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How to build a cocktail list

Cocktail Bar Support Services

It can be a little daunting constructing a new cocktail list, especially if you’re just starting out with cocktails. How many cocktails should you have on your list? What types of cocktails should you choose? Every bar is different so unfortunately, there is no single set of recommendations for how you should build your cocktail menu.

“What to put on your cocktail list will depend on what your guests are looking for,” says Bacardi Trade Ambassador Adolfo Comas, “most guests are looking for recognisable cocktails, a ‘safe serve’ that puts them at ease. Serves like the Mojito, Cosmopolitan or Long Island Ice Tea are reliable, recognisable and some of the nation’s top 10 favourite cocktails. You can then build on those with something that is a little more challenging or perhaps something new”.

With the exception of the Long Island Iced Tea, a cocktail consistently popular in the On-Trade. For mainstream outlets, we recommend cocktails popular in the marketplace with 3 or 4 ingredients that can be made quickly and easily. Although the Mojito is a more time-consuming cocktail, it’s the On-Trade’s most popular and is, therefore, a must stock.

You must also take the skills of staff and the space and equipment available in your outlet into account. Where you have more space for cocktail stations you can produce serves that require some extra preparation time but elevate the customer experience and spend. The Pina Colada and Espresso Martini are popular choices so should be offered if you have the capabilities, with fresh cream and fresh coffee required respectively.

“There are many ways to add your own individual spin to your list,” says Shervene Shahbazkhani, Head of Brand Advocacy at Bacardi, “changing glassware to reflect your establishment, local twists that are unique to your area or even changing the ingredients slightly to change the overall flavour”. Adding a twist to a cocktail goes beyond what is usually expected, adding an extra layer to the drinkers experience and the opportunity for a higher price that is justified in the buyer's mind. “Whatever you do you should remember that your new drink needs to be first and foremost delicious, then easy to make when you’re 10 deep at the bar and last but not least cost-effective,” adds Adolfo, “there’s no point making a drink that tastes delicious but costs you more to make that you make in selling it”.

When putting a twist on a cocktail, or just building your list generally, it’s important that it fits in with your venue. From your décor, menu design and uniforms to your beer range, cocktail selection and food, everything should work together in creating a cohesive experience for your outlet. In short, if you serve Mexican food and don’t have a Margarita on your list then what is going on?

“There are many schools of thought on how to describe the cocktails on your menu,” says Shervene Shahbazkhani, “we suggest that the golden rule should be that the description should entice your guest to purchase the drink and that it should leave a little bit of intrigue and mystery”. “List some ingredients and give a flavour pallet of what it might taste like,” adds Bacardi’s Adolfo, “add emphasis on any elements that elevate the cocktail, for example, champagne gives an air of sophistication to a cocktail”.

“Put time in place for training your team, this will improve the quality of the serve and the speed of service, the faster the service the more serves you can sell”

By Shervene Shahbazkhani, Grey Goose

So what are the final pieces of advice in ensuring you build a winning cocktail list? “Above all keep it simple, manageable and within the capability of your staff,” says Adolfo, “there is no point having a menu of 60 cocktails when the team struggle with simple serves”. “Put time in place for training your team, this will improve the quality of the serve and the speed of service, the faster the service the more serves you can sell” adds Shervene. It’s our belief too that having confident and knowledgeable staff will increase your sales. We recently rolled our spirits and cocktail training across a national casual dining chain and found that in the 3 months after training, spirits volumes in the restaurant sites that were given cocktail and spirits training were up 13%, compared to a decline of 2% in those sites that did not get the training.

Once you’re happy with your selection, it’s time to get them on paper. Cocktail menus are your principal tool for advertising and up-selling cocktails. At Matthew Clark, we design and engineer menus every day using a mixture of techniques, covering four areas: psychology, marketing & strategy, price and graphic design. Psychology would be emphasising more profitable cocktails to attract the consumer's attention and raise the possibility of it being purchased, or excluding ‘£’ signs which can boost sales by 12%.

For marketing & strategy, we would pair cocktails with food for a potential up-sell opportunity or use more personal language such as ‘the bartenders favourite’ for recommendations; this provides the consumer confidence when buying their drink. Then we have price; this is geared to promoting products or promotions with multiple serve options such as ‘double up for an extra £1’ or ‘2-4-1’. Lastly, we have graphic design which is the overall arrangement and size of the menu, the appearance etc. It needs to fit in with your outlet style, be produced well and clear to read so the consumer can navigate how you want them to!

About the author

Luke Siddall (alumni)

I'm Matthew Clark's resident content creator, looking after our social media, website and customer communications. I was a cocktail bartender for while before joining but I now spend most of my time on the other side of the bar.

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