How to Create a Signature Cocktail for Your BarPour your heart into the drink that will define your brand and become your best seller.
Every bar has that one cocktail in which they’ve poured their heart. It’s usually named after the venue, and it’s the one guests will immediately be drawn to as they scan the menu. But how do you come up with a signature cocktail recipe for your that will stand the test of time at your bar?
“A signature cocktail needs to be representative of your brand and the venue itself. It really needs to embody the spirit of your bar,” said Adam Weisblatt, a hospitality consultant and co-founder of the Last Word Academy, which offers tuition-free training for Los Angeles hospitality entrepreneurs.
But it’s not only about branding, added Weisblatt — you also need to balance creative ingredients and flavors against customer tastes and budgets. He shared some tips to help you define a signature cocktail recipe that will win over customers at your bar and bolster your bottom line.
Play with the numbers
Your signature cocktail is intended to be the most popular drink on your menu. So before you jump into choosing a name, ingredients and recipes, think about how much you’ll want to charge for your unique drink, said Weisblatt.
“With a drink as important as your signature cocktail, you’ll want to start with your numbers and work backward. You need to set a price that will allow you to deliver value to customers and encourage them to buy a lot of it,” he said.
Then, figure out your ideal profit margin for the cocktail. That will form the budget for the ingredients to include in your recipe. While the rest of your beverage program might have more flexibility in numbers, Weisblatt said it’s important to ensure that you can capitalize on the sales volume that will come from your signature cocktail.
Build on your brand
Your signature drink can be anything from a beer and shot to an over-the-top concoction with culinary elements. Use your brand principles to inspire the signature drink at your bar, said Weisblatt.
“To help my clients figure out their signature cocktails, we do an interview. We talk a lot about feelings and what emotions they want people to feel when they come to their business,” he said.
To help you figure out what type of drink will stand out on your menu and appeal to guests, he recommends asking yourself the following questions:
- Who’s coming to your bar? What’s their demographic?
- When and why are they coming to your bar? Is it for boozy brunches? Happy hours? Late-night parties?
- What’s the theme of your bar?
“The who, what, when, where and why are important. Asking those simple questions will help you get your bearings for your signature cocktail,” said Weisblatt.
Finally, ask yourself which spirit, wine or beer you want your bar to become known for, he added. A dive bar might focus on PBR, while a luxurious cocktail lounge may go with a top-shelf gin. Whatever you choose will serve as the foundation for your signature drink.
Remix a classic
Basing your signature drink on a classic cocktail is an effective strategy for a winning recipe, said Weisblatt.
“Customers will already be familiar with classic cocktails, but putting a unique, smart twist on it will get them excited about the new flavors.”
For a client with a masculine restaurant with aggressively flavored foods on the menu, Weisblatt started with an Old-Fashioned, making it more complex by using a plum brandy in addition to the whiskey and choosing an alternative to traditional bitters. Finally, he used a smoked ice cube to chill the drink, since he knew customers at this restaurant cared deeply about the culinary experience.
“At the end of the day, it’s still an Old-Fashioned that customers understand, but it reflected the unique components of the restaurant.”
Be practical and consistent
Mixologists love to experiment with seasonal produce and obscure ingredients. While those flavors might be great for cocktail specials, your signature drink needs to be made with ingredients available all the time, said Weisblatt. If you must use an ingredient that’s only at peak for a short period during the year, you have to get organized.
“Let’s say you want a blood orange signature cocktail, but you can’t get blood orange juice that’s a great quality all year long. Get all your blood oranges at their peak, make a jam and use that to build the cocktail.”
The same principle applies to the spirits you choose to incorporate into your signature drink.
“Nowadays, some whiskey and agave spirits have become more desirable and production levels are not meeting demands. You don’t want the drink you’re trying to sell the most of throughout the year to be based on a product that’s on allocation,” said Weisblatt.
No matter how distinct and delicious your signature cocktail recipe is, guests don’t want to wait forever for a drink. Optimize the production to ensure bartenders can make it quickly and uniformly every time it’s ordered.
“Consistency is paramount in hospitality,” Weisblatt explained. “If how long it takes to make the drink impedes on the timing of people’s experience, it will be detrimental in what you’re trying to achieve. Make sure you can nail it every time you make it.”
Give it a name and a story
A signature drink that’s made with thought and care can become a character on your menu, so give it a name that stands out, said Weisblatt.
“You could name the drink based on the cocktail family it’s from, such as the ‘Your-bar’s-name Old-Fashioned.’ Or you could put a spin on the original cocktail name that reflects your take on it, like the mescal Old-Fashioned or sour-cherry fizz, so people understand what they’re getting.”
“You could name the drink based on the cocktail family it’s from, such as the ‘Your-bar’s-name Old-Fashioned.’”-Adam Weisblatt
You could also use the name of your signature drink as an opportunity to highlight your bar’s personality.
“I knew a bartender who named a drink ‘High Five.’ Every time a customer asked ‘Can I get a High Five?’ he would stick out his hand. It was something that was interactive and fun,” said Weisblatt.
Finally, your signature cocktail should have a compelling story that customers can relate to, said Weisblatt. For example, maybe you decided to use applewood-smoked whiskey and cinnamon in your signature cocktail because it reminded you of your grandma’s apple pie. Or, maybe you infuse your vodka with herbs from a neighboring farm in effort to support the local economy. Think about what goes into your signature cocktail that gives it character and express that to guests.
“There’s also media value in having a story for your drink. Having a personal element to how you came up with the recipe and how it represents your business and customers will draw press and get the word out there,” said Weisblatt.
With a profitable recipe, distinctive flavors and a thoughtful description, your signature cocktail will resonate with customers and set your bar apart from the competition.