Is Bottle Service Dead?June 10, 2014 By: Steve Lewis
Bottle service is a worldwide phenomenon; it has taken clubs from times of street smart owners to corporate control. It’s big business and the sale of bottles has allowed clubs to hire six figure DJs, undergo multi-million dollar renovations and support huge staffs handsomely. Some credit it for saving Las Vegas as nightlife continues to drive gaming and tourism as a whole.
In New York it has allowed operators to survive and thrive despite monumental rents, insurance and other costs. Whole neighborhoods like The Meatpacking District and Outer Chelsea were transformed by bottle service clubs. The irony of the $500 or $1000 bottle of liquor is that everyone generally shares the same spirits.
One of the advantage of bottle service is the patrons are making their own drinks. Instead of 5 or 10 bartenders; successful places have 50 or 100 people pouring drinks. It's hard for a person who prefers scotch or gin to be happy at a table like this and the busy waitrons are hard pressed to bring the alternative beverage. In many places, especially more intimate ones, bottle service has been replaced with table service; it's a subtle difference but good for the customer and club.
The mixology or cocktail revolution brings rewards to places that have clients bored of the same old model dropping the bottle on the table, smile and leave. The irony is the people spending the most money have the fewest choices. Brilliant cocktails with superior and exotic ingredients and skilled preparation are the present and certainly the future. For an operator it will mean change as bars must accommodate the juices, syrups, fruits, vegetables and devices necessary to prepare the perfect cocktail. Bars will need specialty ice cubes and more storage and menus to explain it all. It is happening now and the evolution from the bottle service era to the table service will be a hot topic. At a wonderful BBQ where I could sample their cocktails I asked Parker Boase and Greg Lucas of Liquid Lab about this:
Has bottle service become boring and will the cocktail culture make serious inroads on this culture?
Bottle service has lost a bit of its appeal over the years, it’s become very predictable and tired; with the economy bouncing back people are in the mood for something a bit more customized and inventive. Several new bars and clubs have started incorporating a more high end approach to bottle service with specialty mixers and wider selections; this looks like a trend that’s going to continue to grow.
Is cocktailing cost affective? How much can you charge for an amazing cocktail?
Of course you’ll expect to pay more for a specialty cocktail ($12-$15 is standard in NYC) but there’s several factors that come into play including atmosphere, quality of seasonal produce, and availability. Liquid Lab likes to incorporate a variety of obscure and seasonal produce items, unique syrups, and infusions to make the cocktails special and unique. Creating a description and journey for the cocktail gives it more worth in the eye of the consumer, and allows the price point to go up accordingly.
Will bars have to be redesigned to provide all these non-traditional ingredients, ice-cubes, tools and storage?
Not necessarily, through our consulting services we have been able to work with what the space has available and utilize it to its fullest potential. One thing that we run into frequently is when a bar doesn’t have access to any kitchen materials especially a stove or burners. This is important to create custom syrups which is a huge ongoing trend in mixology. We have a large variety of custom syrups and tinctures that we are working on bottling for business and personal use that will solve this issue and save the bar a lot of time on preparation.
You must be retrofitting bars to accommodate your culture. How do you train staff and owners to help you help them?
In our experience, we have often been brought in to breathe life back into a pre-existing lack-luster cocktail program. Occasionally we work with staff that is not so accustomed to the world of craft cocktails so we have to restructure their process from the ground up. We always start with the menu and build knowledge with the staff from there. Doing quality control checks weekly once the program is in play and making sure everything is consistent is a must. Consistency is incredibly important when it comes to creating a successful beverage program.
Special events are your bread and butter. What are the cocktail staples that are perfect for every event and tell me about your wildest concoction was to fit a themed party?
We’ve worked with a variety of corporate clients such as Facebook, Google, Maybelline, and Nickelodeon that often challenge us to create custom creations to fit in with their company vibe. These are our favorite types of events and we love a challenge. As far as staples we like to offer and list that spans a lot of different cocktail styles so the selection has balance and appeals to everyone. We often present the client with a variety of different options and let them pick the most appealing choices. In the past, we have been given the opportunity to delve into molecular mixology for chemical and fragrance companies, playing with dry ice, suspensions, reversed specification, and molecular foams. Most recently we got to delve into Middle Eastern flavors for a “Summer Oasis” themed event which was a lot of fun. This included a Twist on an old fashioned with Masala Syrup and Cinnamon Bitters, a Lychee-Hibiscus Clove concoction and ginger-rum shooters with Turkish coffee rubbed limes.
With all the great spirits out there is vodka still king?
Great question, commercially, yes. But from a mixology perspective it’s a bit redundant because it doesn’t necessarily add flavor to a complex cocktail and simply adds alcohol, which is why most mixologists lean towards gin as a clear spirit of choice.