Your cocktail menu is FUBAR
I have a lot of beliefs and cultish dogma on how a cocktail menu should be assembled. But what has been recently making me want to 151 blow torch my eyes out is how bartenders / restaurants present a menu. A menu is a thesis, nailed you you bar, that states your values. This list of values and opinions can’t necessarily be wrong, but the can create strife where none is needed. What is however definitively wrong, is presenting a menu and not asking yourself “who is this menu for and how will I serve it?”
These are all samples of how a very reasonable, diplomatic cocktail, let’s call it a FUBAR Sour, that is comprised of lesser known ingredients, can be a Greek tragedy on a menu. This cocktail has a botanical, gin like spirit called genever, an herbal liqueur called génépi, an exotic citrus called yuzu and a sweetener called pineapple gomme syrup. It is fair to say that the average consumer is better at understanding the “causality loop” from Back to the Future than being able to explain this cocktail. That being said, the flavor combinations are simple and a menu shouldn’t hesitate on offering a cocktail just because it’s confusing. Each of the below entries present a challenge for the consumer and for the bartender— pick which battle you want to fight.
This is what I see on most menus: courier font. Courier is the typeface of false humbleness. It is expected that you know what all of these ingredients are. Perhaps the bartender has the time to help & explain, but perhaps not. When a menu goes out like this, the guest sees that this is a serious cocktail joint, seriously mysterious. I think the most probable order will be a drink that they have had before, a comfort they know, before a the Russian roulette of this cocktail.
Here you are, at the cocktail equivalent of the Ikea cafeteria. This is a menu that is trying to be inclusive and use terms you can understand, but with great specificity it has also created great ambiguity. Is is easier to say “Dutch Gin” or explain genever? Are you using an off brand chartreuse or pine cone liqueur or who knows what? Can you name a 2nd Japanese citrus other than yuzu? Are you assuming the guest can’t learn new things? This offering is intriguing yet explains nothing.
This is what you see on a menu when the bartender has a friend who works for Bols. Before you ask, yes, I have seen a logo inserted into a menu before, and yes, it does look this awful. By contrast, this bartender couldn’t give a fuck about génépi producers or from whom or how they get pineapple gomme. As a guest, I also worry that that when only 1 brand is listed that the cocktail will likely be unbalanced. I respect branded cocktails but take the thought all the way through the listing.
On this menu, the bar manager accidentally cut and paste the instructions in the menu or they listed the proportions instead of fully training the staff. It’s great & honest to list in detail each ingredient but in this case the extra branding is just sound & fury signifying nothing— other than yuzu being a fruit, the guest has learned nothing.
Someone from Bacardi plays golf with the food and beverage manager of this hotel. Perhaps they can’t keep génépi in stock and perhaps they don’t want to explain genever. Cocktails like this are sometimes the hand-me-downs from consultant menus. However, this drink might be just as good if not better than anything else listed here but when more pedestrian ingredients are chosen it’s hard to be as excited.
This is written on a chalkboard at an industry bar. No one ever orders it. I wonder why, such effort. But seriously, sometimes cocktails are written like greasy spoon waitresses barking at short order cooks. Insider only drinks speak to me, I don’t need to wait for the menu to change, I’ll try the drink you are working on for a cocktail competition, but don’t expect to sell them with the power of chalk.
This restaurant has a separate cocktail menu, one that can change daily, one that has no issues for saving space on the page. Even though this restaurant serves 37 double Macallans on the rocks for every one of these well explained cocktails. The key here is to hand the guest a cocktail menu before a wine menu or even water. It is uncivilized to peruse a diner menu without a cocktail. AT LEAST HAVE A VERMOUTH, ARE YOU A MONSTER!
This menu wins awards but only allows the guest to make decisions at the rate of 1 per 20 minutes. This menu will often be divided by drink family or by inspiration; a great way for the guest to tell the truth to one’s self: everyone loves a refreshing sour. The margarita will always be your queen. However. wise bars will understand that not everyone wants to research, they might make a smaller “greatest hits” menu for this that don’t have the piety for worshiping a cocktail bible.
This is the Miranda July menu. It has 4 choices, all of equal whimsy. With only 12 seats in a tiny bistro, you have plenty of time to discuss with the bartender. I feel like more bars should just say “cocktail, sour, highball or other?”
Going over all of these options and filtering them through my carved in stone belief that a bar should brand all of their menu or none of it, I actually prefer the first cocktail listed with a conversation. But I like to create a trust tree and I normally worked in places of talking and info-taining was desirable. But again, who is you menu for and who are you?