Dr. Drink's Apothecary

Because we serve people, not drinks.

Perspective: Is Modern Mixology Worth the Hype?

Is Modern Mixology Worth the Hype? This was the question posed by Forbes.com’s blog contributor Jerry Prendergast last Saturday. It got me thinking. Really hard. Then I reached for the calculator.

Guess what. I got scary numbers too. I took Mr. Prendergast’s suppositions and determined the profit per serving. I costed all goods at my market cost, determined the cost of 1 hour labor at $8.00, and figured cost of labor in creating ingredients creating a prime cost for each beverage. Here’s the break down :

Glass of Chardonnay ($8.00 wholesale bottle), 6 oz pour, return per serving $5.94, return per hour $356.40

Guinness Draught, 16 oz pour, return per serving $4.67, return per hour $186.80

Grey Goose Martini, 3 oz recipe, return per serving $5.42, return per hour $162.60

Midnight Mary #3, per recipe, return per serving $8.00, return per hour $80.00

Now, before we continue I wanted to speak to the Midnight Mary #3. This isn’t your average signature drink. This isn’t your average bartender. This isn’t your average bar. This drink is from Charles Joly of Aviary. Yeah, that place. The place where cocktail dreams do come true. Where amazing drinks cost mostly between $14 and $19. I’m pretty sure Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas have profitability figured out at Aviary.

I see Mr. Prendergast’s point in drinks per hour, however the supposition lives in a vacuum when we look at profitability through the lens of one bartender’s efficiency in one category of drink. The reality is that a bartender is going to produce a broad range of  beverages; bottled & draught beer (low dollar return, high volume) and highballs (high dollar return, high volume) accounting for most sales. Which begs the question, are we looking at the numbers we should be looking at? Let’s change perspective. Which of the above items would you rather sell? Don’t start sweating percentages, cost percentages be damned, your bank accepts dollars not percentages. Even my 7-year-old knows which drink makes more money.

So is it worth the hype? It depends on your bar. Can you sell a twelve dollar drink? Is the average guest’s expectation of how much time it takes to make a drink align with how quick the bartender can make a drink? Are you stupid enough to load your entire cocktail list with drinks that take four minutes to make? This is what it boils down to: luxury/craft cocktails can have higher than normal costs associated with prime cost but always command higher prices and in return produce higher profits per serving. If my guests are only going to have two or three drinks during a visit I want them drinking cocktails. Ensuring these drinks can be produced at a reasonable pace is a matter of steps of service, mise en place, and the hospitality skills of your staff.

If you did not take the time to read the comments on Mr. Prendergast’s article, you should. He answers all criticisms with grace and diplomacy.  Most comments were made by guests who understand the time it take to create a proper cocktail. Mr. Prendergast understands this also. Think about McDonald’s vs. Morton’s when it comes to protein. The difference in serving time might be nearly thirty minutes. You have to have the patience to wait an extra two to three minutes for an often unique drink experience or at least a properly made cocktail. If you don’t, there’s a nightclub right down the street that would be happy to serve you a Marshmallow vodka and soda with a Jager Bomb side in sixty seconds flat, as long as it’s not five deep at the bar…

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One comment on “Perspective: Is Modern Mixology Worth the Hype?

  1. The Liquid Culture Project
    September 14, 2012

    I had a manager once who liked to make our $5 weekly drink special a Mojito. A f@#&ing Mojito — for $5! I’d been trained by a Bacardi rep over many a fun evening on the “proper way” to make a Mojito, so I was pretty adept at doling them out, but I remember I had four from the same table returned once; the manager plopping them on my backbar, “they say they’re too sweet.” I had tasted them, they were perfect. Still, I went to make 4 more and she started snapping, “c’mon, c’mon, hurry up!”

    Having been a manager, I make a point not to engage another employee — superior or inferior — for criticism in front of customer. After work though I laid into her: you don’t make your daily special a high-maintenance, muddled cocktail. Logic is lost on some people.

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