I'll Have...What's Not On The Menu

As a bar manager, I am always looking to read more about trending cocktails, ingredients, and ideas.  Recently, I stumbled upon an article claiming that menus often disregard the tastes and requests of our guests.  This got me thinking about bars and restaurants and what I want vs. what their menu has to offer.  For this article, I ask that you leave your bartending / managing persona for a minute and think about the real YOU.  That's right.  We're talking -- someone asks you your favorite movie and you actually say Shrek 2 instead of... American Beauty because of its poised comedic tragedy.  WE'RE TALKING ABOUT THE REAL YOU.  No one is judging you here.

Ok!  Now that I have you, if you could have any drink on the planet, what would you ask for?  Does it depend on your mood?  On the weather?  Where you are?  I thought so.  There are certain things that we can't escape.  So let's say you're at a nice bar.  Not a dive bar, not a high end farm-to-table-locally-sourced cocktail bar -- a nice bar.  Better yet -- you're at a nice bar in the middle of Iowa.  You and I both know this is going to be your first and last time at this place, so order whatever you'd like.  WHAT DO YOU ORDER?

You have your order?  With your guilty pleasure order in mind, I want you to NOW imagine your reaction to someone ordering that at your bar.  How would you react?  If it's any different than a resounding "Heck, yeah!" -- should it be?

Ok.  Back to reality.  Your ideal cocktail choice depends on your mood, the weather, where you are, etc.  If you agree with this, then you should probably agree that every bar should have a menu that knows where they are.  How does a bar figure out where they are?  Your guests decide.  See where I'm going with this?

On a weekly basis, I look at my bar's product mix and see what is trending.  If our top ten is our cocktail menu, I view that as a success.  If we've got a margarita falling at number 9 and it's not on the menu, well my goodness -- it looks like it should be.  At the end of the day, we run bars that view success as making our guests happy.  While we sometimes might run into the "that's not us -- that's not our style" mentality, I urge you to question why you feel that way.  If it's because you feel it is below you, but that is what your guests want -- why not meet them in the middle and offer something to please them?  If it's a matter of cutting corners or bringing in cheap product, take the high road -- but figure out what it is your guests are looking for.  Not only will it make your guests happier and feel valued, it will also help your bottom line.  Think about it.  You don't want to put a margarita on your menu?  What if you made a new, more "you" margarita and THAT sold in place of the usual request?  What if you were able to turn your guests on to something new and also have a way to bring your vision, your brand, and your bar through? 

Nowadays we have such an elevated level of knowledge on our products and practices.  This is both a blessing and a curse in the hospitality industry.  How do you sell a menu or craft product to people who have no idea what certain things are?  It's all in how you present it.  We can't make someone feel inferior for not knowing what Campari tastes like -- or what it is.  We can offer suggestions, but we should never make someone feel as though they are making a terrible mistake for ordering ...their Manhattan shaken instead of stirred.  While we may cringe shaking that goodness, that is what our guest has requested.  You could offer a different suggestion for next time, or ask "have you ever tried a Manhattan stirred?"  Making someone feel as though they have made a poor decision will only make them think they've make a poor decision going to your bar for a drink.

So how do we do it?  For starters, the name of your cocktails should be easily pronounced.  As much as I love a good mezcal drink, anything with the word Oaxaca will probably be overlooked by someone unfamiliar with how to pronounce it.  No one wants to feel embarrassed about an order -- no one wants to order something that would allow them to walk into that trap.  The same things goes for ingredients.  The best way to get people to try new things is to make them accessible.  Go through the menu with people -- offer suggestions and explain the more rare ingredients.  If you beat them to the question, you not only have gained their trust, you've likely sold them on something they've never tried before.

So why am I rambling? Why have I decided to write about menu revision and listening to the people?  Sometimes, I think we forget to think about these things.  Our menus shouldn't be written for us, they should be written for the people sitting on the other side of the bar.  While we might care about the second coming of the cousin of the Negroni, and we want to flex our bartender muscles and offer a horehound tincture to complement the complexities of the newest liqueur, that doesn't mean our Tuesday night dinner crowd does.  So next time someone graces your establishment with a grin and asks for a (insert your guilty pleasure here), applaud them for their fine choice and offer them a suggestion for their second round.  Everyone will appreciate it.



April 18, 2016 08:00 PM by Steven Anthony Lucas, II

I hope the majority of bartenders instinctively have this mentality. This is why we should be doing what we do. I cringe less at the non-experienced consumer than I do the "God, you're an awful human for ordering that." type of bartender. Its not our fault that some of our guests haven't been introduced to the finer things behind the bar. 

However, it should most definitely be our responsibility and fault for exposing them to the wonders of the spirit world and all that it has to offer. 

On the mindful bartender's side,

August 2, 2016 07:43 PM by Frederic Yarm

The menu could be written for us: to make our lives easier and our guests happier and less stressed. The less time you need to guide or reassure the guest about what they want to drink, the more time you can spend keeping their glasses watered and asking about their day. Although some questions can lead to great conversations and guest excitement, so the absence of questions can be a detriment at times.

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