Keeping track of trends - what's new, what works, and more importantly, how the new can inform and invigorate the tried and true - is nearly a full time job for beverage professionals. But things change so subtly and then suddenly that being unaware of how consumers are behaving can leave a business in the dust.
Here are two subtle changes, observed at two recently opened New York City bars where cocktails get proper attention, but not quite so serious as many. There's the just-opened Golden Cadillac Food & Drink, a venture of cocktail book publisher and barware impressario Greg Boehm and Giusseppe Gonzalez are offering contemporary takes not only on the eponymous drink, but also Long Island Iced Teas, Buttery Nipples and Strawberry Daiquiris, with food from Miguel Trinidad’s menu of classic New York dishes inspired by vintage editions of Gourmet Magazine. If those drinks from the 1970s can be rescued and rehabilitated, this might be the place that sets off yet another wave of cocktail rediscovery.
Already, a more modest but rewarding attempt to reclaim the recent past has been set in action at The Butterfly, a 1950s style cocktail lounge with food, where Eben Freeman has wrought a snappy Tom Collins using lemongrass and other herbs, along with Mai-Tais, Whiskey Sours and the like using the experimental technique he's known for. The result: simple late 20th century drinks seem new and inviting.
These sorts of changes are seen in food service all the time - traditional items given a tweak using contemporary techniques and ingredients. Industry research firm Technomic's most recent flavor findings signal the need for operators to stay on top of flavor trends by reinvigorating classic offerings with new and unique twists. Their study found nearly three-quarters of consumers (73 percent) say that if they try and like a menu item with an innovative flavor, they would be highly likely to return to the restaurant for the same menu item.
“In a competitive foodservice climate, flavor differentiation is a must-have for operators,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, Inc. “Because today’s foodservice consumers have such a strong expectation for innovative flavors, operators and suppliers have to help the menu stand out by staying ahead of the flavor curve. Knowing which flavors are up-and-coming and truly enticing to guests will be essential in gaining their dining-out dollars.”
Technomic's Flavor Consumer Trend Report also finds that for the first time, a majority of consumers (54 percent) say they prefer hot or spicy sauces, dips or condiments, compared to 48 percent of consumers in 2011 and 46 percent two years earlier. Yet drinks made with assertive spice or savory presence are still hard to find. That's partially down to the way alcohol makes many ingredients taste even spicier, but many ingredients are still crying out to be included in the bar mix, even at the most mass-market places. Freeman's staff sent out a drink not on the menu when I visited the Butterfly, a Gin Fizzy drink made with Ford's Gin and lovage, and it was crisp, delicious and refreshing, just the sort of appetizer drink more places should be concocting. Because, if for no other reason, your customers are ready.