As everyone is eager to leave 2020 in the dust, caterers and bar managers should be looking forward to toasting in 2021 and all of the positives it can potentially bring. And one way to get prepped for the new year is to take a look at your beverage program and find innovative and creative ways to keep the thirsts of customers quenched.
"We must think opportunity, think solutions,” said Doug Radke from KRG Hospitality. “We need to stay positive and be ready.”
Radke presented a webinar titled “Developing an Epic Post-Pandemic Beverage Program during Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo’s “Live at Your Table” virtual conference.
“You’re gonna have to adapt to change because flexibility and wiliness to embrace change will make you a more valuable member of your bar,” he said. “We cannot fear the unknown, we have to prepare ourselves to adapt on a daily basis.”
Bar menus cannot be an afterthought
With so many people being forced to entertain at home, offering to-go meals and “party in a box” concepts have become all the rage throughout the catering industry. While offering up delicious meals and appetizing bites are appealing to customers around the country for their at-home family gatherings and events, they’re not the only entertaining detail that should be considered. Bar menus and beverage offerings are just as important as the food, and for some maybe more so, as the world looks to bring the celebration home.
While offering batched cocktails to-go, cocktail kits and virtual bartending classes are great additions to your at-home offerings, when reimagining your beverage program, the first step has to be your bar menu.
Beyond the Box Catering's signature cocktails during a recent event. Photo courtesy Two Pair Photography.
“Think about how much time you put into your food menu—you probably spend weeks and even months planning, researching and developing,” Radke said. “Now think about your bar menu, it’s days, maybe a week tops, but the same effort needs to be put into your beverages as your food menu. Your bar menu cannot be an afterthought, and this is your opportunity to reset and develop a memorable beverage program.”
It’s time to get creative
When putting together an epic beverage menu, creativity is the rule of the thumb. While there is obviously something to be said for classic cocktails – Moscow mules, negronis, screwdrivers, Long Island iced teas and blue lagoons – they shouldn’t be touted on your bar menu as a signature drink.
“These are not signature drinks,” Radke said. “Any bar in the world can easily make these.
“I’m not saying don’t have them, but don’t promote them as a signature drink. Can you imagine if every restaurant on the street has the same signature burger? So, why are we doing that on the beverage side? Where is the creativity? By being creative with your signature drinks you have an opportunity to take it up a notch and differentiate yourself.”
Chef Kathy Casey presented two types of contained beverages at Catersource in March 2020 that would become even more trendy than expected: the bottled (shown) and bagged cocktails. Photo courtesy Kathleen Stoehr.
Creating signature cocktails and an innovative beverage menu doesn’t have to be complicated or stress-inducing. Maybe you have five signature drinks that use only five or less ingredients. And can those cocktails easily be transitioned into non-alcoholic versions?
“You don’t need to over complicate it by trying to please everyone,” Radke said.
Duval Events created a cocktail that matched the colors of an event. Photo courtesy Duval Events.
Maybe you find a way to pair cocktails and food together to complement each other. Or think about creative serving vessels, like a pineapple or coconut for tiki-style drinks. And make all of your cocktails a sensory experience by invoking visual, auditory, olfactory and gustatory.
Make it educational
Another great addition to your beverage program in 2021 is to incorporate education into your offerings, whether its on-site at an event, or while guests are enjoying drinks at home. With so many routines being interrupted, everyone is looking for ways to mix up a cocktail at home, or think beyond the traditional beer and wine offerings. Think about offering a virtual cocktail demonstration or an educational video on the difference flavor profiles and how to pair food and drinks together, include local beers or wines with your food boxes as a way to introduce clients to the many options available, or maybe do a blog or social post about the history behind a specific cocktail. The options are endless.
"It’s so much more than just making pretty drinks,” Radke said.
Cheers to 2021!