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No cocktail menu should be just a cocktail menu. Before customers have a cocktail menu in their hand, their eyes have been wandering and scanning the room, gathering their thoughts and judgments on your bar. Most likely, the menu is what a customer will spend the most amount of time focusing on, and the first thing they will spend time looking at. It’s an opportunity to show them that you find their business to be important. Menus are a chance to not only make your customers feel welcome, but it is also a home to visually explain the concept behind your concoctions. When thought out and orchestrated very well, a cocktail menu can be a beautiful thing for both the customer’s bar experience and your profits.

The menu itself should read like a storybook of a bar program, it should let customers wander, but only as far as their comfort zone will allow them. The first drink should be basic, and a first step into the menu. It should be a place of comfort if they decide they have wandered too far down the drink list, a safe place to come back to. This should be the drink that appeals to a larger audience, and also the drink you make the most profit from. From here, each drink should be more and more adventurous and a touch more cutting edge. Don’t be afraid to use ingredients that might be a little costlier with the adventurous cocktails. That expensive bourbon elevates the rest of the menu, and not as many will be ordered as that first accessible drink. These are the drinks that will bring in new business from people looking for something new and make the rest of the drinks feel much more elevated.

Unless you are going to having a large cocktail menu on purpose, keep in mind the stress a cocktail menu can put on a bar. If you have a large cocktail menu, make sure there are items that can be cross-utilized in multiple drinks. Ideally, a typical cocktail menu should be 8-12 drinks maximum. This gives you room to put on something for everyone without overwhelming customers and your staff. Depending on your brand of bar service, overwhelming isn’t always a bad thing. It creates a window of opportunity for a bartender to “save the day” and suggest a drink.

Design is a little more creatively abstruse. No matter what dollar amount you spend on your menus, it should still be in line conceptually with the rest of the restaurant. A cheap menu can cancel out other details you put into the bar. Once again, this is what a guest spends time studying, and all those other details are forgotten about if the menu feels like an afterthought.

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