Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series looking at how you can update your cocktail menu to see top-line benefits. Read the second part here.
Drinking is easy, as long as patrons are sipping on something that gratifies their thirst. However, not all cocktail menus are enticing to guests. Adding a signature cocktail can update a cocktail menu and create loyal clientele. A signature cocktail isn’t about throwing ingredients together, hoping to create a magic potion. It’s a thoughtful process that includes out-of-the-box ingredients, ingenuity, a clever name and an attractive presentation. Adam Seger, celebrated mixologist and co-founder of hum spirits, has some insights into signature cocktails, noting that when everything comes together, your guests will take notice and come back for more. Here are a few more helpful hints to get your cocktails flying off the bar:
1. The cocktail is the experience. A signature cocktail should be just that, Seger says, but it’s also much more than just a drink. It should be “seamless with the concept and menu, and enhancing the entire experience,” he says. If you’re not a cocktail bar, you shouldn’t feel intimidated by the process. Seger suggests reaching out to spirit distributors as most of them have company mixologists that can help get you started. “That’s a great way to start,” he says. If it’s done well, you’ll be able to sell them. The signature cocktail, after all, is “the first thing that someone tastes.”
2. Take advantage of the kitchen. Seger recommends venturing to the kitchen and having the chef suggest some ingredients that will transform cocktails. “Involve the chef and change the cocktail list as often as you change the menu,” he says. “Using existing mise-en-place from the kitchen is the best way to create truly signature cocktails that are unique to your establishment that guests cannot get anywhere else.”
For example, Seger points to the Westside Tavern in Los Angeles, a farm-to-table concept that uses locally sourced ingredients. One of the best-selling cocktails on the menu is the Watermelon Aviation. The aviation is a very classic, retro cocktail, and all the Westside Tavern team did to make it unique was add fresh watermelon juice. The juice they “had in house anyway because the chef had it in the kitchen,” he explains. “It can be something simple to prepare and execute but may not be easy to get somewhere else or recreate themselves. That’s when you get something that’s also a signature.”
3. Be thoughtful. Creating a signature drink takes time and experimenting. This is the cocktail for which your bar or club will be known. Adding new drinks is similar to adding food items, explains Seger. “The wrong direction happens when the operators don’t think about the cocktails the way they do about their menu.”
If you’re embarking on the cocktail journey, Seger advises starting slowly. Don’t be hasty in creating your menu or loading your menu with cocktails that are just OK. Seger sticks with odd numbers that “look more balanced” on the menu and says to not add more than “five or seven (cocktails) for restaurants just starting out.” You want to have distinct cocktails that are well thought out and that “each one is really great.”
4. Cocktails are money-makers. Beyond a good-tasting drink, signature cocktails do something more important: They help your bottom line. Seger says, “a good operation will sell a majority of their cocktails from a signature list.” He adds, that signature drinks are “often the guests’ first impression and a reason for them to go back,” he says. “(Signature drinks) also are more profitable than food.”
To ensure your cocktails will continue to be money-makers, Seger advises to keep things “seasonal and in sync with kitchen produce and house-made infusions and syrups,” and “you can use high-quality craft spirits as well as spirits of historic integrity and run 20% to 22% cost. “These are your highest margin menu items, but you have to execute them correctly,” he adds.
5. Aesthetics are important. “Pictures are great for social media, press, training and websites,” Seger explains, adding that digital has reinvented cocktail promotions. He recommends using natural light or back lighting to really bring the cocktails to life. “Also,” he adds, “never underestimate the power of the right name. The best hum cocktail in the U.S. is the French Sailor at The Misfit Restaurant + Bar in Santa Monica (California). It is a fun, distinctive name that fits the concept perfectly.”
Good bar owners should also take into consideration social-media’s presence. People that are into cocktails “are pretty social-media savvy,” and “anytime you have a fun, distinctive cocktail, people will take a picture and send a tweet, post it on Facebook or Foursquare,” he says. “It’s self-generating advertising. It’s got to be something a little bit special.”
Spice & Ice
All drink photos provided by Tanzy Restaurant