Culinary Cocktails a How Hot Are They?

Culinary cocktails are hot, an absolute must-have for any bar menu, right? Wrong. While kitchen-inspired libations may be the darling of high-end bar chefs and television mixologists, the typical bar-goer is not quite so enamored.

A look at recent survey data reveals that the culinary elite and the average drinker are indeed at odds on the importance of culinary cocktails and their role at the bar. Mike Ginley of drinks market research firm Next Level Marketing made an interesting comparison during a presentation at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago last weekend. Citing a survey done in October by NRA of the American Culinary Federation’s membership, Ginley shared that 73 percent of the 1,854 chefs responding ranked culinary cocktails as the number 2 beverage trend for 2010 (locally produced wine and beer ranked first). Turning to one of his firm’s recent online surveys of 504 restaurant consumers who had ordered cocktails in the last 30 days, he reported that only 13 percent said trend-forward cocktails made with exotic ingredients were important to them.

Next Level looked further into that disconnect by testing three menus: one with standard cocktails such as Cosmos and Lemondrops, a second with popular cocktails including a Pomegranate Lemondrop and a Raspberry Cosmo, third with trend-forward selections involving Elderflower Lemondrop, a Lavender Cosmo and a Chipotle Mango Margarita. Slightly more than half — 51 percent — of consumers responding voted that the popular menu was most appealing to them; 24 percent opted for the trend-forward menu and 25 percent for the standard menu.

What’s the point? “Don’t get ahead of the guest,” said Ginley, explaining that while the trendinistas, television shows and trade media headlines might be shouting about culinary cocktails involving all manner of exotic spirits, herbs, spices, roots, flowers, tinctures, syrups and even bacon, the typical imbiber is looking for more familiar ingredients, flavors and executions. “Yes, cater to the trend-forward consumer to a degree, but find the sweet spot with popular flavors and drinks. Give the patron something familiar and comfortable, and add a little twist here and there on the menu to tweak their interest and appeal to the trend-forward guest.”

After all, despite the hoopla over emerging flavors and cocktails, the Margarita remains the best-selling drink in America for several years running, with the Martini traditionally in second place. “And the Long Island Iced Tea is the third best-selling drink on many casual bar menus,” says Ginley. “Ultimately, people want to drink what they know.”

Want more proof? I’m lucky enough to spend a fair amount of time in all manner of cocktail bars, and while I love to sip and savor the latest concoction from each, what I often really crave is a decent Gin & Tonic.

See you at the bar!


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