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Form and Function

Life behind the bar is all about balancing presentation and application. Our business is predicated on creating extraordinary drinks presented with panache but conceived with a reasonable profit in mind. A sensational cocktail served in a disposable plastic cup creates a dismal impression. People buy with their eyes and, within a few blinks, decide whether a cocktail is something truly special.

Choosing glassware for a restaurant can be a balancing act between the different lobes of the brain. The right hemisphere of the brain appraises questions of style and thematic appropriateness. The practical concerns of cost and functionality are matters dealt with on the left side of the brain.

In Your Right Mind

Is bigger really better? There are two schools of thought on whether oversized drinks are a boon or a bane of the business. From a purely marketing standpoint, typically the bigger the drink, the better it sells. This trend is best reflected in the popularity of large cocktail glasses—those ranging from 12 to 16 ounces—that can accommodate 5- to 8-ounce martinis and 20-ounce margaritas. The thinking is that, if a guest is going to have just one drink tonight, it might as well be gargantuan.

This “bigger is better” approach has its detractors, who point to the increased challenges of responsibly serving oversized cocktails and the sticker shock associated with them. Many people balk at paying $18 for a martini, no matter how delectable or voluminous. Other skeptics believe that supersized cocktails lose their chill far too quickly and, as a consequence, much of their appeal. Classic cocktails were once measured in the number of sips they contained, not the cubic inches.

Beyond the cocktail-glass-size debate, bar glassware in some drink categories has grown in scale quite naturally. Today, serving a carbonated beverage in less than a 16-ounce glass seems stingy and inappropriate. And the days of 5-ounce juice glasses are long gone; restaurant guests of all ages are quickly accepting 9 ounces as the norm. The standard 9-ounce highball glass has given way to the more spacious 10- or 14-ounce style. The larger glasses require a slightly larger portion of spirits to attain the proper taste profile, but the increased drink size warrants a higher price.

With the current sky-high interest in specialty coffee drinks, carrying a tired and undersized insulated coffee cup seems inappropriate. For years the 9-ounce Shamrock coffee glass ruled supreme. Now when I see a small glass like that I think about all of the missed marketing opportunities. A larger insulated glass is far more versatile. Most coffee specialty drinks feature upward of 1.5 to 2 ounces of combined spirits and liqueurs. The frothed milk or whipped cream requires a surprising amount of volume, which therefore necessitates a larger glass to accommodate an adequate portion of espresso or coffee.

Out in Left Field

Choose bar glassware that is versatile: the more categories of drinks that can be suitably presented in a glassware style, the more valuable it becomes to the operation. Fewer types of glasses permit a larger numbers of each stocked behind the bar.

Select glassware that is durable enough to withstand the rigors of commercial use. Put samples of all proposed glassware through the rigors of Happy Hour and the level of care a rookie busser would impose upon them.

Heat tempering (a process wherein molten glass is cooled rapidly, making it more durable and shock resistant) greatly increases a glass’s durability. While more expensive than other types of glass, heat-tempered glassware has a considerably longer life and is therefore more cost-effective.

Also consider the “breakage-rate factor”—the more often you use a particular style of glassware, the more durable it needs to be. For example, cocktail glasses that are produced in two pieces and fused together with epoxy are often more durable than those made in one piece.

Purchase open-stock rather than special-purchase glassware whenever possible. Elicit reasonable assurances that the line of glassware you’re investing in will be available from the manufacturer for the foreseeable future. Discontinuation of your primary line of glassware is definitely deep-pocket news. Practically speaking, the worth of the remaining stock is relegated to salvage value, and the entire process starts anew.

Final Thoughts

Glassware has an enormous impact on the success of every beverage program, regardless of the operation’s demographics or degree of sophistication among clientele. Nothing accentuates the appearance of a cocktail or so profoundly influences a consumer’s initial impression of a drink than a gleaming, stylish glass. So after mixing up your mouthwatering concoctions, pour them into eye-catching and appropriate glassware. Return business and increased profits are sure to follow.

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