Unless you tend a cutting-edge bar where today’s latest drink is tomorrow’s old news, you can’t expect new spirits to fly off the shelves. Most bar managers need to develop a comprehensive strategy of training, promotion, pricing, and tasting---perhaps the most important factor in debuting a new product.
Learning by Tasting
After my first few years of getting up to speed in high-volume L. A. venues, I finally found time to think about all those bottles I was pouring. Every free minute, I’d be reading the labels on bottles in the backbar, hoping to gain drips of knowledge that I could use to answer any questions from customers.
Reading about spirits does open the door to knowledge, but tasting a new spirit gets you inside the distiller’s mind. Years ago, when anything new came in, the standard line from my manager was, “Don’t crack it open until somebody asks for it.” My standard comeback was, “I’m not drinking, I’m tasting. I’m learning.” Even if that response was not well received, I forged ahead with my spirits education anyway, in secret. After all, inquiring minds want to know.
I agree with a staff policy of keeping a tight lid on the spirits, but in order to receive, one has to give. Now that the sacred cork has loosened up a little bit in these enlightened times, everyone benefits from tasting new products. There is less dust collecting on high-end bottles, which equates to more bottle movement and rotation, increased profits through expanded bar sales, greater customer satisfaction and repeat business, and knowledge for all interested.
So Many Bottles, So Little Time
When considering new products, a bar manager needs to think in terms of bottle management. There are must-have spirits and ones you may have to live without due to physical limitations---backbar shelf size, spacing, and ladder placement. And because new products arrive almost daily and spirits trends develop quickly, you must move expeditiously to introduce a new product to have it accepted by your patrons. Here is an approach to help you succeed.
Understand your concept, customer base, and staff.
Screen new spirits on what is best for your establishment, its concepts and rhythms; the interest levels of your customers; and what motivates and turns on your staff. Why stock a fancy new label if it doesn’t fit your program?
Examine a new spirit in terms of its variety of uses.
Can it be served on the rocks, straight up, with a mixer? Can you design an enticing signature drink incorporating it, blend it into a classic cocktail recipe, or use it as a drip lacing over the top of a specific dessert? Multiple uses increase the bottle’s movement and its overall bar presence.
Let the staff taste all the spirit’s possible uses and engage them in product knowledge.
Study the taste nuances and pair the spirit with menu items. With each new spirit release, visit the Web site and access any and all available information about the spirit’s history, bottle design, distillery location, water source, the specific process of ingredient infusion, and so forth. Staff product knowledge, both visceral and intellectual, will help promote the spirit.
Teach your staff how to introduce the new product.
Create interest by letting your clientele know about a new product that just arrived. The opportunity to be among the first to sample a new product adds an aura of exclusivity that helps drive the sale.
Estimate the spirit’s shelf life before it starts to slowly lose its optimum essence.
The product’s staying power could be a selection factor when considering monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly periods of promotion.
Create a “stage” for the newcomer to your bar inventory.
Display the new spirit prominently on the bar or backbar, constructing a platform or pedestal, if necessary. Feature a special drink made from the product and let your customers know about it.
Invest in tasting glassware.
Small, specialized barware can be used to offer sample tastings to your customers at the bar and in the dining areas so that they become more aware of the bar’s new offerings. Spirit tastings can be just as popular as wine flights, and a small charge can cover your costs.
If possible, offer a special pricing promotion.
Most new spirits have a reasonable bottle cost, so adjust the drink price accordingly, allowing enough of a margin to garner a profit.
New bar products are always fun---they are like new presents arriving all the time. Embrace them and create a comprehensive strategy to please the palates of your guests with your newest purchases.