Sometimes industry experts have to brace themselves and deliver unpopular facts and opinions. The editor of Bar & Restaurant Magazine and creator of The Bar and Restaurant Exchange (The BRX), William Fanning (also the July 2014 NCB Bartender of the Month) takes educating operators seriously and isn’t afraid to confidently say what’s what. No doubt his view on modern mixology will be deemed controversial or just wrong by many a bartender but he doesn’t mince words. What owners, operators, bar managers, mixologists and bartenders need to realize is that William is passionate about our industry, in particular the operations aspect.
“My passion has always been the business side. More than food, more than drink, more than anything. As all of you know, the unknown variables in this industry are insane so, to me, it’s the greatest test of any business model, is being able to succeed in our industry,” says William.
Unknown variables are peppered throughout our industry. Analyzing trends, gambling on specific trends, attempting to stay ahead of trends… All of this introduces unknown variable after unknown variable. Mixology is no different: it’s a hot trend with plenty of subcategories presenting all sorts of challenges. William’s definition of mixology is born of his passion for operations. To him, mixology – in terms of business – is just one optional feature of a bar or restaurant business model. Some of you just rolled your eyes so hard that people could hear it above the din of a busy bar. But before you close your browser, understand that William is not anti-mixology. Rather, he’s pro-business-minded mixology.
The truth is that the raging popularity of The Mixology Movement has motivated many operators to blindly “develop” programs that don’t deliver positive results for bottom lines or guest experiences. Instead, these programs, in William’s opinion, have led to five misconceptions that are hurting production and administration.
Misconception 1: Labor is Quality
Good things take time. However, many a mixology program has twisted that simple statement into, “Good things must take time.” This means that plenty of bartenders have adopted harmful techniques in the name of mixology. Some of the main culprits are double straining, muddling and the long shake. Now, these things are not all bad all the time. And yes, some experts argue that these are practices which take just a few more seconds. However, these three techniques have their cons. Double straining is good when it’s performed for the good of the cocktail. This technique can imbue a cocktail with a desired texture. If it’s done all the time, though, it can mean failing to deliver on the right texture of a certain beverage. Muddling, obviously, can mean crafting a cocktail with the freshest juices. It can also mean a lack of consistency. According to William, muddling can lead to drinks with juice content that is off from a quarter-ounce to a half-ounce. Finally, the long shake adds water and oxygen and chills a drink, all things that are not objectively desired in every single cocktail.
Misconception 2: Expensive Means Better
This is a myth that holds true for just about everything in life. Expensive clothing, jewelry, food, cars, devices, etc., aren’t always better than their affordable counterparts. The fact is that an ingredient in a cocktail build – or the cocktail itself – being expensive doesn’t automatically mean it’s of a higher quality. Expensive simply does not equate to objectively better, it just means it’s different. What expensive actually means is one thing: higher production cost.
Misconception 3: Methodology is Critical
Some of you reading this aren’t going to like William’s opinion of methodology, particularly those who identify themselves as craft bartenders or mixologists. “Methodology is overrated,” says William. Now, he does recognize that there are two types of methodology: functional and performance-based. Obviously, functional methodology is absolutely necessary. But, while performance-based cocktail building and service can be important, operators should ask themselves the following question: Is there a better way to make that drink? Perhaps, rather than making every build a show, presentation can deliver the wow factor to guests. Glassware, garnishes and delivery can excite a guest every bit as much as performance.
Misconception 4: A Drink List is a Drink Program
A drink program is, instead, the administrative side of running the bar. That is to say, labor allocation, documented functional methodology, monitored training, reorganization plans, ordering lists, menus and complete cost analysis. Prep schedules need to be created so that everyone behind the bar is assigned prep tasks. Develop a checklist for prep and a system of checking that checklist. Also, avoid the simple one out, one in system as it’s terribly inefficient whenever a bar menu is changed and new drinks have been developed.
Misconception 5: Volume isn’t Regulated by Price
Poor labor-to-profit ratios afflict far too many bars. Spending 80% of your effort on 20% of the items that bring in profit is incredibly ineffective. One of the reasons this happens is that some operators just refuse to charge the proper amount for their drinks. As William sees it, lots of bars charge for drinks, just not specific drinks. Instead, a window of pricing is set around premium calls plus or minus a couple of dollars and then every other drink price is scaled within that window. This means that operators either don’t know or don’t care what the actual cost is of their cocktails. Unfortunately, this method of pricing leads to the capping of prices on certain drinks and the devaluing of ingredients. The bottom line is that a drink should never – never – cost a business money (or slow down the bar). Instead, analyze and balance your costs, charge for each individual drink and build production costs into your drinks. You also must be willing to remove drinks that just aren’t working from your menu. If tweaking its recipe and cost isn’t leading to sales, toss it.
As stated earlier, some of William’s opinions regarding modern mixology aren’t popular. Odds are you’ve disagreed with one or more of the statements in this article. Just know that he only wants you to think about what’s best for your business and to stop doing things just because everyone else is doing them.