Your Cocktail Program Should Be as Awesome as Your Menu

Restaurants are upping their cocktail game as adventurous eaters expect the same amount of creativity in bar programs as they do with their entrees. AllDay Industry recommends that you hire a cocktail consultant to develop your cocktail program to ensure that you have a profitable drink list that fits your restaurant.

While not every restaurant needs to have the most innovative cocktail menu, it should be a reflection of your concept. “A cocktail program should mirror the vibe and atmosphere of a venue” says Gates Otsuji, former Chef de Bar of the Standard Hotels in the New York region.
A cocktail consultant should look at the personality of the space and type of drinkers a program wants to attract. Cocktails can range from highbrow and cerebral, to whimsical, or casual. Each type of drink targets a type of drinker. Highbrow cocktails may involve specialty liquors or mixers, while whimsical beverages may be colorful or frozen. Establishments with lower volume can support a more involved menu while “churn and burn” bars should make sure their menu is optimized for quick service.

Unless your concept is strictly a cocktail bar, most restaurants should minimize the size of the cocktail menu to 6-8 drinks. As your program matures, you can always modify the drink list. Cocktails should be seasonal and change throughout the year to keep the menu interesting and relevant.

Creating high end cocktails can be as involved as a restaurant’s culinary menu. A cocktail consultant should look at the food program and make sure the drinks also make a welcomed addition to the story of the establishment. “How can I riff on a classic cocktail to match the food program?” said Gates. For example, for a Vietnamese restaurant, a mixologist can borrow flavors like lemongrass for a new take on the martini.

Gates warns against forgetting about presentation. Drinks that look great on Instagram can help drive traffic while the theater of drink making can sell more cocktails. “During the development phase, get out from behind the bar and look how the drink making process looks from a different seat in the bar. Does it look like magic? Or is it sloppy?” said Gates.

Some programs require that mixers and garnishes are made in house, requiring kitchen prep and cold storage space. Mixers, without citrus juice, can last throughout a week or longer, but specialty prep work may need to be done daily. Though mixers can be purchased, many mixologists prefer to make their own in order to have a consistent product, designed to their exact specifications. For bar prep, restaurants should leverage their already existing prep chefs to create the bar’s mise en place as they are more familiar with food handling safety guidelines. Though this could require more prep chefs to be added to a shift, increasing labor costs, it can save both money on mixers and service time later in the evening.

Just like any dish on the menu, cocktail recipes need to be built with costs in mind. The overall program should have a target cost of approximately 15-18%. A good mixologist will track each ingredient price to make sure that the cocktails are profitable. Simple, low cost, and high-volume cocktails like Gin and Tonic can help provide larger margins to allow more expensive and complicated cocktails to have a place on a menu.

By working with your suppliers, you can get quantity discounts on your most used products. Some liqour distributers will also allow “bill and hold” where they store your already purchased products at their warehouse, saving valuable storage space at your restaurant and locking you into better pricing through quantity discounts. This requires a good understanding of your future volume and a steady cash flow. “You should have good relationship with your liquor reps and brand ambassadors, said Gates. It is a great way to learn about good products and get better pricing.”

A cocktail consultant should develop the final recipes for your bar program and train your staff on both kitchen preparation and drink making. Gates trains his clients on the economy of movement, focusing on how to be more efficient behind the bar. “Every movement should have a purpose. Sometimes you will see a bartender shaking two mixers at the same time. Instead a bartender can be using his or her second hand to be cleaning or setting up the rest of the cocktail,” said Gates. By having the right cocktail menu and the giving your staff the proper training, you will be on your way to having a successful program.


AllDay Industry has the experience and the network to help you develop your concept from any stage of development. From finding the perfect space, hiring the right executive chef, or creating a cocktail program, our team will act as your primary consultant to connect you to some of the best talent in the hospitality industry. Contact us at 212.346.0606 or info@alldayindustry.com.

To learn more, reach out to Gates Otsuji at chartreusedisaster@gmail.com