One of the most impressive seminars I attended at Tales of the Cocktail was this year’s industry-focused presentation on designing your bar’s menu. It’s a topic which fascinates me, and yet serves no practical purpose in my life…for now. Hopefully I will open up my own little cocktail bar one of these days.

If nothing else, it’s advice that the home bartender can apply to designing the menu for an epic cocktail party.

Angus Winchester and Sean Finter presented really thoughtful and practical advice, based on their decades of combined industry experience:

  • –Assess the talents of your team and reverse engineer them into a cocktail list.
  • Produce a menu that is interesting enough to corrupt an honest customer into stealing it.
  • –A fancy (expensive to produce) menu may impress, but you can print more of a cheaper menu, which enables you to give more away.
  • –When naming your cocktails, don’t use names people won’t remember, can’t pronounce, or feel uncomfortable saying (the litmus test is to ask yourself if your grandmother could/would order a drink by that name).
  • –Determine if you want your menu to be visual or verbose (consider your audience).
  • –Everything about your menu should be a strategic tool.

The biggest discussion was around the size of the menu.

General consensus was to limit your menu. Angus pointed out that only seven drinks created in the last 25 years have been worthy of “classic” status, so you probably don’t need to have all of your creations on the menu. Having an impressively large menu can ultimately be self-defeating, as customers will likely get overwhelmed and just order a vodka soda.

Sean mentioned that at one of his bars, they started with a menu of  8 great drinks and told the staff they could add a 9th when they provided a full business plan to justify the addition. I think this is the same project where they only carried one type of beer (note to self: when you open that cocktail bar, offer one lighter beer and one dark beer, cans only).

Then there is the Merchant Hotel’s cocktail menu. The most recent third volume runs a full 112 pages.

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