It’s the perfect time of year to give your drinks menu an overhaul. Ben Canaider shares his wisdom
In spring, as the poet said, a livelier iris gleans upon the burnish’d dove—particularly when said dove is studying your drinks list. Keen to be refreshed and reinvigorated, your customers, whether they be doves or not, want a list that seems to bring on warmer weather and some sunshine. How to spruce up your drinks sales without a complete and costly overhaul of your inventory is—at heart—an easy task, albeit involving some smoke ’n’ mirror work, a bit of clever leftover stock manoeuvering, and a slight
re-jigging of the list’s format.
The wine list
Go for variety and freshness come spring. This satisfies the ever-educated (or at least informed) customer’s urge for all things new, particularly in white wine and rosé. Given so many 2014 vintage Australian and New Zealand whites and pinks are released over July and August, this puts you in a good position. Choice is also the mantra here, or at least a notion of it. An Australian SB and a NZ one; a hot-pink-coloured rosé made from grenache and a more bronze-coloured one made from pinot noir—four such wines cover a lot of bases.
In spring, your wine list also needs to highlight emerging wine regions and producers, not to mention wine styles and varieties. The overarching notion of spring’s rebirth helps this marketing and sales technique. Anything new and anything innovative will do the trick, both from the point of view of the wine inside the bottle and the bottle’s label design itself. Brands like Vinaceous and Some Young Punks bring this attitude to bear well. Fresh and yet honest wines that combine a correct varietal and regional pedigree (aka, shiraz from the Barossa, cabernet from Margaret River, and so on) along with jaunty and retro label designs help make a more easy and natural connection to your Generation AA customers—if we are up to AA yet. Racy whites like grüner veltliner and rustic red varietals such as malbec are going to be the flavours of the season.
Now’s the time to change and even expand the by-the-glass page, too. Sparkling wine and champagne (particularly given the latter’s still ridiculously low LUCs) should feature quite strongly, treating the season as if it was one long, four-month Spring Racing Carnival.
And alternatives to the standard volumetric measure can be usefully employed this time of year, as customers move from the notion of maybe one quick glass of something after work, to maybe two. Offering different sized and accordingly priced glasses can once again offer choice. Perhaps 90ml pours of reds or more expensive LUC wines to lower the to-table price; 120ml glasses of lighter-bodied wines and those wines with lower alcohol (such as semillon or riesling); and the use of half-litre carafes for customers that don’t wish to share a 750ml bottle.
This means 2014 rosé, fresh 2014 vintage aromatic white wines, whatever new beer brand is being pushed for spring promotions (and if it is a ‘craft’ or ‘boutique’ lager even better), and some clever variants on whatever the new spring’s heavily promoted white spirits are. With the bigger spirits companies pouring the promotional money into such drinks, it’s a good strategy for operators to get into the promotional slipstream, so to speak. Whatever the spirit turns out to be (and it might be gin’s turn this spring/summer) get on board and add a sliding scale of drinks based on that spirit to your drinks list. You don’t necessarily have to be bolted on to the promotion itself, but using it to freelance your way towards the front of the pack is a good and affordable strategy. And it becomes the basis of your spring cocktail arsenal.
Be sure to use your menus to accentuate the seasonal spring theme. Entrées, mains and even snacks (now called ‘sliders’, or so my favourite bar tenders keeps reminding me) can bring their own very intuitive steps towards a spring drink choice, whether that be through the inclusion of salsa, spices, dips or sauces. All of these things can help push your aromatic and clean whites (including semillon and riesling), your pink wines, your lighter-bodied reds (such as pinot, cool-climate shiraz, and more easy-drinking grenache styles).
More overtly linking drinks to menu items is a not-so-subtle way of suggesting the sort of wine or drink a customer might have with a particular dish. If the hapuka is finished with a white wine sauce, then be expansive about the white wine in the menu descriptor: “finished with a Yarra Valley Chardonnay & Herb Sauce”. Then list a Yarra Valley chardonnay by-the-glass below the menu item. This helps customers order lunch and beverages in a join-the-dots manner, and quietly removes a layer of your customer’s wine inferiority complex in the process.
Beer and beer glasses
No, not goggles, glasses. Proprietary branded beer glasses as provided by your brewer of choice might seem like an attractive idea, particularly if they come FOB, but they also tend to be cheaply manufactured and chip and break more easily. They also fail to add anything importantly retro to your operation’s mood or atmosphere. Come spring, you need to leverage beer’s full potential in every way possible.
One approach that’s working well for some beer-tenders is the old-fashioned 300ml beer mug. Its dimpled exterior creates an illusion of something bigger than it actually is, and its handle keeps the beer inside the glass cooler, longer. Ideal for tap beer, it then leaves some space open for specialist glasses for your packaged beer products. Try tall pilsner glasses for clean and fresh lagers, and maybe even short-stemmed wine glasses for some of the new ‘bright’ ales being produced; these are lighter in body and flavour than traditional ale (which is like beer-porridge during winter).
Old or last vintage aromatic whites and rosé wines, and winter ales or heavier dark spirit-based cocktails that linger on your list can really turn the above-alluded-to informed customer right off, and ruin any good work you’re attempting to realise. Putting older wines in our ‘Bin Ends’ section of the wine list can suggest value, or such wines can be the mainstay for your spring foray into such things as sangria jugs and wine punches.
Oh, and one last thing: if you see trays of limes for $15, make a move, because they always seem to be $60 come Christmas time.