The definition of “cocktail” is evolving. Classic with a twist, similar but different, bar operators are venturing beyond the standard gin and tonic. The rising stars in the playbook of cocktails is based on new spirits (many local and small-batch) and inclusion of non-traditional ingredients such as herbs and fruits.

Consumers, particularly millennials, are driving cocktail trends and savvy operators realize these customers expect more from their bartenders than just opening a beer and pouring a shot. What consumers are demanding are drinks they have never tried before and expect the bartender to guide these new beverage experiences.

When transforming the beverage experience, making it more “adventurous,” seasoned bar operators acknowledge that an exceptional cocktail comes with challenges.

Yet, efficiency is the major challenge. New cocktail trends challenge the conventional model for efficiency in the following ways:

  • Complexity: Classic and craft cocktails co-exist in today’s bar menus. Cocktails are mixed with more ingredients and more expensive ingredients.
  • Speed: Although the bar menu is more complex, customers’ service expectations are unchanged.
  • Focus: Traditionally, operators gained efficiency by their ability to train servers or hire experience. They took a more piecemeal, cookie-cutter approach to bar design.

Operations that excel in the current cocktail environment have flipped traditional thinking.

They realize that efficiency still is influenced by hiring experienced staff and by server training, however, for full optimization, the design of the underbar should be taken into consideration.

The idea that a direct link between the design of the underbar and optimal efficiency exists is a significant departure from the past. Bar operators and owners typically only upgrade their bar design every 10 to 15 years or when a piece of equipment breaks down. Major design changes happen when a new owner takes over or the restaurant is renovated. In either case, old habits of cost counting drives the selection of new underbar equipment.

For some operators, their perception regarding investment in the underbar is slowly changing, and leading operators have already turned the corner.

Leading operators are convinced that an efficient bar design includes professional mixing stations, investment in glass rinsers, consideration of the size of ice rails, and precise location of tool wells and cheater bottles.

The net impact of a strategic underbar design and equipment selection is in fact, increased efficiency, which makes the bartenders happier too. Field research shows that it still perplexes leaders that many operators who manage both small and high volume venues, still “go cheap” instead of focusing on efficiency.

The following are some feedback answers gathered during field research:

  • “It dumbfounds me because the bar is your biggest profit source.”
  • “Efficiency has a huge impact on profit. Profit is determined by efficiency. Without efficiency, you can’t make money at the bar. It’s all about efficiency.”
  • “25 percent of our business is bar revenues. The mixing station allows us to speed it all up. The only way we could make more profit from the bar now, would be to increase the size of the bar.”

Mixology stations contribute to efficient underbar designs. Perlick’s Tobin Ellis Cocktail Station is cited by many bar operators as the standout.

The following are some feedback answers gathered during field research:

  • “Our Tobin Ellis brings the fight to me. It’s like you’re in a cockpit. Everything is located in a 2-square-foot radius around and behind you; counter is 6 feet long. Before, I had to cross the entire room for a bottle or syrup.”
  • “With our Tobin Ellis Station we can speed up service — serve drinks fast and serve lots of them. I have two Tobin Ellis Stations and am planning on ordering four more.”


Raise the Bar

Research has confirmed that the cocktail is key to upgrading consumers’ beverage experience.

The focus on cocktails, classic and unique, increases revenues for leading bar operators and allows them to stay ahead of their competition.

In order to ensure success when bar operators upgrade their menus, new challenges with efficiency need to be addressed.

Leaders agree that profit from the bar is made up of many factors — what you serve, how fast you serve it, quality and consistency. Strategic underbar design and equipment selection impacts all of these profit factors, but most of all, it drives efficiency and sales growth. BI