Cocktails and menu - Francesco Braun

How to Create the Perfect Drinks Menu for Your Bar—with Franceso Braun

What makes a bar successful?

This question has a lot of answers. You could say ‘the people’, ‘ the location’, ‘the vibe’, ‘the customers’ or even ‘the decor’. And all these are crucial elements to any bar. Get them wrong and it could struggle to succeed.

However, there’s one other feature that is often downplayed, and that’s the drinks menu itself. Yes, it may sound incredibly obvious, but many establishments overlook their drinks and focus on these other areas. The reality is that bars need to provide high-quality mixed drinks to their customers and this should be the main priority!

People go to a bar for a delicious drink and a good time so the menu doesn’t need to be long and complicated. It just needs to offer drinks that cater to every palate. So with this in mind, we turned to @justimbiber‘s Francesco Braun on how you can strike the perfect balance between creativity and practicality when creating your cocktail menu. His vast expertise as a master bartender has given Braun insight into what keeps customers coming back.

Know Your Audience

Your guests are the most important aspect of your bar. They contribute to your bar’s growth both in finances and popularity. So, it goes without saying that you have to get it right.

Consider the local area, and what kind of guests you’re likely to attract (and you want to attract). This will help you refine a concept and determine prices, as well as design a drinks menu that’s fit for purpose.

Choose a Concept

signature menu

Every bar has a concept or idea behind it that drives everything else such as, aesthetic, vibe, music and, of course, the drinks! Whilst identifying a concept goes beyond just creating a menu, it will undoubtedly guide you in the right direction. You’ll be able to focus more on the finer details, like creating a drinks menu, as a result of making this decision.

Plus, it helps the guests understand the bar, so they can get into the right mindset beforehand. The last thing you want is totally different vibes between the bar and guests.

Make it Sustainable

When we say this, we’re actually talking about the finances. You have to make a drinks menu financially sustainable. A bar is first and foremost a business, and treating it otherwise will cost you dearly.

So, don’t make it your vanity project; this will just hurt the establishment.

You want to make the menu cost-effective and draw a nice balance between cost and profit. So think carefully about the drinks and the costs that come with them. Sometimes you just really want that niche ingredient incorporated into a cocktail somewhere (I know the feeling). But it’s got to work financially, too—so you must keep this in mind when deciding which drinks to serve.

Also interesting: Sustainable Bartending: Giving Life to Leftovers with Renato Tonelli

Get the Price Right

Read the room. Are you a five-star luxury rooftop hotel bar or are you a small dive bar in the suburbs?

The point is, that location matters!

Prices should match your surroundings and the competition. Mishandling the price can risk you being left astray whilst neighbouring bars soak up the clientele (and fun). Getting the price right and making it sustainable are inextricably linked. It’s a fine balance between these things, and it’s tough to achieve. But that’s business.

In reality, customers don’t particularly care about that ultra-rare Amazonian ivy syrup you’re using in a Negroni, they just want a nice drink at a fair price. And there are plenty of bars that can offer these two important aspects, so make sure you’re one of them!

Is it ‘On Brand’?

Once you’ve nailed the concept and prices, it’s time to make sure everything is on brand. For bartenders, it’s easy to forget about this and let your mind wander with possibilities. Bartenders will often go on a creative journey of discovery when rustling up their cocktail menus, which is great. But it must reflect what you’re offering customers. When we say this, we mean the experience.

What experience are you offering and does the cocktail fit the surroundings and theme of the bar? This is so important to consider. It makes everything work and doesn’t leave customers confused.

Think about it this way, how would a tiki cocktail fit a Japanese-themed bar?  It doesn’t. So do the research!

Balance the Menu

photo of various kinds of cocktail menu with table and book background

Balance is key to a good drinks menu. Remember that tastes and preferences vary from person to person. What you think people like, is probably not the reality. You are not the target audience!

Keep the branding and theme in mind and offer a few different types of cocktails. Light, refreshing, fruity, boozy, citrusy and bitter are the basic flavours that every drinks menu should accommodate. These will be the most common and popular flavours amongst your imbibing guests, so nail these before moving into any experimental avenues.

But spare a thought for those who aren’t keen on alcoholic beverages or those wanting something non-alcoholic. Cocktails are probably at the forefront of your mind when creating a signature drinks menu, and you probably think they drive the bar’s vibe and atmosphere. However, this can be easily injected into your alternative drink options too. There’s nothing worse than a bar that can’t even offer a nice, alternative beer or delicious ‘No & Low’ option, whilst their cocktail menu is bursting with variety and flavour.

Leave no guest behind!

Keep it Short and Sweet

As we’ve mentioned, a drinks menu shouldn’t be long and complicated.

Cocktail fans don’t particularly want to read through pages of complex creations, especially in a low-lit candlelight bar. No one wants to be handed a seven-page-long menu because nobody goes to a bar to enjoy reading endless possibilities. It’s likely they’ll have decided by page two anyway, so what’s the point? Keep the drinks menu short and sweet for the sake of your customers, team and the bar’s finances.

Offering a plethora of options means stocking a plethora of ingredients. If you keep it simple, you’ll save money on stock and maximise profit without sacrificing quality. Plus, your staff will be thankful they don’t have to remember fifty unique cocktails during a busy Friday night service!

It’s a win, win, win!

And Don’t Forget the Team…

signature menu

Dreaming big is part and parcel of opening a bar.

You want new, experimental techniques on the cutting edge of cocktail culture – but have you considered whether your team is trained and equipped to achieve this? Don’t forget the very thing that makes your bar work—the team. You must be a leader and train them for success.

And if you’re hiring, don’t panic hire. Get a team that fits what you’re trying to do and one that’s willing to learn.

You may be the brains behind the bar, but you’re not the only brawn working behind it!

The Launch

By this point, your cocktail menu should be live. And, hopefully, you will have taken into account all the above to bring together an amazing, bespoke cocktail menu! Now, you’ll need to launch it.

In my experience, it’s better to ‘soft launch’. Doing this means you can keep a low profile and test new ideas without much immediate public fuss. Try it out with family and friends and offer the new recipes to customers as ‘specials’. When you’re confident that everything is ready, go for it and do it with confidence!

There will be bumps along the way so don’t be disheartened when something isn’t going as expected.

Finally, be patient and it will come together eventually!

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