Never assume your customers know anything about sake. I’m an avid sushi and Japanese steak house lover but it was only recently that I was properly introduced and fell in love with sake.
Whenever I was offered sake at a restaurant I would immediately say no thank you and order my usual drink of choice and the majority of your customers do the same. Most consumers’ first introduction to sake is either during the “show” at the table when the chef squirts it into the mouths of customers or served hot in the typical small ceramic tokkuri.
Only recently has there been a surge in sake and its exquisite use in cocktails, opening up the possibilities on how you would usually enjoy the spirit. And well informed servers can make all the difference in broadening customer’s horizons on all things sake.
Recently on a visit to Ambrosia Sushi & Sake Bar, who only serves sake and wine, I was forced out of my typical comfort zone. The waitress politely asked what I would have typically ordered. With this knowledge she made a suggestion for a certain sake cocktail. She then went on to explain all the different types of sake and sake cocktails they offered. Nonetheless, I was still quite hesitant waiting for her to bring over the “hot rubbing alcohol” which I (and your typical customer) always associated with sake.
When the waitress came back I was completely surprised just at the appearance alone. It was served chilled in a cosmopolitan glass with a sugar rim. My first sip and I was hooked! If the restaurant served my usual drink, how long would I have gone on with my misconceptions of sake? So by all means, introduce your customers to all the wonderful sake options.
For the bar owners seeking the next chic thing, educate your bartenders on all the amazingly delicious cocktails that are made with sake. It has become quite the competition for typical vodka based cocktails and is being used in a myriad of them from martinis to bloody marys.
For restaurants with an extensive sake list, your wait staff should be educated on the options you offer and how they pair with the ordered entrees and/or appetizers. If you don’t carry traditional sake glasses, a wine glass is the best vessel to serve sake in. This allows the consumer to see the color and take in all the different facets of the aroma which in and of itself have a huge impact on the flavor. And most premium sakes are better served chilled or at room temperature.
Remember that many of your customers were first introduced to sake served hot and the majority of those are lower grade sakes served “hot” in an attempt to mask its poor grade. Therefore, many customers need to be properly reintroduced to sake. Offering a “sake sampler” where six different chilled sakes are tasted is a great way to introduce new sake connoisseurs to its many different varieties and savors.