June 20th, 2017 | By Lou Trope
Summer is a wonderful time of the year – many will say it is the best time of year. The sun is shining bright and we get to hang out at the pool or beach with friends, and kick back with some refreshing adult beverages. This is what it’s all about! However, as we all know, when hanging out in the sun enjoying cocktails and beers, too much of a good thing can end the day early.
So how do we build an engaging, fun beverage offering for the summer to keep the party going?
As operators, we all have the same goals in mind: attract more guests, serve great drinks, keep everyone happy and maximize every revenue opportunity. Summer bars, pools and outside summer events all pose a unique set of circumstances. The guests have been outside most of the day – they are hot, maybe a little dehydrated and in the case of a pool setting, may be with you for several hours. In these cases, people tend to drink more and faster, to satisfy thirst and cool off from the heat. So how do you create alcohol beverages that will keep them coming back and not have them asleep on their towel after one drink?
In most venues during the summer, the sales mix of cocktails will be much more than beer by volume and wine becomes a distant third. So it is important to create a balanced cocktail program that is intriguing, with fresh citrus and tropical flavors, but is refreshing and revitalizing without a big alcohol kick. In some instances, operators will create extravagant tropical cocktails with fresh passion fruit and other fantastic flavors but will also have two or three types of strong spirit. Although these are great cocktails for later in the day once you have cooled down, any cocktail on a hot summer day that has more than two ounces of a strong spirit or spirits in it may be counterproductive. Think about the guest who has been sitting in the sun for the last hour and is slightly overheated – they will probably feel the effects of this cocktail quickly and, in most cases, will not order another. At best, they will default to a light beer or a soft drink. So the revenue opportunity is greatly diminished.
Consider an alternative approach. Instead of going for the knockout punch cocktail with high alcohol, develop your offering so cocktails and other beverages with slightly less alcohol, are satiable and can be enjoyed throughout the day, with multiple purchases.
Frozen and Tropicals
Frozen cocktails are always wildly popular because they are refreshing, usually have a sweet fruit component and are fun. Because of the blended ice, there is a dilution factor that will defuse the intensity of the alcohol. The classic frozen cocktails like Daiquiris, Piña Coladas, Lava Flows and Margaritas are always winners but be sure not to overwhelm your bartenders. In some cases, an automated dispensing machine can be put in the bar so cocktails are pre-done, frozen and easily dispensed, and provide a favorable margin. Although a rum floater is a nice up-sell opportunity, it may be worth checking guest checks to see if those guests that added the additional element bought more beverages or were stopped in their tracks and retreated to their chase lounge.
Tropical cocktails are a fun and expected component for any summer beverage program. Fresh tropical juices like guava, passion fruit and pineapple are perfect for a hot summer day. They are thirst quenching, sweet and have just the right amount of acidity. Tropical cocktails like Mai Tais, Hurricanes and Swizzles tend to have higher amounts of strong alcohol in them. If you are offering them on your menu, consider using crushed ice either in the drink or as a topper. It serves as a great garnish vehicle that can be enhanced with fresh fruit, mint, pineapple leaves or even a fancy little umbrella. Either way, this will keep the cocktail colder longer, will be very refreshing, make a great looking cocktail and keep the guest coming back.
Spiked and Shaken
Spiked iced teas and lemonades are becoming more and more popular. Tea and fresh lemonade or limeade have a perceived health benefit, are light and refreshing and easy to make while providing generous margins. Especially with the addition of fresh fruit and mint, these drinks can easily transform into something very special that can be either an alcohol or non-alcohol drink. A shaken black tea or lemonade with fresh berries, mint, simple syrup and vodka or rum can become an instant classic. Additional fruits like mango, watermelon, peach and pineapple can be used with unique sweetened syrups like yuzu, hibiscus, lemongrass or ginger, to create something that is truly Instagram worthy. Marvelous, distinctive flavor combinations can easily be developed at property to create signature shaken teas or lemonades that are revitalizing and differentiating.
