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A drink menu, bar none

Few restaurants in the world expect their guest to ask what is available. Most establishments present menus. Lest this seems obvious, ask yourself how many bars offer menus. Bars typically operate on the principle that the customer already knows what drink he or she will have. If this same laissez-faire apporach is applied in the restaurant, what prevents a patron from always ordering the same item? A menu, preferably one with attractive sounding dishes, which facilitates ordering, explains why your food is different, special, and exciting and subtly encourages a guest to spend more money. Why should the bar be any different?


You have a choice. You can open a bar and hope your customers will order the expensive drinks, or you can print a menu that showcases your signatures. You are not expecting the bartender to tell people about the specials, are you? The job of management is to provide the tools and support for colleauges and employees. Print a bar menu. Change it every two months at most and every season at least. Train your people on the menu. Give each strong bartender a chance to decide what goes on it, and include the chef in the creation of at least two drinks. Think of the task as providing the participants with a template, one that is appropriate to your concept, sales, talent, and customer demographics. Consider the following elements for your user-friendly drink menu.

1. A good menu is fun to look at and to touch. Grimy, plastic table tents do not fit the bill.

2. Drink menus contain options in all categories, alcohol strengths, and origins. And they should include a little food as well. A martini menu is not a drink menu; it’s a martini menu.

3. Feature a handful of signature-style drinks, even if they are all martinis. They should be interesting, based upon a drink or drink category that has already captured the interest of a few of your customers or colleagues. The specialty list also should distinguish your bar from most places within a one-hour drive.

4. Make your drinks tasty for the weather of cuisine, even dramatically so. Remember, most people drink for refreshment. I recall a restaurant that opened in a hot July with a drink menu written in the winter. I will never forget that place, but everyone else in my town quickly did.

5. Don’t punish non-drinkers. Offer them interesting nonalcohol or low-alcohol choices, based upon juices, smoothies, teas, or coffee. Visit your local smoothie bar if you need ideas. And don’t call your nonalcoholic drinks “Shirly Temple” or “Roy Rogers”-surely we have other heroes by now.

6. Offer high-ticket drinks. Consumers believe that the drink they order reflect their savvy and sophistication. In most cases, if you offer a more expensive alternative next to a less expensive choice, including non alcohol drinks, customers will choose the more expensive option.

7. Stop offering peanuts and pretzels and sell them something from the kitchen instead. Make the dishes interesting, and match the bar menu with the drinks. Involve the chef. Test the food and drink matches with the staff to make certain that they work and that the staff will promote them.

8. Brand your specialty drinks and charge more. Use only call ingredients and list them proudly, but be consistent with the branding; don’t list the Absolute Citron in your Cosmo and then fail to mention the Germain-Robin brandy in the Sidecar.

9. Check out your best competition and steal ideas from them. If you’re good, they’ve done the same thing to you. Now, take what you’ve stolen and tweak it so that it belongs to you.

10. A great menu is appropriate and well balanced. It is appropriate to the concept of the place and its price range, style of cuisine, service, and ambience. A balanced menu allows the thrifty to drink without embarrassment, the well-heeled to celebrate publicly, and all guests to sample the range and flavors and styles available from brewing, fermenting, and distilling regions throughout the world.

Your most difficult tast may be to make the program and its creation fun for everybody. The menu cannot take a month to accomplish or be writte under duress. Have the menu meeting be an occasion where the chefs get to have a drink and the bartenders get to eat. Who knows? It may even help reduce your turnover. 

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