Stirring Up the Drinks Menu
by Ned Barker

cocktail menu's by ned barker


Operators, producers, and distributors are raising the bar when it comes to menus. Creativity, plus great production values, equals fun for the customer.

Today’s printed menus, often with Internet-influenced designs, are visually powerful. In fact, gorgeous cocktail menus are now the norm among chains, including hotel chains. So, if “everyone” has their own specialty drinks with fabulous pictures, mouthwatering descriptions, and clever printing formats, where do you go next? I suggest that you consider lists, themes, and (especially) collections.

drink menus by ned barkerLists, Themes, and Collections are frameworks within which you present and sell your products.

LISTS consist of products names, prices, and other essential but limited information. I looked at a number of Scotch lists and they added only the age of the product to name and price. The Single Malt lists were sorted alphabetically and then by age of product; or by region, then alphabetically, and then age. Clearly, “The largest selection of tequila in this part of the state…” demands a list, as does a selection of “more than 100 vodkas.” Lists that contain the appropriate information about their products convey credibility, and they speak of expertise even without descriptions or other statements. Lists are perfect for products like Scotch (and wine and beer), which are going to be sold “as is” rather than mixed in a drink.

THEMES can generate interest or even excitement. Themes can revolve around history (“classic” cocktails), spirit type (“specialty rum cocktails”), geography (“the cocktails of Brazil”), or preparation styles (“frozen”, “shaken or stirred”). Themes can be personalized, as when InterContinental Hotels & Resorts featured its City Cocktails, created by a bartender in each of its location cities. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has a similar online menu. More recently, Interstate Hotels & Resorts crafted a drinks menu around flavors. The Hyatt Regency Chicago’s Big Bar drink menu organizes its offerings by drink intensity, beginning with sweeter and lighter drinks and going all the way to tart and full-flavored. Other emerging themes include “organic,” “seasonal/local non-alcoholic ingredients,” and of course “skinny.”

It’s COLLECTIONS that represent the underutilized opportunity, as well as a chance to distinguish your bar. What do I mean by collection and how is it different from a theme or a list? Well, a spirits or drinks collection is likely to be much smaller than a list, although it could be said to be similar to a theme. But more importantly, a collection seems personal; it tells a story. It comes from someone. It’s an invitation to try something from a grouping that someone made the effort to assemble. Sure, a list could be called a collection if it was personalized, but I would argue that it’s more effective to market a subset of a list as a collection.

This occurred to me when I heard Jean-Pierre Etcheberrigaray (Vice President of F&B, IHG, Americas) talk about a “Black Label Collection.” I think it’s an intriguing idea, and it’s a concept no longer limited to Scotch or even whiskey. But a Black Label Collection, like any legitimate collection, has to be created by someone and it has to have a strategy as well as a story.

Here are some other ideas for collections. These may consist of lists followed by “cocktails made from our ____ Collection.”

  • The emerging brands collection
  • The handcrafted spirits collection
  • The 10-year aged spirits collection
  • Our 100-Proof spirits collection
  • The Owner’s (or Manager’s) personal selection (or “favorites”)
  • Emerging flavors
  • The Bitters collection

But a collection that’s not personalized in some way is just a list or theme. The marketing of any collection should feature the collector as well, explaining the care taken in assembling the collection and why it’s important (telling the story). This strengthens the relationship between the bar and the customer.

A final bonus? Collections support premium pricing.

So, stir up your drinks menu.