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Lessons from Tales of the Cocktail: How To Create the Perfect Menu

July 21, 2011 By: Alissa Ponchione

When it comes to drink menus, most operators don't take the time to create one that draws guests’ attention and guides them to the right drink.

That’s part of the problem with running a sucessful business, says Angus Winchester, Tanqueray global ambassador and Sean Finter, global director and founder of Barmetrix, a Washington, D.C.-based company that helps bars maximize profits, at their Tales of the Cocktail Pro-Series Seminar, "The Menu" in New Orleans this week.

For all intents and purposes, the beverage menu is important not only because it leaves a lasting impression about your establishment to your guests but also because it’s both an advertising tool and an efficiency tool. In fact, the greatest indicator of a successful drinks menu is when customers steal it; as a bar operator, you should be encourage this because people who take your drinks menu with them mostly likely will come back again.

Additionally, a visible, clean and plentiful menu, as well as a digital menu that is available on your Website, other sites and your social-networking sites will entice customers, giving them a clear idea of your establishment’s identity.

“Bars are businesses,” Winchester reminds the crowd. “We are sales people.”

Although Winchester warned that most bars are born to fail and most menus are done as an afterthought, he and Finter listed the ways in which a successful cocktail menu can be fruitful for your bar or club's bottom line:

1. A bar list should be built around individuals. Finter said most operators make the mistake of building the bar list around the top 20% of the bar team when, in reality, it should be built around the bottom 20% of your team, who aren't as skilled at making drinks as your top performers. You also should take into consideration what consumers want from your establishment.

2. “A bar is a series of suggestions,” Winchester says. He advises operators to be more discerning about what cocktails should be added to the menu. “It’s almost like speed dating. The drink menu makes your guests decide if they want another drink, or if they’ll come back,” he says.

3. “The menu should be like sitting with the owner; it puts forward your mission statement,” Winchester says.

4. The mistake many bar operators and managers fall into is offering too many cocktails. The number of drinks can be defeating to your staff who may not be able to create all of those drinks to perfection. Both Finter and Winchester suggest having a list of seven cocktails plus one more, which can be your signature cocktail or a rotating seasonal drink. They also advise that a great non-alcohol option is a must on any list.

5. When it comes to building a menu, language and visuals are elements that can make or break your menu. Use pictures beside the drinks as well as long, evocative descriptions that will create a mental picture of what you’re serving. Remember, you don’t want any miscommunication about what you offer or how those drinks taste and look.

6. Keep the language of the menu conversational and chatty. Winchester suggests paying for feedback by awarding guests who offer the most thorough feedback with a gift card to your establishment. This incentive will help your business grow while creating loyalty with clientele.

Once you’re able to tackle your drinks menu head on and make changes from wording to aesthetics to pricing, you’ll be on your way to having a successful drinks program. A thriving program is not only about profitability and costing of drinks, but also about being creative and having customers order another round in your bar or club. Your guests are ordering drinks, Finter reminds, so it shouldn’t be taken that seriously; it should be fun! By following these simple steps, your drinks menu will have guests laughing and imbibing with unabashed enjoyment for hours.


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