Unique brand DNA

Scale is possibly one of the reasons we haven’t seen more restaurant-driven drinks brands come to market. Licensing was previously confined to only the biggest national brands, but that isn’t and doesn’t need to be the case anymore. If a restaurant has a reputation and something it is uniquely known for, it can sell its name. Bars such as Hacha, which has only two physical sites, is proof of this. And looking beyond drinks, many licensed brands have in fact outlived their physical sites. Look at the Sanctuary range of toiletries, which still exists long after its namesake Sanctuary Spa in London, closed for good. 

The other issue comes to product formulation. While wines, beers, and spirits are of course shelf stable, cocktails and non-alc options often are not, and require more product development to make them both scalable, while accurately representing the brand. There are, of course, substantial costs involved. 

But it’s a worthy area of exploration. With the currency of some celebrities waring thin (see our previous look at how consumers are increasingly demanding integrity from those that back drinks brands), there needs to be a next step, an evolution, in attracting consumer’s attention with new but recognisable brands. Bar and restaurant brand licensing could well be the next way to do it. 


Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

Please contact us at or 0207 101 3939