Pre-planning and simplicity are key

Licensees should take steps to make life easier on themselves this Christmas

Christmas cocktail

BAR and pub operators should prioritise simple serves and pre-batched festive favourites if they want to ease the pressure this December.

That was the advice from brand owners, who said they expected simple cocktail serves to be particularly important to the trade this festive season as premises deal with increased footfall and – in many cases – lower staff numbers.

“The shortage of staff is a real challenge for most and this means a lot of new team members have to get up to speed quickly to ensure your guests have a brilliant experience,” said Ben Stewart, director of UK and European sales at Wemyss Family Spirits.

“Don’t overcomplicate it. Focus on serves with a few ingredients that really champion the flavours.

“Drinks like a Whisky Sour with your own twist are simple ingredients with great impact, and they look good too.”

That was echoed by Rob McArdle, marketing controller at Brockmans Gin, who said simple serves will enable venues to “serve people quickly and without getting in the way of one another at the back-bar”.

“Keep your cocktail menu short and appealing and select classic cocktails that are easy to prepare but which, with the right garnish, still have that ‘wow’ factor,” said McArdle.

And James Stocker, marketing director at Halewood Artisanal Spirits, said that operators will have to balance the need to satisfy those customers looking to treat themselves with the importance of not over-stretching staff.

“A great way around this is to offer some simple cocktail serves which may look impressive, but have minimal touch points for staff,” he said.

Choosing the right drinks will be essential, and companies advised incorporating established winter flavours along with some year-round favourites.

Clare Gibson, marketing director at Intercontinental Brands, reckoned traditional winter flavours such as chocolate orange and pumpkin spiced will be popular again in 2021, with presentation just as important as flavour.

“Consumers will most likely look for eye-catching serves to show off on their social channels as the Christmas party season is back and many will be making up for lost time,” said Gibson.

Debbie MacMillan of Isle of Barra Distillers said she expects spiced and cinnamon-based serves to prove popular towards the end of the year.

However, she also advised operators to keep their tried and tested cocktails on the menu.
“You are probably looking at the Christmas-themed drinks being allocated as a ‘first drink to start with’ and then you’ll find that people are creatures of habit and like to revert back to their go-to drink of choice,” said MacMillan.

That was reinforced by Dale McQueen, managing director of McQueen Gin, who said he expected classic cocktails including the Espresso Martini, Pornstar Martini, Cosmopolitan, Mojito and Strawberry Daiquiri to continue to dominate throughout the festive season.

Pre-batching drinks was said to be another step operators can take to increase efficiency.
Michael Green, senior whisky specialist at Edrington UK, said pre-batched serves “will be a saving grace this festive season”.

“Ensuring all your best-sellers are prepped and stocked behind the bar will ensure you have a smooth service,” said Green.

“Selecting well-loved yet simple serves such as a gin and tonic or a whisky highball offers speed of service and allows you to meet demand by turning around cocktails quicker.”

Niel Hendriksz, sales director at Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers, added that pre-batched drinks “can also alleviate pressure during service, whilst still providing a high standard of mixology”.

Stocking a range of versatile products that are able to be served in a variety of ways was also advised.

Mast-Jäegermeister UK brand ambassador, Florian Beuren, recommended venues stock “a staple collection of spirits and liqueurs that can be served as shots as well as in cocktails and mixed drinks” in order to ensure they are “making the most of their stock” over the festive season.

And even if the majority of the focus is on cocktails and other alcoholic serves, licensees were advised to ensure they have the growing low and no-alcohol market covered as well.

“There is huge pressure to socialise this year but this is set against a backdrop of a mind-set change towards health and wellbeing,” said Alex Carlton, co-founder of Strykk.

“The trade must therefore help people to manage the pace of their drinking. This means providing options so consumers can skip a round, have a weekend off, but still have a great time.”

Katie Walker, brand manager at cider maker Aston Manor, agreed, saying a no and low selection is “vital” over the festive season.

Other recent developments in the hospitality industry can also be embraced to help make things easier for outlets.

The past year and more has encouraged many operators to adopt technology such as ordering apps, and Neil Boyd of Ian Macleod Distillers said these innovations have become “a key player in helping staff deliver the service that consumers are expecting”.

“It can speed up serve, reduce floor staff, and create better operational ways of working when managing drinker experience,” said Boyd.

Quoting CGA figures, Boyd went on to state that 94% of businesses have said technology has been “exceptionally useful” since reopening, with 44% describing it as “a fundamental part” of reopening their premises.

“Drinkers are now used to ordering on apps and have signalled they are happy to continue, which should be key throughout the Christmas period,” said Boyd.