In Drink World, standing still means losing ground. Reports from bar and restaurant market analysts, for instance, have started pointing to the growing impact on sales and profitability of the drinking and dining habits of Millennials. This consumer cohort, beginning to hit their thirties and bouncing back from the Great Recession's employment slow-down, crave constant change, new tastes, new experiences, and don't seem as interested in brand loyalty and repeat engagements, meaning developing a loyal customer base isn't going to get any easier.
That's one of the reasons a regularly changing beverage menu is important. But many operations are simply not designed for steady change or having enough time getting their staffs to make and serve drinks the way they were designed. Multi-ingredient drinks, in other words, craft cocktails and the more cutting-edge solutions aren't likely to help keep them fresh.
Culinary cocktails, those using more savory ingredients associated with food items, could provide a point of differentiation, even though they have a reputation for being more complicated. Take the way culinary cocktails employ fresh herbal touches - sprigs of rosemary, basil leaves, mint, tarragon, thyme and other easily obtained ingredients - as a flavor enhancer. Routine and slightly dull drinks like Gin and Tonics become something special when a bartender slaps a rosemary stalk to release the herbal oils and slips it down the side of the glass. Margaritas served or even blended with a bit of basil added, even into a Mango or Strawberry Margarita can add a distinctive flavor profile, a bit of flash and a conversation starter. Look how much customers like Mojitos or Mint Juleps, as much because of the fresh mint as anything else.
There are other ways to bring culinary touches to otherwise routine beverages. At a recent spirits competition, I tried a vodka flavored with Old Bay seasoning, which of course made me think of Bloody Marys, a drink just begging for customization in your kitchen, with salts or herbs or spices - anything, really that your customers grab ahold of. Take any one of your top ten sellers, and think of how you can tweak the drink - not change its established flavor profile but rather enhance and elevate it.
You don't need to take major or dramatic steps in order to make your drinks more culinary minded - all you really need to do is experiment a bit, sample your staff and friends and even loyal customers to get some feedback. Drink-making, despite what the modern mixology world might suggest, isn't rocket science. But it could stand some reinvention now and again, and your kitchen is the place to start.