HOW TO CRAFT THE ULTIMATE SEASONAL COCKTAIL MENU FOR YOUR BAR
Seasonal cocktail lists bring much more than just fresh flavours to the bar — they also capture the attention of prospective guests, and excite your regulars, keeping the revenue flowing for your venue. Here are some tips on how to create the best seasonal cocktail menu, and a list of those all important factors to consider before diving into research and development.
WHY SEASONALITY MATTERS
A seasonal cocktail menu is nothing new to us, but these serves bring more to the table (or bar top) than just fresh, trendy ingredients — they’re also good for business. With a whopping 59% of consumers being more likely to purchase a menu item if it’s described as seasonal, excluding this from your offering can be to the detriment of the bottom line.
In terms of growing your bar’s brand, changing your drink menu with the seasons offers:
- A chance to generate buzz about the menu which could inspire new guests to visit — after which, they’ll hopefully be converted into regulars!
- Your regulars get a chance to renew their love for your bar by tasting the limited-time drinks and bites.
HOW TO BUILD A BUZZ AROUND YOUR SEASONAL OFFERING
This buzz is fueled by both word of mouth from your business’s local community, and by leveraging your bar’s social media to bring the seasonal offerings to life. Using platforms such as Instagram is a great way to engage and reach both regulars and prospective customers:
- Give your followers (i.e., potential guests) a behind-the-scenes look via Instagram stories and create posts showing how you developed the new menu, building anticipation for the launch of the seasonal offerings — guests love to feel like a part of the process!
- You can also consider running a contest, or giveaway to increase your bar’s social media engagement.
There are endless options to promote your bar by integrating seasonal menus into your bar concept, but these are just a couple examples.
In addition to the potential of gaining more customers for your bar, and therefore increasing the bar’s revenue, there are also savings to be had by developing seasonal cocktail menus which use abundant, in-season ingredients. While creating bespoke cocktail ingredients with these seasonal foods may seem labour-intensive, the trade-off of having lower food costs and keeping your bar on-trend will always be worthwhile.
Now that you understand a few of the benefits that a seasonal cocktail menu brings to your bar, it’s time to decide how far you want to go with seasonality as it’s a spectrum.
CRAFTING A SEASONAL MENU THAT FITS YOUR BAR
Seasonality is relative. A seasonal cocktail menu from the mid-90s or early 00s looks much different than the ones you’ll find at most cutting-edge cocktail bars today.
At the beginning of the contemporary cocktail renaissance (the late 80s, 90s and 00s), bartenders often used the ingredients that were at their disposal; meaning seasonal drinks relied heavily on the bottles on the back bar, and various simple syrup recipes (cinnamon syrup, ginger-honey syrup, raspberry syrup, etc.).
Today, the world’s best cocktail bars take a culinary approach to creating seasonal ingredients for recipes, making layered infusions, ferments (lacto-ferments, natural ferments, kombuchas, fruit wines, etc.), pickles, acidified cordials, and other refined cocktail components that were rarely found behind the bar in eras prior.
What was considered hyper-seasonal during those decades (cold weather drinks, such as toddies and Irish coffees; or hot weather drinks, such as simple spritzes and Collins), is now considered minimally seasonal (they are fitting for the weather, but don’t require any custom ingredients being crafted).
Moderately seasonal cocktails can include drinks that call for a simple seasonal ingredient to be added, such as a syrup or infusion (a spiced syrup for a toddy or Old Fashioned), but don’t require significant preparation or labour.
Hyper-seasonal serves require a bit more thought, refinement, time, and labour than they did in the past, and can often include cocktails that have sourced ingredients directly from local farms, like beets-infused with Don Julio Blanco for a Margarita riff — a trend that an increasing number of consumers look for when ordering food and drink.
TOP 3 FACTORS TO CONSIDER BEFORE BUILDING YOUR SEASONAL MENU
Before diving into R&D for your seasonal cocktail menu, though, you’ll want to be sure you strike a fine balance on this spectrum of seasonality - every bar, and what they can manage on the day-to-day, is different. Here are a couple factors to consider that will help guide how seasonal your bar’s menu should be:
- The ability of the staff. First and foremost, it’s important to establish how the seasonal menu will be maintained on a day-to-day basis and how to manage your staff accordingly. If prep for service is dependent on the bar team itself,
it’s vital to appoint a couple bartenders or staff to lead this aspect of preparation for service. Understanding the ability of the bar staff is vital to striking that balance of hyper-seasonal (i.e., prep-heavy) serves with minimally seasonal serves, and so on.
