Fall Into A New Menu, Profitably
So, if the kids are back to school, and football stadiums are filling up all weekend… what bar time is it??? It’s time to start thinking about implementing your seasonal menu change.
Just like the NFL teams are trying out different combinations of players, determining who is going to excel and lead the team to victory, your fall menu deserves the same sort of detailed analysis to make sure you’re maximizing profits while engaging your bartenders and delighting guests.
There’s so much to consider if you want to get it right like COGs, bar style, location, labor costs and more. And your location, or the kind of bar you run – freestanding, or part of a restaurant or hotel program- impacts your menu decisions as well. Jason Swaringen, Director of Director of Bars and Beverage at Hyatt Centric Buckhead Atlanta notes how Spaceman – the hotel’s 15th floor indoor-outdoor rooftop lounge and bar – reaps the benefit of working hand in hand with the back of house, “Whenever possible, I like to work closely with the kitchen team; I always strive to have our cocktail menu compliment the flavor profiles reflected in the food. Having our cocktails structured based on the food menu also allows us to cross utilize components and maximize our potential to repurpose any biproducts from either department.”
His colleague, Philipp Martens, Director of Restaurants, Bars and Events at Hyatt Centric Buckhead, further explains how working in tandem not only allows for maximizing profitability, but also creates a story to share with guests as he says, “A more food centric perspective is the zero-waste approach. In the production process, our various work steps require only certain parts of our ingredients (i.e., citrus zests for garnishes), which leaves a major part of the ingredient behind, so we look for ways to use as much of the raw material as we can. A fully zested lemon, for example will get juiced for fresh lemon juice. Or an orange that was only half used for orange wheel garnishes may be sliced and dehydrated, and thus made shelf stable for future use. In our kitchen, we collect the stems of any leafy herbs after preparation, and blend them with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic, so it becomes a tasty herb spread.”
While not every bar has the benefit of a brigade in the kitchen, the same methods can apply in an independent bar. Sustainability has its place in every bar, and using juicing hacks, or turning spent kitchen ingredients into second use products, like syrups or oleo saccharum is easy to do, easy to work into your program and better for your bottom line. Julia Petiprin, who owns and operates Homemakers Bar and Fifty Fifty Gin Club in Cincinnati has seen this approach work well for her since she opened right before the pandemic and has managed to stay in business. At Fifty Fifty they infuse red apples into the Mattei Cap Corse Blanc and then once the spirit is infused those apples get fished out, cooked down with some spices and turned into a jam to accompany the charcuterie.
For Julia it doesn’t stop there. She’s as focused on presenting bottom-line-friendly drinks as she is maintaining a standard of quality. Especially at her two bars where people have come to expect a craft experience. She explains her approach to costing cocktails, “We’re picky about the spirits we use; our guests trust that we’re going to use quality products. Think about using the crafty expensive spirit as a modifier.
Eli Servance III, Bar Manager at Cedric’s at The Shed in Hudson Yards concurs that working with expensive spirits can throw your profit margin out of whack, “It’s fun to be creative and try to incorporate gastronomic and scientific practices but when you’re spending hundreds on obscure ingredients and thousands on high-end equipment and you hit an inevitable slow season, it’s important to think long term when spending.”
Thinking ahead when planning out the new seasonal menu is the number one bit of advice from Nick Kokonas, Author of Something and Tonic and Bartender at Avondale Bowl in Chicago. He advises making sure everything works on the spreadsheet, recognizing that going into fall your warmer brown and stirred or gin and stirred drinks that are more spirit forward will likely dominate the menu and end up being more expensive for cost of ingredients. He says, “When I look at these fall drinks specifically instead of reaching for the bottle in bond brand maybe it’s more cost effective to use the 80-proof option instead. That’s going to save us $.15-20 in the long run and over the entire cocktail menu that’s going to save the bar a lot of cost.”
He continues, “Looking at your menu and seeing where those high costs are and looking at supplemental items and realizing their flavors going a longer way can be good for the bottom line. For example, if you use a bolder flavor liqueur or amaro a ¼ oz. will take you a long way vs. a dry vermouth or aromatized wine at a ¼ oz measure in a drink. So, you have to think about how to balance flavors in lighter cocktails by using bolder ingredients.”
Another Chicago bar, Billy Sunday, is also making some bold moves with their menu ingredients that they are already seeing pay off. Beverage Director Jef Tate made a move this season to build a rooftop garden for the bar that they will incorporate into the fall menu. It’s a first-time endeavor for Tate, but he planted the herbs he chose – bergamot, lemon verbena, cardamon and more – with the flavor profiles of his fall menu in mind. He says, “It’s important in that it’s more than just novelty. As an amaro bar so much of the amari are predicted on the terroir they’re coming from. Being able to offer something grown hyper locally and offer alongside amaro and provide guests a snapshot footprint of where they’re coming from piques interest in people who would otherwise might not be our demographic.”
Tate also knows that while the rooftop garden is a great way to draw in new business it’s also saving money on waste every night. He shares, “Having the stuff growing on the roof helps the bottom line. I have been supplementing buying herbs from purveyors by garnishing from the garden and being able to stretch things from the garden is great because it would go bad while purchasing in bulk from a vendor. I can go up and pick a scotch bonnet pepper that’ll last two-three weeks vs ordering a pound of them and having to use before they expire. And whatever I put them in you’re on a time clock; with the roof garden you have more control over that.”
Whatever it takes to delight guests and keep them coming back or recommending your bar to their friends is an important element of planning for the new fall menu. Tastes change with the weather and the setting. What works in Julia’s gin bar may not work as well in Jef’s amaro bar or at Hudson Yards where Servance III notes, “I have always been a friend of the underdog, so I tend to use local/small batch distilleries and breweries. If you source this out correctly you can find amazing spirits like Hiatus and ALB Vodka at reasonable price points.” So, knowing your setting and your customer base, even if they’re highly tourists vs. locals like Servance III encounters, is important.
Ultimately, a reasonable price point, plus making a point of satisfying all sorts of palates, including those looking for non-alcoholic drinks is what you need to keep in mind. Or, rather, price point + creativity + guest delight equals a very profitable and delicious bar menu every time you kick it off this fall.
SIPS TO SAVOR
Just because the summer is over doesn’t mean your summer poolside/waterside/porch and patio drinking has to stop. Keep it easy with these bottled cocktails. Staff or guests can literally just shake in this beautifully designed bottle and pour over ice. It looks good sitting there, tastes great going down.
Jose Chao, President and CEO of Coppa in the Americas shares, “The core four flavors are proven favorites of our target consumers, and Coppa Cocktails are true to the experience they have come to love when made by expert bartenders in their favorite bars and restaurants. The other flavors are iconic classics that are seeing a resurgence today. For example, the Cosmopolitan, Long Island Iced Tea, and Sex on the Beach are what I call ‘Hall of Fame Cocktails’; Coppa Cocktails makes them using high quality, all-natural ingredients to match or exceed those made on-premise. Obviously, we do not want to replace bartenders; but the on-premise often needs a fast, no-waste solution, particularly pool- or beach side, on golf courses, at festivals, etc. This is just as true for bars or restaurants that may not have – or may not want to run – blenders. Coppa’s beautiful, glass packaging is at home on elegant back bars. In brief, Coppa Cocktails are a way for accounts to offer high-quality cocktails quickly: just add ice.”
Bar images are courtesy of Homemakers Bar/Fifty Fifty Club; Coppa image courtesy of Coppa Cocktails
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