Cocktails: Mandatory Creativity for Restaurants [Part 1]

Mad Men, the American period drama that debuted in 2007, was part of the cultural movement to revive the cocktail hour as an essential part of entertaining.

The 21st century has ignited the NEW age of cocktails.

The cocktail movement has gained so much momentum in North America that restaurants must get on board and offer uniquely delicious cocktails to start, accompany, and complete any meal, or risk losing clientele.

This is [Part 1] of the cocktail series:

Resurgence of the Cocktail

For older restaurant owners, this return-to-cocktails is quite simple. They remember how it was done in the past.

The range of drinks offered and how cocktails fit in with the customer’s dining experience. They put the proper range of drinks on the menu, hired trained bartenders, and executed pricing to lock in superb profits per drink.

For newer restaurant owners, the uncharted territory of cocktails has led to wild and weird experimentation. No surprise, but there certainly have been some disasters.

Untrained bartenders brewing truly noxious blends of several alcohols. Drinks ranging from the classics to strangely distasteful combinations of ingredients. Yet through it all, some money per drink was made.

Whether old or new, restaurant owners must make cocktails an important part of their menu because their customers…

  1. are NOT from the 1960’s,
  2. are NOT willing to be served “experimental mixology” without expertise, and
  3. ARE very serious about taste, particularly that first sip.

illustration of a couple drinking cocktails in a restaurant

Today, tradition, creativity and technical expertise contribute equally to the artful execution of the perfect cocktail.  The mixologist, bar-chef, and expert are given real responsibility in this exciting and growing area of restaurant management.

Restaurant owners are driven by the fact that properly served cocktails make money … and a lot of it.

It used to be that a bar only served drinks. Not any more. Today the modern upscale bar has a food menu that changes daily, with accompanying cocktails.

The perfect example of this fine tuned execution is the amazing Uva Bar in Vancouver. It captures the evolution of the upscale, technically perfect, yet creative environment of the modern cocktail bar.

Making the Perfect Cocktail Requires the Best Ingredients

Classic cocktails are staples on today’s cocktail menu. They must be there. They are the backbone of any technically correct bar.

But the 21st century customer wants creativity. This means the bar expert making the cocktail has to have a deep knowledge of the ingredients, both traditional and cutting-edge.

One ingredient getting a lot of attention by consumers and expert mixologists, is bitters. In North America, the predisposition towards sweet and bitter is a real trend making both sweet and bitter liqueurs crucial cocktail ingredients.

Bar experts use finely-crafted bitters, such as the iconic Canadian bitter range Bittered Sling, to satisfy this hunger for all things sweet/bitter.

Crafted in small batches by celebrated Chef Jonathan Chovancek and award-winning Mixologist and Sommelier Lauren Mote, these bitters capture subtle nuances of flavours, layering taste and texture in cocktails.

The bitter/sweet trend is recognized in the October/November 2015 issue of U.S.Foodlink, an official report on trends, which mentions cocktails blended with olive oil.

This trend is remarkably robust and gaining strength. In the What’s Hot: 2016 Culinary Forecast by the National Restaurant Association in the U.S., culinary cocktails made with savory ingredients ranked second.

The number one item noted was in-house, barrel-aged cocktails, demonstrating the resurgence of these blended beverages.

Barrel-aging requires back-of-the-house storage and blending facilities. It is no longer just the bar, but dedicated space to prepare and store ingredients, plus the stock of finished product. Almost a kitchen in itself.

The list of liquid ingredients used in cocktails is so vast an expert is needed to create and manage a successful bar menu in 2015 and beyond.

And Don’t Forget the Importance of a Quality Garnish

Gone are the traditional edibles that have been dropped to the bottom, or decorated the rim, of many a cocktail.  Cutting-edge modern items have taken over.

The 1960’s vision of an olive in a martini, or piece of pineapple adorning the rim of a fruity cocktail glass, are a thing of the past. Modern elements, like high quality freeze-dried fruit, designed to absorb the cocktail ingredients, are the new embellishments.

close up on freeze dried blood orange slices

Fresh-As Freeze-Dried Blood Orange Slices

The preparation area of the bar is stocked with vital ingredients, from passionate suppliers that put quality and taste ahead of expedient profit. Open the pantry of the barrel-aging operation and you will find spices and herbs from across the globe, specifically purchased for their pungent flavours.

Photo Courtesy of Todd Coleman

Manhattans adorned with a skewer of authentic Amarena Cherries from Italy is a classic. The more modern Clint Eastwood from Saveur Magazine, also skewered with Amarena Cherries, highlights an old world ingredient used as a modern cocktail edible.

Want even more cutting-edge?

How about freeze-dried sake flakes as a riming garnish for a cocktail?

The 21st century represents an era of experimentation. Imagination is only limited by the level of expertise to know what works together to make a great cocktail.

Artesian – A World Class Bar

So let’s take a look at one of the top bars in the world and their cocktails.

Complex? Amazing? Technically perfect?

Yes.  Yes.  And yes.

Artesian, winner of the “Best Bar in the World” title four years in a row by the magazine Drinks uses ultrasonic mixers and traditional methods to blend ingredients. Their level of creativity is mind-blowingly impressive.

A brilliantly delicious example: “Spring Drifting into Summer” blended with the ingredinets Ketel One, shochu, artichoke, coffee, yuzu, passion fruit, and coriander.” Notice the bitter elements. 

The days when the house cocktail is a simple glass of pseudo-champagne with a raspberry dropped in the bottom have thankfully passed.

Tweet

Such boring cocktails are not ordered often and do not leave customers with an enduring memory of the restaurant.

The Dollars and Cents of Cocktails

Restaurants that fail to passionately embrace the reality of the cocktail comeback, are leaving money on the table… and a lot of it.

It is unrealistic to estimate an average check for four in a white table restaurant in North America because it is totally dependent on the type of restaurant and geographic location. I will offer however, that $70 for lunch for two that includes two appetizers and two mains, is not unrealistic.

A couple intrigued by a modern cocktail menu will order, so it is essential for a restaurant to invest in top shelf ingredients and a trained bar staff that can execute a full cocktail program effortlessly.

Margins in cocktails are high, with a pour cost of 20%. A cocktail with $3 of liquid and solid ingredients can easily sell for $15.

Getting back to our couple at lunch. The cocktails generate 2 x $12 ($15 -$3) = $24 of gross profit. The meal, 50% x $70 = $35 of gross profit.

Granted these are estimates, but the reality remains – the cocktail profit rivals the food profit.

Realizing this makes restaurant owners smile and plot to seduce their customers with a serious, technically perfect, creative, and enjoyable cocktail program.

four people at a restaurant table drinking a cocktail

And that beautiful piece of flash-dried fruit, cruising the depth of the cocktail glass properly paired by the mixologist, has thoroughly absorbed the alcohol and bitters that make up the drink. It is a deliciously, pleasant surprise to the customer.

The customer smiles… and vows to come back.

Yves Farges

Founder and CEO of the Qualifirst Group, Yves Farges has a lifetime of experience in Gourmet Food and Specialty Products. If you have a question about Food, feel free to ask him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *