Moving up to Cocktails!

Would you rather receive the tip from a Rum & Coke ($4) or a $10 Cocktail? Be the difference between an 'Order taker' and a 'Mixologist'.

Would you rather receive the tip from a Rum & Coke ($4) or a $10 Cocktail? Be the difference between an 'Order taker' and a 'Mixologist'.

Vodka sodas and Gin and tonics are fine, but as Canada starts making a move to catch up with the cocktail epicentres of the world, it’s time to take a serious look at your cocktail offering. Many restaurants are still stuck in the late 1990’s Martini cocktail phase, where drinks full of liqueurs and postmix juices, served in oversized martini glasses. Those days are gone, and the cocktails that are replacing those juicy martinis are elegant, sophisticated drinks, full of flavour and ripe with profitability.

We have all heard of suggestive selling, but few servers practice, many simply fall into the rut of being an order taker. It’s worth noting over 50% of drinkers are unaware of price at the time that they place the order, and that over 60% of guests will take the advice or recommendation of a server or bartender. so taking your guests from a Vodka and Cranberry to a Cosmopolitan should really be a piece of cake. The ingredients hardly differ at all, simply decrease the amount of Cranberry and add a splash of orange liqueur. The cost differential is minimal but your opportunity to sell the end product for a premium is tremendous.

When your staff engage your guests in conversation, and recommend something that makes sense, you start to build relationships. Staff can’t just blindly recommend a whiskey cocktail to a vodka drinker, but given the fact that most people are loyal to a specific type of spirit, having a single recommendation for each spirit type is a must for any bar that wants to boost their average dollar spend, and the associated profit.

By simple association, the average lowball drinker can be persuaded into a cocktail with little or no effort beyond a suggestion. A $4.00 lowball can easily become a $6 or $7 cocktail with much higher profit margins. It won’t always work but the job of a good or bartender is not to tend to the bar, it’s to tend to the guests. I have always come from the school of thought that says “If you don’t ask, the answer is always NO!”

A Vodka & Cranberry can easily become a Cosmopolitan, a Gin & Tonic could easily become a Tom Collins or Negroni, a Rum & Coke could easily become a Mojito or Hand Shaken Daiquiri, a Rye & Ginger could easily become a Manhattan.

These are just a few of the options available. While I would love to see every bar in Canada serving great cocktails, I’d much rather start people off with something palatable and delicious, slowly open the eyes of a nation of beer and wine drinkers to the pleasures that can come from a well made cocktail that isn’t as far from their typical drinking habits as they may think. It also give them an easy cure to the winter blahs with something a little bit more exciting in their glasses.

In places like London, New York, San Francisco and Tokyo, cocktails are getting smaller again, and we’re starting to see a resurgence of classic cocktails served with seasonal fresh ingredients and also the rise of bitters again on Canadian bars. Bitters are another low cost, high value ingredient that are available on most bars, but widely ignored by bartenders due to lack of understanding of what exactly bitters is. Ingredients like tonic water have a natural bitter taste to them which makes a gin and tonic more than just a balance of sweet and sour flavoured with botanicals.

To understand the role that bitters plays in a well made drink, think back way to think about it is to think back to high school when you learned about the parts of the tongue that taste different flavours. If you recall, the tongue is capable of discerning Sweet, Sour, Salty and Bitter (and modern culinary minds argue that it can also taste Umame, or the taste commonly associated with MSG found in Asian foods.)

You can add bitters to almost any drink, and by doing so, you’re adding a depth of flavour, essentially targeting a new set of taste receptors on the tongue, providing the guest with a more intense flavour experience.

Vancouver Mixologist and Cocktail Consultant, Danielle Tatarin, is excited about Left Coast bartenders becoming passionate again. “You can see the care and thought that goes into your cocktails, more often than not you will see bartenders tasting every drink that goes out to check for balance. People are learning about making bitters, tinctures, sodas, tonics etc. There is definitely a resurgence of Classic cocktails, and cocktail bars are embracing fresh ingredients, classic formulas and spirit forward drinks.”

Toronto Mixologist Rob Montgomery agrees, that the power of suggestion is critical to making sure that a guest gets a great beverage experience. “People are creatures of habit, and unless you make a suggestion they’ll stick with the status quo. I love the opportunity to suggest something different to one of my guests, and I love it when their eyes light up because they have discovered something new.”

Having the background knowledge of flavours and pairings is no longer “nice to have,” it’s becoming a necessity. Suggesting cocktails is good for the guest, good for the liquor companies, and most of all good for your bottom line. Win, Win, Win.

For a list of the top cocktail bars in Canada and around the world where you can go to see great cocktails and mixologists in action, visit

Gavin MacMillan is a Master Mixologist and owns BartenderOne Corp, Canada’s Leading Group of Bartender Training Schools. He is an award winning bartender, bestselling author and blogger and is considered one of Canada’s leading authorities on Cocktails and Mixology. You can reach him at

This entry was posted in Mixology, Proper Service, Raising the Bar and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.