Ready, Set...Shake! Using Bartender Competitions to Build Your Menu

Image: emituu / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Bartender contest comes up with five LTO cocktails


Buffalo Wings & Rings is about to launch its summer LTO cocktail, the Colada Shaker.

This is one of five LTOs being launched this year, all of which are the result of a bartender challenge in the chain.

The concept’s corporate office announced the contest at the end of 2016 and asked for submissions within about a month.

The submissions had to fall into one of four categories:

  • an upscale margarita;
  • an upscale martini;
  • a shareable drink;
  • or a cocktail using a Coca-Cola product.

Buffalo Wings & Rings received 100 entries from 70 bartenders, which judges then tested and tasted to come up with five winners – one for each category, plus a holiday drink. Judges included industry partners, customers, and employees.

“We wanted to get franchisees be more hands-on and have more buy in and be involved in the beverage program,” says Doug Morrison, head of beverage development and innovation.

The first cocktail to run this year was the Avorita, an upscale margarita which ran in February and March. This was followed by the Shandy Shores, which was introduced in April and May. After the Colada Shaker, the Mexican Candy will be released in the fall, and the Chocolate Pepperminti will celebrate the holidays.

Each of these LTOs is launched with the name of the bartender who created it, and any that are successful across the chain’s locations will be added to Buffalo Wings & Rings’ regular menu. Each winner received a prize of a $250 gift card, and the bartender who created the Coca-Cola cocktail (the Colada Shaker, which contains Sprite), won airplane tickets for two people to anywhere in the world, courtesy of Coca-Cola.

There were some strict parameters for the contest. Each cocktail had to:

1. have a great flavor;

2. have good presentation, “because when you walk through a dining room, people see it. Many people drink and taste with their eyes so we wanted that wow factor,” says Morrison. “That also helps with the perceived value of a drink.”;

3. be able to be executed operationally (be something a bartender can make without being slowed down);

4. not have too many ingredients that are not carried at Buffalo Wings & Rings’ bars;

5. be creative;

6. fit with the concept’s costs and profit margins for a cocktail, since cocktails cost $10 or less;

7. be less than 20% alcohol.

Going forward, this contest may become annual, Morrison says. “We’ve enjoyed seeing our line level staff involved, and we’ve loved seeing their excitement.”


Tabatha Steuck's LTO Colada Shaker, winner of the Buffalo Wings & Rings bartender competition
Attribution/Copyrights: Buffalo Wings & Rings

Colada Shaker

Created by bartender Tabatha Steuck in Aberdeen, S.D.

  • 1.25 oz. Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Cream Rum
  • 1 oz. Pineapple juice
  • 2 oz. Finest Call Piña Colada mix
  • 4 oz. Sprite
  • Splash grenadine
  • 1 Maraschino cherry

Fill shaker with ice, then mix in the rum, pineapple juice, piña colada mix and Sprite. Shake. Fill mixing glass with fresh ice and strain cocktail into glass. Add a splash of grenadine on top. Garnish with cherry.

Suggested Articles

Learn how to convert interested leads into faithful followers and, eventually, booked clients.

Research from the latest National Restaurant Association and Yelp Show the Latest Rate in Closures

Six-month sales, education and networking virtual event series offers a brand-new approach for the industry to connect with owners, operators and supp