The Spritz is one of Italy’s most iconic cocktails. To this point, it has had ups and downs in popularity but it appears to be breaking into mainstream acceptance. The rise of Prosecco and the innovation of today’s mixologists have certainly played well in making the Spritz a popular item on many menus. For summer, different versions of the Spritz such as an Aperol Spritz, a Hugo made with elderflower liquor and mint, or a Cucumber Gin Spritz are a welcome addition to any menu, providing a low alcohol alternative that is stimulating and restorative. The basic ingredients – a bitter, some bubbly and low alcohol – in the hands of today’s creative mixologists unlock a diverse array of flavor combinations to create a sophisticated, refreshing alternative.
Never underestimate the draw of the bubbles. Champagne, Prosecco and Cava all have very real and viable potential for summer beverage programs. Depending on your market and demographic, a nice Demi Sec Champagne with a slight sweetness can be the perfect accouterment to a luxury-of-lifestyle hotel resort pool experience. Prosecco and Cava can also fill that need at a lower price point for more general appeal.
Rum, Tequila and Gin
Rum is always a mainstay of any summer beverage program. It goes without saying that the Mojito and Daiquiri are just part of the summer dialogue and are staples for any summer beverage program. However, simple enhancements with the addition of adding fresh mango, blackberries, strawberries or pineapple can turn that classic Mojito into something special. The addition of fresh fruit not only creates a distinctive cocktail but also provides a slight restorative benefit. Other popular rum drinks in hot climates include rum and coconut water as well as the classic Dark and Stormy, made with premium ginger beer.
Not to be forgotten is our good friend tequila – always the perfect addition to any summer party. As with the Mojito, the Margarita can easily be enhanced with fresh fruit to create new versions of this classic summer staple. However, the sometimes-overlooked Paloma is a fantastic addition to any summer menu, as it combines tequila, lime, simple syrup, fresh grapefruit juice and a splash of soda. It is not only thirst quenching and refreshing but also is Mexico’s most beloved cocktail.
Although it may not be one’s impulsive call on a summer day, gin also has a great deal to offer in a summer beverage program. A simple gin and tonic made with a London dry style gin and premium tonic, served in a goblet glass with ice and garnished with fresh citrus, can be extremely refreshing and invigorating on a hot summer day. Not to be outdone is the classic Tom Collins – gin, lemon, simple syrup and soda in a tall Collins glass – which is cool and refreshing.
There is no doubt we all love craft beer – the bigger the IPA the better. People flock to the giant coffee-infused stouts aged in whiskey barrels with earth shattering ABVs over 10.0% but this is not the place for those. In the heat and sun, most people are looking for a beer that is more thirst quenching than a hops throw-down. Many craft beer producers have acknowledged this and produce very appropriate summer seasonal beers with a more discernible crisp citrus tone. In addition, many have acknowledged the demand for lower alcohol beers with an IPA flavor profile. These session beers have an ABV lower than 5% but still provide the craft beer flavor experience.
In addition, local craft brewers have introduced different styles of pilsners, lagers, shandys and wheat beers reminiscent of their European counterparts, to satisfy the summer consumer. When choosing imported beers, consider their country of origin. If the beer is being produced in a warm weather climate like Mexico, odds are it will be a good fit for summer.
Needless to say, you can’t have a summer program without domestic light beers. Regardless of how much everyone may love craft beer, domestic light beers will always be the top seller in the beer category (just check your sales report). Domestic light beers provide great margins and should strongly be considered for a draft placement over many craft beers. It may also be worth considering some low carb beers, depending on your customer mix.
In most cases wine sales are far less than cocktails and beer in the summer pool, beach or lounge scenario. That said, it would be prudent not to have an expanded wine list that takes up space in already limited bar space. Stick with a few basics: some refreshing white wines and a limited amount of low tannin red wines. No need to go much further than this unless you have a unique situation.
Crafting a summer beverage program can be a lot of fun and open the door to imaginative cocktails that would not normally be served in a primary venue. However, it also comes with a unique set of circumstances in which you are servicing guests who are baking in the sun, doing activities and are generally really ready for a cool, refreshing beverage. Resist the knockout alcohol punch in your cocktail development and don’t get wooed by the latest wrestle-you-down hop monsters. Think refreshing, reinvigorating and thirst quenching. The goal is to build a program that encourages guests to come back, buy more and enjoy their full day, not pass out by the pool after one drink.
Lou Trope is President of LJ Trope & Co. LLC, an independent consultant working with the hotel industry to provide innovative restaurant concepts, operational assessments and b2b beverage strategies.