Management Maximizing Profits Vol. 26 No. 12

The Bar Exam: How to Pass the Cocktail Taste Test with Flying Colors

Making a drink on a bar in the hospitality industry at casual dining restaurants via Adobe stock

Today’s craft cocktail culture requires fun, forward-thinking cocktail programs, which means you must serve high-quality, innovative drinks in order to separate your bar from the rest.

Revamping your beverage program sounds like a daunting task, but here are a few simple tricks to freshen up your cocktails and get your establishment noticed.

Use Fresh Ingredients

Let’s be honest: Mixed drinks taste better with fresh ingredients. Take the time to squeeze fresh lime juice and source the freshest herbs and fruit, and your cocktails will register as high-quality.

Frozen fruit works in a pinch, but try to use fresh fruit if possible. If you have the space, consider planting a little herb garden out back of the bar property or using an indoor herb kit that you can keep on the back bar– the freshest mint for a Mojito makes a huge difference.

Take pride in your ingredients, and customers will respond favorably and keep coming back for delicious, beautiful drinks.

Create Innovative, Seasonal Cocktails

Along those lines, be ready to change your menu according to the season. In the summer, use summer fruits and lighter spirits like rum and gin. For winter cocktails, offer drinks with warmer spirits like bourbon. Play off traditional holiday cocktails like eggnog while giving it a new spin that customers can’t get anywhere else.

If you want to stand out, offer creative, unique drinks that play with flavors, ingredients, and cocktail formulas. For example, instead of a traditional Old Fashioned with a sugar cube or simple syrup, use maple syrup or a flavored simple syrup to bring a new depth to the cocktail. Heck, you can even switch out the base spirit if you want to get wild.

A good source of inspiration is flavors from around the world: Experiment with spices and fruits you don’t find in your typical supermarket. Check out the local Asian, Indian, or farmers market for new ingredients.

Balance Flavors in Mixed Drinks

This seems obvious, but make sure to test each drink for a balanced flavor profile whenever adding new cocktails to your bar menu. Too sweet? Too strong? Do the ingredients go together, or are the flavors fighting each other?

It’s a balancing act between getting creative with ingredients and making sure they still blend together well. Making sure you have skilled mixologists on your staff who know how to balance flavor profiles is invaluable in this process.

Use Craft Spirits in Your Cocktails

While it’s not actually recommended to use top-shelf alcohol for mixed drinks, avoid the bottom-of-the-barrel liquors. Choose a moderately-priced, good-quality brand that isn’t so premium that its quality would be lost among the other elements of a drink.

You also don’t have to use the big name brands. With the resurgence of cocktail culture, there are so many smaller craft distilleries that could use the support. Their production is often unique and forward-thinking, giving your customers flavor profiles and mouthfeel that they aren’t used to seeing.

Putting a local distillery’s name on your bar menu also opens the door to chat with your customers about this distillery, why you chose to use them, and the spirit’s flavor and unique qualities. Engage your bar guest with a spirit they can’t get just anywhere, and they’re sure to keep coming back.

Offer Elevated Non-Alcoholic Cocktail Options

To be blunt, if you overlook “mocktails,” not only are you alienating a whole subsection of customers who may write you a not-so-glowing review on social media, but you’re also losing lots of potential revenue.

Your bar guests may want to avoid liquor for a variety of reasons, but they still deserve a great drink. No matter why they’re skipping alcohol, these customers don’t want to feel left out of the bar experience. And again, ignoring their needs means you’re losing money.

Alcohol-free cocktails do not have to be boring or sickeningly sweet. Your beverage program can use non-alcoholic spirits like Seedlip, ArKay, or MONDAY to recreate classic cocktails– or you can make custom craft cocktails without any liquor replacement.

You can even charge a similar amount for a mocktail using “spirit-free spirits” as you would an alcoholic beverage. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Utilize Social Media

Social media can be a little exhausting to maintain, but it really is a necessary part of running a successful business these days. It’s kind of like a modern Field of Dreams: Post show-stopping, well-lit photos of your alcoholic creations, and they will come.

Visual appeal is a significant part of the cocktail experience, so if you serve a cocktail with eye-catching garnishes in beautiful glassware, guests will think the drinks taste that much better. It’s simple science.

With these tips, every mixed drink you serve will be a hit, and your beverage program is sure to draw in repeat customers who keep coming in to see what you’ll serve next.

Chris Tunstall is the co-founder of A Bar Above and brings more than 15 years of experience in bartending, managing, and consulting for bars and restaurants throughout California. With his decade and a half of experience in the service industry, Chris not only uses his industry and bartending knowledge to create hundreds of training videos and articles for A Bar Above's blog, social media and YouTube channel, but he also co-creates the company's bar training courses and heads product development for their line of premium barware.

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