Bar professional Harrison Ginsberg has never forgotten the four words that stoked his passion for this business: “Drink well Rhode Island.”
He heard those words after he had just started bartending while attending Johnson & Wales University. To him, those words meant—and still mean—using quality spirits, mixers and modifiers; providing great hospitality; and teaching guests and hospitality pros to drink well.
Ginsberg has worked at world-renowned bars like Dead Rabbit and 2018 Nightclub & Bar Cocktail Bar of the Year winner BlackTail. He’s now preaching the Drink Well gospel in his role as head bartender and bar manager at Crown Shy in New York City.
Drinking well isn’t the only movement Ginsberg embodies—he also believes that the craft cocktail movement is a way of life, industry standard, and new frontier. And if the craft cocktail movement isn’t a fad or trend, drinking well shouldn’t be either. The two are part and parcel, after all.
At this point, it’s probably much more accurate to refer to the craft cocktail movement as the craft cocktail standard. Below you’ll find the tips Ginsberg shared for craft cocktail success during the 2019 National Restaurant Association show in Chicago.
As Ginsberg explains it, premium mixers enjoy an elevated perception. Many guests and bartenders believe that opening a bottled mixer is classier than using a soda gun. Ginsberg also says that premium mixers have a brighter taste and are the “definitive idea of craft.”
Taking the topic of perception further, Ginsberg says that all it takes to boost guest perception is a bit of initial thought and investment. Working with suppliers—particularly before a new concept opens its doors for the first time—can help operators save money and increase profit margins.
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Providing the right tools creates an engaged team, and they in turn create engaged regulars. Invest in better ice. Buy better glassware. Invest in the team to create a healthy company culture. When a team is passionate, when guests feel good energy and witness healthy team interactions, their perception of the drinks, food, atmosphere and brand overall becomes more positive. A craft cocktail isn’t always “just a drink.”
Preparing fresh juices requires labor. Ginsberg is well aware that it can take 90 minutes just to make 7 quarts of fresh lime juice. It’s also true that many bars and restaurants—both independent and chain—task certain bar team shifts to prepare fresh juices. There’s a reason that juice is literally worth the squeeze: fresh juice looks and smells fresh.
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Using store-bought or otherwise mass-produced juices just doesn’t draw in guests like fresh counterparts. Finely crafted cocktails made with fresh juices smell and taste better, elevating the guest experience and tempting them to come back for more. For those who feel they simply can’t prepare fresh juices, Ginsberg recommends juices by Twisted Alchemy. They arrive in a day and have a decent shelf life.
It’s not enough that guests buy into an operation’s dedication to putting craft cocktails across the bar. A bar or restaurant’s team must also buy in—their authentic passion draws guests in even deeper.
Operators must invest in their bar teams if they truly want to capitalize on the craft cocktail standard. Ginsberg suggests encouraging bar teams to take advantage of industry resources such as BarSmarts and the USBG. Online training platforms like Typsy and JERRY can keep hospitality professionals sharp and help them add to their skillset. Operators should consider investing in these subscription-based resources.
When it comes to supplier training, Ginsberg suggests accepting free opportunities “even if it's a bit of a sales pitch because everyone who attends that training will leave with more knowledge than they arrived with.”
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I would add that this digital platform and the annual Nightclub & Bar Show are also valuable training resources. The articles on Nightclub.com can be shared with managers and team members, and operators who attend the show with their teams leave better prepared to implement what they learn from our speakers.
Craft cocktails allow operators to offer high-quality drinks and a guest experience taken to the next level. Drinks made with premium spirits and premium mixers over premium ice in premium glassware can cost more to make, that’s true. But they also justify higher prices. This should already be a habit with which operators are obsessed but Ginsberg says that operators must cost everything. Making more money with craft cocktails is about controlling costs, not just slapping higher prices on drink menus.
Put these tips together, transform your team into passionate advocates for drinking well, and your guests will come to your bar or restaurant to drink better.