3 Hot Ways to Attract Customers Through the Winter Doldrums

spiked Mexican Hot Chocolate cocktail
Photo credit: Bodega Negra at the Dream Hotel in Manhattan the spiked Mexican Hot Chocolate

There are still a few big nights before the long, slow slog of January and February mid-winter restaurant and bar doldrums sets in. But now is the time to be determining what the menus for those dark days will offer, especially if you are doing business in the snow belt of the country. Most operators reflexively lean on drinks that are brown, strong and stirred this time of year to carry the load, but maybe some changes are in order. Here are three suggestions:

1. Eggnog through the winter. Think of eggnog as simply another form of punch, and you can see the advantages it offers: batch service can mean a higher ring and more efficient service, among other things.

December’s menus included numerous variants that could be suitable for serving throughout the winter, like 312 Chicago’s Zabaglione from bartender Holly Reid, made with numerous Italian potable bitters - Cardamaro, Barolo Chinato and Fantasia Punch Amari along with bourbon and egg. Made a la minute or batched in advance, it’s an interesting twist on classic eggnog. So, too, St. Nick’s Fix by Chris Burmeister at the Outpost in Santa Barbara, Ca., made with bourbon, butter pecan syrup, heavy cream, allspice dram and egg white. Consumers who like the texture of drinks shaken with egg are likely to at least sample any eggy drink made specifically with winter tastes in kind.

2. Make hot chocolate work for you. In the days before it was rediscovered by the bartenders of the world, a tot of Chartreuse dropped into a mug of hot chocolate was a winter favorite. Now that a broader flavor palate is available to introduce to the classic winter warmer, and more interesting hot chocolate and cocoa mixes are now considered mainstream, there are few excuses not to include a boozy version for the winter. At Bodega Negra at the Dream Hotel in Manhattan the spiked Mexican Hot Chocolate includes a slug of Baron tequila, creme de cacao, chocolate bitters and in-house hot chocolate made with chipotle, cinnamon, cloves and brown sugar. Dan Rook of South Water Kitchen in Chicago makes the John & Heather by adding Aviation Gin and Yellow Chartreuse to hot chocolate.

3. Toddy along. Classically, it’s really nothing more than spirit, hot water, lemon and perhaps some spices, and while the impact of alcohol and flavor intensity differs when a drink is served hot rather than cold, the basic rules of balance are the same and there are many creative twists worth trying. Ray Anguiano at Atwood in Chicago makes the Bright Light using gin, honey-chamomile syrup, lemon juice and hot water - simple and appetizing. Brian Means at San Francisco’s Dirty Habit combines Ford’s gin with hot rooibos tea, Myer lemon cordial and lemon juice for another lighter and refreshing take on the toddy. Hot buttered rums may be out of favor, but greeting customers with a steaming, aromatically enticing mug on a windswept night could be all it takes to get them to think of you next time the winter weather threatens.

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