Though the ever-popular cocktail classics are still leading the charge in the craft cocktail scene, they are now sharing the stage with a new trend: creativity. It is not uncommon to find inventive large format cocktails, outrageous (and instagrammable) garnishes, rich house made syrups, tinctures and bitters, teas and smoke in the most unexpected places. Even big chains like Famous Dave’s are smoking their old-fashioned bourbon in house while Houlihan’s is carving their own block ice for some feature drinks. Putting out the same tired drinks year after year that look a lot like the drinks from across the street, turn drinks into a boring commodity, and commodities are subject to price comparison. The lowest price wins in this situation and everyone fights to sell the cheapest drink while the profits shrink. The less homogenous the product, the more resistant it will be to price comparison. There is an untapped revenue stream from unique and creative cocktails that can separate you from the pack. Guests do not compare or question the price of something that is of quality and truly unique to your concept.
As you explore new revenue streams through craft cocktails, the biggest error is choosing style over substance. While creativity is key, it must work in conjunction with balance and efficiency. Astounding presentation in a cocktail that is overly sweet or acidic will bring guest back through the door about as fast as a perfectly balanced cocktail that takes 15 minutes to hit the table. Do you measure efficiency in bottle pickups, number of ingredients, components, all of these? What are your thresholds for each? How can you cut steps through batching, infusions, tinctures or flavored syrups and what are the proper applications of each? What are the labor implications of each? A lot of planning goes in to the creation of a truly successful cocktail program, but returns can be disproportionately large as revenues and reputations surge upward. Alcohol, acid, sugar, ice, bitters, air and dilution must all work together in such a way that the sum is greater than the parts. Bartender training and server education must be on par with the desired quality of the drink, especially in large chains. Everyone coming in contact with these creations must know when to stir, when to shake, when to double strain and how to measure efficiency when developing recipes and identifying guest preferences at the table.
The trailblazers have been doing this long enough to have written many game changing, must-read books for the aspiring craft cocktail artisan. For technique, Jeffrey Morganthaler’s The Bar Book is the definitive source on how to. Liquid Intelligence by Dave Arnold dives deeper into why alcohol, acid, ice, etc., do what they do from a scientific perspective. Imbibe! by David Wondrich is a wonderful journey back in time highlighting the history of American bartending and cocktails that serves to familiarize us bar nuts with our roots. There are dozens of others worth seeking out and making available to your staff for some major inspiration and growth. Nothing derails a good training program like the lack of passion and inspiration from the staff. It is important to know what makes all this stuff special.
Whether it is craft beer, craft cocktails or responsibly sourced food, the verdict is in: tastes are changing and guests want quality and meaning behind their menu selections, and they are willing to pay for it. It is worth the effort to create a meaningful cocktail program and it will pay dividends when done right. The demand is there and our goals at Synergy is to guide those who are interested in crafting the supply.