The bottom line is: If your team is filled with all-star bar professionals, then a list of twelve to eighteen hyper-seasonal cocktails may very well be feasible; but if you have a lot of newbies to the industry, then you may want to dial that number back to somewhere between two and four.
- Mapping out the cocktail list. How many cocktails do you wish to feature on your menu? In what style? With which base spirits? What sells and what doesn’t at your bar? Which seasonal ingredients do you feel most excited about highlighting?
Answering these questions will help your team develop some sort of framework that ensures you’re striking a balance of:
- Seasonal drinks that guests will enjoy of all styles and flavours
- Drinks that will sell
- Cocktails that your team can easily manage for service
- The longevity of the seasonal ingredients. Not all ingredients share the same peak season, so it’s important to consider how long certain foods will be in abundance before deciding to put them on your seasonal cocktail list. All too often, bars get excited about a specific seasonal ingredient only to find that in a few weeks they’re unable to source it at the same volume and price. This can lead to disappointed guests who were excited to try this new serve, only to discover that it wasn’t on the menu that day due to a food shortage; also, that cocktail is likely, now, costing you more than it was when you initially planned the menu.
Top tip: Be sure to consider how long the seasonal ingredient will be available for at the price you desire as certain foods might lend themselves better to a special’s menu (ramps have an extremely short peak season) instead of the main seasonal list.
FINAL THOUGHTS: BE CREATIVE, AND THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
When it comes to seasonal drink-making, don’t be afraid to express your creativity in unique ways and utilise the talented personnel you have around you. If you have a creative and talented chef who loves finding ways to utilise surplus ingredients or off-cuts from the kitchen, then explore ways to integrate those foods onto your cocktail list (you also save money!).
Maybe the back of house team want to run a special food item to move through some product and there’s an opportunity to pair a cocktail with it (Fig Prosciutto and Ricotta Crostini with a Tanqueray Bee’s Knees made with a fig-infused honey syrup), or the bar team wants to create a seasonal specials menu completely dedicated to food-cocktail pairings — there are no boundaries, so embrace the seasons and balance the art with the science.
Try it yourself!
Carrot Bee’s Knees
- 2 oz. Tanqueray No. 10 gin
- .75 oz. lemon juice
- .5 oz. acidified carrot syrup*
- .25 oz. honey syrup**
- Garnish: carrot leaves or lemon peel
- Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake vigorously, then strain up into a chilled coupe glass and garnish.
*Acidified carrot syrup. For bars or restaurants with a juicer—a great piece of equipment for juice-forward brunch cocktails and no-ABV serves—juicing fresh, in-season carrots and creating a syrup with them is a perfect way to use this hearty root vegetable. The addition of citric. acid powder elevates the flavour and increases the shelf life.
- 1-part fresh carrot juice
- 1- part sugar
- 1% citric acid powder (to the weight of the final syrup)
- Combine the juice and sugar in a saucepan over low heat.
- Once the sugar has dissolved, weigh the container that the syrup will be stored in on a scale, then tare to zero.
- Add the liquid to the container on the scale to calculate its weight in grams, then add 1% citric acid powder to the weight of the syrup.
- Store for up to 2-3 weeks.
** Honey syrup: Mix one part water with one part honey.
- 17.5 oz of lightly crushed organic blueberries (Note: organic matters because of the natural yeast on skins needed for the fermentation.)
- 14 oz of raw honey (raw honey is needed for natural yeast)
- 14 oz non-chlorinated water (spring water works best)
- 2% salt to the weight of the berries
- Handful of ripped basil leaves
- Weigh-out and combine all ingredients in a large bowl to thoroughly mix, then add to a large mason jar (note: if there’s too much liquid for the jar, you can just leave that out).
- Close the lid and let rest in a cool, dark space for up to 2 weeks. Be sure to feel the lid for pressure after the first couple of days and lightly open to release the pressure once the fermentation begins.
- After the fermentation is completed, you can use the brine in cocktails and food for garnish or blend it all to create a puree (which will need straining).
- Store the brine in the fridge to ensure the fermentation stops, and it should keep infinitely.
Find more seasonal recipes for your menus in the Recipe section of Diageo Bar Academy.
- Seasonal menus offer plenty of benefits to your business – including helping the bottom line
- Use social media to create a sense of buzz around your new menu – bring your guests into the entire process and include them
- Find out what works for your bar – whether that’s a minimally seasonal menu, or a hyper seasonal one
- Before you get started, assess what your venue can manage – are your staff well equipped enough to handle these new serves?
- Use your seasonal menu as an opportunity to get creative as possible – there are no boundaries!
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