Part 1/2 – Tips on writing a crowd-pleasing & successful cocktail menu!

November 8, 2018

Part 1 – Tips on writing a crowd-pleasing & successful cocktail menu for the masses!

(Guest blog– Icely Done Sales Manager & Bartender Zane Chiswell-Rivas)

So, the time has come. It’s menu writing season. Perhaps you own a bar and are responsible for all facets of operation and creative license, or you are a member of a bar team who has been delegated the job. Either way, there’s no escaping the fact that a venues cocktail menu simply MUST be updated regularly to keep things fresh, fun and guests coming back for more!

There are a number of reasons a venue will update their cocktail menu, a new season, new year, a time to look at fresh contracts and ‘must stocks’. However, the quote that always rings out in my head is one from our illustrious leader and Icely Done Founder and experienced cocktail bartender Lefti ‘if we do not adapt we will cease to be’.






Simply put, there are very few bars that could open, day in/day out, for a decade or more with the exact same drink offering and continue to be successful. One of the best ways to keep your guests engaged and coming back for more is to offer an ever-evolving selection of spirits, cocktails and mixed drinks.

With that in mind and using some of my experience & learnings of developing cocktail menus for varying styles of venues over the years. Here’s my take on how to write a crowd-pleasing cocktail menu for the masses.

1 – Identify the bar type

Perhaps the most important foundation on which all cocktail development for a successful drinks menu takes place, is understanding or ‘knowing the enemy’. If there is no drink ‘brief’ handed to you on a plate then ask yourself the following:

  • Is this a ‘themed’ bar? (think Tiki, Disco, Hotel bar etc).
  • What is the general demographic of the guests that will be drinking these cocktails?
  • How high volume is the bar?
  • How skilled, knowledgeable & well trained are the bartenders?

Once you have answered these questions, the way forward should become infinitely more clear.

The best bit is that by identifying these, you are on the path to a successful drinks menu.

Ignore the above questions at your peril – for instance Martinis & Sazeracs are fantastic classic cocktails but let’s face it, they probably shouldn’t appear on the menu of a high-volume night club (and conversely Woo Woo’s should probably steer clear of a drink menu in a 5* hotel bar, despite how much I love them).

2 – Number & style of drinks

Sun Tsu famously once wrote ‘Every battle is won before it’s ever fought and the key to this message is simple – preparation, preparation and preparation (ok he was talking about war – but many bartenders can attest to the fact that working a pumping Saturday night can be akin to a kind of battle).

What is mean’t by this, is that it is absolutely key to identify the number & style of drinks that are needed for the particular menu you are writing – some key things to consider:

  • Menu overhaul

Do all the cocktails need replacing? Or should you kill the lowest selling cocktails and replace them with something more appealing? Sometimes bars will take the bold move to ‘kill’ all of the cocktails on their menu, even the top selling ones, in order to promote them as a destination venue and create even more excitement around new menu launches.

  • What style of drinks will fit the venue & also your level of ability when writing a menu.

Some venues are high volume and may lean more towards simplistic and quick drinks with a minimum of movements for the bartenders (or pre-batching), while some venues may be looking for forward thinking or molecular styles of serves which will require much more research and implementation.

Once you have thoroughly thought about and prepared for the number of drinks that should be going onto a new menu, it will give you a clear target and goal to aim for when moving onto the next key step of menu development.

3- Structure & Design

This has always struck me as a particularly interesting (and sometime overlooked) part of menu writing. Whilst bartenders would love to fill their menus with obscure ingredients, wonderous spirits and liqueurs from all over the world, it is key to remember that the general public consuming our drinks, may well not be as well educated in the world of alcohol.

Of course, some bars may wish to create a more complex and intriguing menu in order to get people to engage with it. However, in the interest of writing a crowd-pleasing menu for the masses, it’s recommended the following points are considered:

  • Explore a consumer-friendly structure, breaking your cocktails down into groups i.e. main spirits category, style of serve (long, short, stirred etc).
  • Using icons to help convey extra information – Match bars first used this to great affect by placing an icon by each drink to show guests what type of glass the drink was served, which in turn hinted towards the type of drink.
  • Menu design is also a great way of subtly drawing guests to what you believe to be your best and ‘flagship’ serves. Think about placement of your drinks (top or bottom of a list / where the eye is naturally drawn), as well as ‘boxing off’ certain cocktails by subtly highlighting them with menu design.

Unfortunately, one huge element here that is outside my skillset and therefore cannot offer advice, is the actual graphic design of a menu. What I would say is that an expert in design is something that is well worth allocating budget towards. The physical menu is one of the first things that will leave an impression on a guest (long before great service, drinks or questionable flairing) and as such a menu should perfectly reflect a venues values – both in visual and physical aesthetics. There’s almost nothing more disappointing than being handed a soggy, dog-eared and underwhelming menu on the first visit to a bar.

Click here to read part 2 and continue your cocktail menu writing  journey….

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