Part 2 is a continuation of our journey on how to write a crowd-pleasing & successful cocktail menu for the masses with guest blogger Zane Chiswell-Rivas ( Icely Done Sales Manager & Experienced Bartender)
4 – Tasting & Development
Arguably the most important stage of menu development (although never at the expense of all other stages!) is the taste & development. It is the cornerstone and foundation of which every cocktail menu worth its salt is built, in my opinion. The key here is that there is no one winning formula with which to attack developing drinks (lucky, as if there were, my job would be long gone).
Some bars will have one or two people very much in charge of ‘R&D’ (Research & Development), whose responsibility is to constantly tinker and evolve drinks, searching for new and interesting products and flavour combinations, whilst scouring cocktail history books.
Whilst this is a luxury not all can afford, a key piece of advice here would be ‘little & often’. Whole days of developing cocktails can be both exhausting and frustrating. By forcing yourself to taste too many drinks in one session, you run the risk of over working your taste buds. Similarly, for me, innovating drinks is a creative process and I find continued periods of drink creation becomes both tiring and exponentially more difficult. A mixture of writers block and a fuzzy palate is my worst nightmare in the days before a menu is due.
Here at Icely Done HQ, myself and Lefti are constantly working on new blend flavour combinations – in our humble opinion, the best way to make sure a blend is a viable product is to ensure there are some incredible cocktails that can be made with it! In our ‘thirst for the remarkable’ we’ll often start off with the flavours as a desk exercise, literally drawing links from flavour to spirits and vice versa. We will then match this with classic cocktails that we know, or riffs on cocktails that we may have made once upon a time.
We will then gather ingredients and build these drinks. It’s important to note that we essentially never nail a drink first time – most drinks will go through 2 to (sometimes) almost 10 different slight variations. A key piece of advice here would be to only make one subtle ingredient change to every version of your drink. Changing 2 or more things can throw out more questions than answers.
Once ‘happy’ with these drinks (as a perfectionist, I would argue that Lefti is never happy.. ) we then revisit them at a later date to make sure our taste buds were on point on the day of creation (the human palate is surprisingly delicate and incredibly complicated; it is easy to let things slightly slip under the radar after tasting the 10th drink of the day – even when spitting drinks! And something as simple as what you have eaten that day will alter your perception of flavour etc).
5 – Feedback, Feedback, Feedback!
The final part of my 5 point guide is interesting, as for me, it is also the most cyclical part of the menu. At Icely
Done we try to approach creativity with a ‘little and constant’ motto. Believing that innovation is not something that can always be called on successfully, instantaneously and for long periods of time. We instead encourage all of our team members to constantly think of and explore incremental improvements in every aspect of life and work.
In many ways this is also the best way to approach menu development. Personally whenever tasked with writing menu after menu, my creative process would grind to a slow but inevitable halt (along with my taste buds). To combat this, I would suggest considering integrating the following steps into your weekly routine;
- Tweaking of recipes – You don’t always have to nail a cocktail every time at the first attempt. I would always recommend going back over new recipes you are considering and altering some of the ratios slightly or subbing in and out some of the modifiers. This also extends to your current cocktail menu – why not go over 1 drink and make sure the spec is perfect to the ml?
- Floor staff / company wide feedback – This may not apply to all bars but I believe that getting a balanced and fair view on cocktails from floor staff during the creation process is a great idea for two reasons;
1) Additional employees that aren’t bartenders will have a broader and more varied palate, providing honest and unbiased feedback (as well as a good eye for what will sell to your guests)
2) This can help a team feel ‘bought in’ on the cocktail creation process and give the entire team ownership over the menu. This in turn will improve staff morale with that feeling of ‘my opinion counts’ which should encourage sales.
- Guest feedback – Venues that take a real interest in understanding guest drinking habits and use this information to provide a check back that delves in to what is truly thought about a drink, will inevitably see more drink sales. Guest feedback, for me, has always been the most important aspect of building a crowd-pleasing cocktail menu. All too often bartenders create drinks for their own tastes and to show off their own talents (not that this doesn’t create some outstanding drinks). However, cocktails are ultimately the product that guests are buying and that keeps any bar / business moving forward. As bartenders we can be in the incredible position of being able to get front line feedback on new products and recipes before putting them on a menu!
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