Compelling Cocktails: Winning new customers
So you’ve finalised the cocktail offering for your bar, and might think that the hardest part is behind you – but there’s still the small matter of convincing guests to choose your cocktails over other drinks on the list.
There are many facets to this, not just with the menu itself, but the way bartenders and floor staff communicate with guests, not to mention other ways of advertising your cocktails, sometimes before a guest even steps foot in your venue.
The cocktail list: balancing accessibility and innovation
A bar’s menu is undoubtedly among the most important tools when convincing a guest to order a cocktail. There are many approaches to take here, some more effective than others.
“It’s less about just showing what we can do, and more about sharing, and getting guests on board,” says marketing specialist Rebekkah Dooley, formerly marketing manager for Callooh Callay and marketing director for Dead Rabbit NYC, among others.
The best way to sell a cocktail to a guest is to make it understandable - either with tasting notes, an illustration of the drink, or a name that suggests what it might taste like. If guests feel alienated by a menu, they’ll order a classic, a spirit mixer, beer or wine.
Accessibility is key here – from the type of information you’re providing, and the level of detail, all the way to how this is presented. “It’s a balancing act to showcase that you’re really good at what you do, but doing that in an accessible and interesting way - most people don’t know what fat washing is, nor do they care,” says Dooley. “Three Sheets are really good at doing this, and also the Lyan bars - Ryan [Chetiyawardana] can make the weirdest ingredients sound exciting - wording is so important.”
Michal Maziarz, service manager at Harrods, is all too aware of this, taking these considerations into account when creating the recently-launched new list at Baccarat Bar. “Many bartenders, including myself, have made the mistake of trying to show off all the quirky techniques they’re using by overloading menus with fermented, acidified, vacuum distillate ultrasonic extraction, rapid infusion… leaving most guests confused, and taking away from their experience, rather than adding to it,” he says. “I believe the menu should be a guide, and help guests on their journey, rather than a platform to show off. Unless you can do both without compromise – then go for it.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here, of course. “A crucial element is to understand your audience,” adds Maziarz.
The way this information is presented is just as important. “It’s a balancing act of functionality and design,” says Dooley. “How many pages do they need to flick through before they choose a drink - does that mean there’s more time between drinks ordered, and less money spent? If you want a fancy book, ensure the guest has a complimentary arrival drink so they’re happy taking their time. Otherwise, you’re in danger of losing them to a glass of prosecco.”
At Baccarat Bar, this has resulted in a hybrid approach, with an initial section aimed at what Maziarz describes as “loyal Harrods shoppers – often the older generation that know what they like, and want to understand the menu without needing Google or dictionary”. For them, there’s a single spread listing all of the drinks, simple ingredients, a sketch of the crystal glassware for each, and three-word descriptors.
For others, such as “American tourists, the group that wants to know everything, that get very invested in anything created with passion, that want to explore every corner of the menu and are being very vocal about it”, there’s the rest of the list. This dedicates two pages to each cocktail, with detailed descriptions, including techniques, and with an abstract visual to represent each drink.
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Technology and aesthetic appeal
A few years ago it seemed like we might lose physical cocktail lists entirely, with the introduction of QR codes during the pandemic. “QR codes are great because you can change your menu daily, but we’re removing a huge marketing tool when relying on PDFs - can you give the option of both?” asks Dooley. “The physicality of a menu is so important - how it looks, feels, and embodies your venue."
While QR codes might have seemed like the height of cocktail list-related technological innovation just a few years ago, there’s a growing number of useful tools out there. Describing AI as an evolution to our creative process, hospitality and FMCG consultant James Triffo sees a number of ways that these new tools can be used by bars.
Tools like ChatGPT can improve the copy and legibility of menus provided to guests.
These technologies can also help to improve how your menu looks – such as the use of AI-generated images in the current Lyaness menu. “Images from sites like MidJourney are incredibly easy to use and can create stunning images and designs to enhance customer engagement, all from a laptop connected to your office printer with some better-than-average card stock,” says Triffo.
Beyond the list
Marketing cocktails to your guests doesn’t begin and end with the cocktail list. As Dooley puts it: “Menus are a sales tool, but so is your team. We, as an industry, are guilty of inflating bartenders but, depending on your venue, your floor staff might well have the most interaction with guests.”
It’s important, Dooley says, to ensure that staff have tried the drinks, and have opportunities to expand their drinks knowledge. “Never undervalue the power of a waiter,” she says.
Maziarz highlights other ways to promote your drinks offering to guests within the venue, and outside of it. “A slightly neglected way of advertising drinks, that is absolutely paramount in high footfall areas, is the use of external visuals and menu boards,” he says. “It can be good photography or glass sketches – it just needs to be something more than a list of items.”
In Baccarat’s case, the menu’s opening spread is on display at the entrance to the bar, accompanied by a wall of crystal glassware. Inside the venue, certain items can lead guests towards the cocktail offering. “Bottles, ingredients, glassware, usable garnishes – these don’t have to be the product you will actually use, as we know that sunlight is bad for most produce, but these are intriguing.”
Dooley has an additional tip that takes this a step further. “There are a few drinks that people will want as soon as they physically see one, like an Aperol Spritz, Irish Coffee or Sgroppino,” she says. “At Callooh Callay we would send out a tray of drinks and just circulate it – then watch the orders fly in.”
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