Out with the old

iStock_000020884582_XXXLarge_PPIs it time to cull the poor performers and focus on a select few? Ben Canaider looks at the pros and cons of offering a limited drinks menu

Some people are, by nature, hoarders. Their sitting rooms are full of objets d’art; their wardrobes bursting with clothes they bought (and last wore) 15 years ago; and their pantries stacked to the culinary gunwales with little jars of spices and powders and condiments whose measurements are counted in pre-metric ounces. Some might describe this condition as homely; but when such a hoarding situation occurs on a licensed premises, drinks list and storeroom, there are problems.

However, there are easy ways to cull your drinks list—in fact, it’s a good reason to keep it lean and sprightly.

Quitting stock, specials, and the secondary auction market

The first step in creating a more effective drinks list is to prune. Old, imported packaged beer shouldn’t be bothered over; it will taste stale, with that distinct cardboard taste that old lagers and pale ales can get. And with every second customer nowadays being a craft beer connoisseur and expert, it’s just too dangerous and dodgy to serve it. This is a tip-down-sink-dispose-of-thoughtfully situation.

Similarly, but to a less extreme extent, older vintages of white wine such as sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and some rosé, should be decommissioned via the wine specials and bin end page. Some operators might be tempted to sell such wines with no mention of the vintage on the wine list, but there’s a degree of deceit in that process that is not fair to your customers. Older vintages of some semillons and rieslings are perfectly suited to your ‘cellar reserve’ wine list, however, and can be priced accordingly.

Older vintages of red wines, particularly marquee labels, can be a bother for different reasons: their price to table, many customers find, are off-putting. Once again, using wine-preserving products like Winesave (www.winesave.com) is an effective way to sell such wines by the glass, over a two- or three-week period of time, with no degradation to the wine. Winesave is nothing more than a can of argon gas that you spray via a nozzle into the opened and poured bottle of wine. The gas floats on top, preventing further oxidation. I’ve tested this product many times and am still amazed at its efficacy.

“Contemplating and guesstimating a list of 15 chardonnays can seem worse than sitting a final-year exam.”

Of course, should your aged red wine inventory be too gargantuan, then the secondary auction market can be a useful way to at least realise some funds. It might not bring in the same return as your own sales of said wines but at least you’re rid of the stuff and can start afresh.

Spirits don’t present degradation and spoilage problems (at least to the liquid inside the bottle), but their waxing and waning popularity can affect sales. If you operate a specialist whisky or gin bar, this is less of a problem, as the display of such a range of spirits—on a grand scale behind the bar—is a neat marketing and promotional tool.

There are a lot of cocktail ingredients, however, that degrade very quickly after opening, such as cassis and vermouth, so high-rotation and low stock levels should be practised in their case. Similarly, sherry is another very fragile drink once opened—indeed, fino sherry is not unlike some more delicate white wines in the way it can fade even in the unopened bottle. It’s another high-rotation product, with a shelf life that could almost be measured alongside that of the tapas dishes you serve it with.

Once you’ve pruned, the next question concerns your new drinks list method, or model.

A small list is a more versatile list

Versatility and responsiveness should be the mantra of your drinks list. Increasingly both in Australia and in the US, UK and Europe, smaller wine lists are the norm. Indeed, the growing trend in drinks lists is towards a more equitable representation of beers, wines, spirits and other drinks—things like bottled water and the new wonder drink du jour, kombucha.

There’s sound reasoning behind such smaller and yet more broadly representative drinks lists. They can seem less intimidating and threatening to many customers. Contemplating and guesstimating a list of 15 chardonnays can seem worse than sitting a final-year exam but choosing one of, say, three puts your customer in more assured territory. Of course, this approach can lead to the dangers of a perceived ‘lack of choice’, but this will only happen among your more serious wine, beer and spirits cognoscenti, and how that affects you depends on the sort of customers you are trying to market towards.

Know your clientele

Points of broader representation on your drinks list really depends on who comes most often through the door. Inner-city demographics are still extolling their knowledge of boutique ales and ‘real’ ciders. Cosy restaurants for the middle-aged and upper middle class needs a good range of wines they know. This point can’t be stressed enough. And if you run a bar that has more drop-ins than regulars then you need to be on the pulse of the drinks of the day. Did I mention kombucha before?

Be seasonal

A spring clean of your drinks list should not be annual, but more like BAS quarterly reporting—do it at the end of every season. This helps keep your drinks list up-to-date, and very much in line and sync with your menu. Whisky, reds and darker ales in winter; gin and rosé promotions come spring; fresh local lager in the summer, and cocktails and sherry in the autumn. It’s almost a self-managing system.

Finally …

Always have a ‘signature’ drink. Whatever your bar or cafe or club or pop-up laneway blueroom is called, invent and name a drink after it. And always have it on the list.

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