London Cocktail Week: Could offering bespoke cocktails maximise your drinks sales?

The Royal Horseguards Cocktail & Cake Liquid Afternoon Tea is set to launch to coincide with London Cocktail Week from 5 – 14 October

With London Cocktail Week taking place in October, BigHospitality takes a look at the burgeoning trend of restaurants and hotels offering bespoke and themed cocktails to run in line with current events or to give them a point of difference – how much of an impact can these cocktail creations have on your overall drinks sales?

The ideas:

  • London-based Thai restaurant Blue Elephant has this month launched a new trio of signature cocktails to promote its outside terrace area and celebrate some of the exotic fruits and flavours of Thailand.

The Canary Wharf restaurant hopes to boost drinks sales and use the cocktails as a way of advertising the breadth of Thai flavours and ingredients available throughout the Blue Elephant.

The River Sunset Collection includes the Mantra (£9.90), a blend of coconut juice, gin, lychee and green lime; Tom Yam Mary (£10), a combination of Sputnik vodka, red chilli and tomato juice; and Red Dragon (£10), a mix of Sputnik vodka, strawberry liqueur, dragon fruit and ginger ale.

  • Many businesses create bespoke cocktails to tie in with upcoming local or national events. One such business is Babylon at The Roof Gardens in Kensington, which is launching a special cocktail menu to celebrate London Fashion Week, running from 14 – 18 September.

This is the third year that Babylon is running its Fashion Week cocktails. The concoctions created by the bar team include the Drambuie Vuitton, consisting of Drambuie, fresh mint and honey, topped with Champagne; Mai Armani Tai, a twist on the classic Mai with the addition of orange Cognac liqueur; and the Dolce and Banana, a modern take on a banana daiquiri topped with foam and finished with a banana brûlée crisp.

  • Meanwhile, the Royal Horseguards Hotel near London’s Embankment has taken its cocktail offerings a step further, with its limited edition Cocktail & Cake Liquid Afternoon Tea, set to launch to coincide with London Cocktail Week from 5 – 14 October.

The Cocktail & Cake Liquid Afternoon Tea is priced at £40 per person and has been conceived by the hotel’s talented head pastry chef Joanne Todd in collaboration with bar manager Neil Millington.

The offering includes strawberry daiquiri macaroons, the Churchill smoked crème brûlée, long island iced tea jelly shot with coca cola foam and the mojito rum baba.

Why these promotions?

  • “The ultimate reason is of course because we want to drive our drinks sales,” said Blue Elephant’s executive director Sherin Alexander. “It’s also a great way of showing our customers some of the exotic fruits that are available in Thailand, so it complements our food offering.

“The customer is becoming more discerning; they are well travelled and people know 10 or 15 minutes ago, restaurants didn’t go into such intricacies with their cocktails. Now, people want to know where the ingredients come from, the quality behind it and the origin of the product, which puts us on our toes constantly, having to innovate new things.”

  • Richard Beck from The Roof Gardens added: “We actually started doing the London Fashion Week cocktails about two years ago. We also did some specially themed cocktails for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Independence Day earlier this year. Halloween’s always a big seller for us as well.

“Last year, the Fashion Week cocktails became a bit more serious and we began using some really Avant-garde techniques. This year is the first year that we’ve really publicized it.

“It’s a great way to keep it fresh. A lot of places really focus on having a seasonal menu, which we do as well.”

  • Todd from The Royal Horseguards said: “There’s a huge demand in the market for cocktails and afternoon teas but conventionally they are both kept very separate. At the hotel we have broken the mould and combined the two to capitalize on the popularity.

“It’s a great additional activity that guests staying at the hotel or visitors to London can enjoy to make their experience extra special. It’s a great way to start an evening with a light meal and drinks, and lends itself well to the pre-theatre crowd.

“In the run up to London Cocktail Week we wanted to create something unusual to the run-of-the-mill offers and decided to combine it with an afternoon tea. Themed teas are one of our fortes and London Cocktail Week lends itself perfectly to this. It also gave us the chance to experiment with the traditional afternoon tea to provide our guests with something a little more contemporary.”

How effective can they be?

  • “The London Fashion Week cocktails sold really well last year,” said Beck from The Roof Gardens.”It’s certainly boosted sales on our drinks menu. About a quarter of our beverage revenue comes from cocktails - it’s one of the only places I’ve worked where you end up making old fashioned cocktails on a Monday afternoon. “I remember last year every waiter had their own favourite and we’d get some staff selling lots of one drink and others selling lots of another, so it gets the waiters a bit more fired up. We got great feedback from customers as well - so it’s a win-win situation.”
  • Todd from The Royal Horseguards added: “When we launched Equus Bar last year we created a range of cocktails inspired by the hotel’s high-profile guests of the past, linked to the hotel’s connections with the Secret Service during WWI.

“Cocktails included the George Bernard Shaw, Lord Kitchener, Winston Churchill and William Gladstone and were designed with the modern gent in mind.  At the time ‘man cocktails’ were trending and we were able to exploit this with our bespoke cocktails.”

The experts view:

Caroline Cooper, founder of Zeal Coaching, which aims to give business a competitive edge, said: “With a new-found interest in cocktails and with London cocktail week running from 7 October now might be a perfect time to review whether or not your bar, restaurant or hotel might benefit from serving cocktails.

“Having a cocktail or two can add that extra special twist to give that sense of occasion, giving your guests a more memorable experience, as well as adding a potentially profitable income stream.”

Word of warning:

“Whilst launching a limited edition cocktail might well work very well where you have an established cocktail business, it might not always be the perfect option for your first foray into a cocktail offering,” added Cooper.

“It can be a great way to grab people’s attention and add an element of scarcity to your offer, but many customers are reassured by familiarity, so including some of the classics gives your customers some safe choices.”

Bespoke cocktails: Seven steps to success...

  • Before pulling together an extensive list of exotic cocktails consider the style of your establishment and the tastes of your customers, and what you want to evoke.
  • If you’re offering a choice of cocktails, including straightforward choices on your menu enables customers to make a quick initial decision on their first drink, then whilst they are savouring that they have more time to study the menu in more detail and potentially exploring your more unusual combinations for their second or third drink.
  • Use descriptive language on your cocktail list to evoke the senses, and as with any menu, highlight those you want to promote with boxes or prominent positioning on the menu.
  • Whether you are introducing cocktails for the first time or you’re simply adding to an existing offer, it is imperative that your team feel absolutely confident to describe the cocktails in such a way that will sell them, and that they can make them to a standard that will live up to your customers’ expectations - seeing your bartender have to look up the ingredients doesn't give a lot of reassurance.
  • Take account of the time taken to prepare a cocktail and whether you want to have a different slimmed down menu or selection available during your peak periods.
  • Bear in mind that many cocktails will require fresh ingredients so do factor in your demand so that you can minimise wastage, and whilst there are pre-prepared cordials or mixes available these do dilute the theatre and showmanship of seeing your cocktail or being freshly made from scratch.
  • Do allow – in fact actively encourage - your customers to remember or share their cocktail experiences by taking away your cocktail menu, as a memento or better still to pass to friends.

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