Handcrafted cocktails are fetching double-digit prices and raising profit margins at the bar. The downside, of course, is that drinks requiring multiple fresh ingredients and expert techniques can take several long minutes to reach impatient patrons. Delays that pile up over a service period not only diminish the guest experience, they can result in lost profits. Savvy operators are taking steps to pick up the pace.
Industry veterans Dustin Parres, bar manager for St. Louis-based Gamlin Restaurant Group (Sub Zero Vodka Bar and Gamlin Whiskey House) and Andy Himmel, founder and co-CEO of six-unit Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar and the recently opened Bomba Tacos & Rum, both based in the Cleveland area, share their tips on how to deliver quality cocktails faster.
Keep it simple
Drinks with just a few ingredients are naturally quicker and easier to make. But the fewer the ingredients, the more important the quality of the spirit. “Simpler cocktails should spotlight the flavor of the base spirit,” says Himmel. Paladar’s popular Dark & Stormy ($7.95), for example, uses top-shelf dark rum, premium ginger beer and fresh lime juice—just a couple of components that allow the complex flavor of the spirit to shine.
Batch baby, batch
However, some cocktails inevitably call for a lengthy list of items. For popular drinks such as Rum Punch and Mai Tais, Paladar bartenders combine the nonalcoholic ingredients just before service so they’re fresh. When these cocktails are ordered, all they have to do is add spirits, and they’re ready to go. At the end of service, the batched mixtures are discarded and made fresh again the next day. Prebatching not only saves time, it improves consistency, says Himmel.
Master mise en place
“Every step a bartender takes costs a nickel, and that adds up fast on a busy night,” Parres figures. He sets up bottles of spirits and mixers for top-selling cocktails, such as Negronis, on the speed rack in front of the bartenders, with prepped garnishes organized in a nearby caddy. At Paladar, each housemade batched mixer goes in a color-coded speed bottle—green for a mojito, for example—so staff knows at a glance what to grab. “The color coding is identical from store to store, so a bartender can go from one location to another without missing a beat,” says Himmel. It’s a tip that can easily be adapted to larger chains.
Pitch a pitcher
“One of my most tried-and-true strategies has been large-format cocktails,” says Parres. Through its Goblet Program, Sub Zero Vodka offers select cocktails in a 58-ounce goblet. Although the drinks take longer to prepare than a single-serving cocktail, each serves four guests at once. It saves the bar time and money, and differentiates bar service, says Parres.
Spin the bottle
While cocktails on tap are getting much attention, bottled cocktails are an emerging trend on the craft scene, says Parres—and one that he is about to adopt. Bartenders concoct cocktails as complicated as they desire, then decant their creations into single-serve bottles and refrigerate. When a customer orders, staffers simply uncap the bottle and pour over ice. “With the right drink in the right bottle, it will provide that unique experience that keeps our guests coming back,” he says.