Do-It-Yourself Cocktails

Looking to do something really different at your bar? Try asking your customers.

Chicago’s Berkshire Room is a good example of what’s possible at bespoke end of the scale. The lounge, located in the Acme Hotel, promotes the ‘do-it-yourself’ concept by inviting customers to decide based on their palates and preferences.

Called “Dealer’s Choice,” the process starts with one of twenty odd spirits, including sake, sotol, pisco, Old Tom gin as well as the usual suspects. Then the menu suggests flavor profiles: ‘sweet and sour,’ ‘fruity,’ ‘herbaceous,’ ‘strong and stirred, ‘spicy,’ and ‘smokey.’ Finally, guests get to choose the glassware, and the bartender then takes their lead with the drink creation.

Photo Provided By Berkshire Room Photo Provided By Sotto 13


Other bars have been doing this sort of thing for a while. At New York City’s Sotto 13, brunch guests can order a customizable Prosecco kit, allowing them to craft their own versions of Aperol Spritzes or Bellini-style brunch beverages. At Cook Hall at the W Hotel Dallas, guests are given the option of ordering cocktail kits that arrive tableside complete with spirit, syrup, bitters, ice and mixing glasses, brought to their table in customized baskets. A book of recipes is provided for inspiration, but guests are encouraged to come up with their own creations. Not on the menu, it’s an option the servers present to each guest, further personalizing the concept. (A kit suitable for two to four is $15; a set for five or more starts at $30, plus the cost of each customer’s spirit.)

Not all DIY trends are as physically interactive. Manhattan’s Ward III helped pioneer the bespoke cocktail trend, where guests and bartenders consult over flavor and spirit preferences before the bartender mixes the drink. Guests scan a list of components grouped under drink attributes and get naming rights for the final results, with the recipe jotted down on a bar coaster and filed behind the bar in a sewing machine drawer.

Letting guests do their own thing is nothing new: the Bloody Mary bar is still a thriving business model at Sunday brunch and Saturday college football venues, and there’s plenty to be said for getting today’s more cocktail-conscious customer involved in the drink decision-making. Take Punch for example: if a bowl for four is delivered along with some additional items (fruit garnishes, bitters or tinctures) that would allow each member of the party to tweak their drinks or even ramp up the alcohol, how much better would the guest experience be? And with punch service, while preparation must be organized to be successful, each table served trims the number of visits a server must make to take drink reorders. If that little extra creates another table order, then punch service is more likely to thrive and reward the bar operator.

Do-it-yourself programs take time to plan, like anything else, but as long as being a little bit different still attracts attention and customers, giving customers what they want in a new way is worth the effort.

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