When was the last time you had fun at a bar? What made that experience fun? If you think back, you likely enjoyed spending time with your friends. You probably interacted with a friendly and welcoming staff and received great service. There’s a good chance the music and atmosphere contributed as well. Ulysses Vidal, bar manager at Employees Only, and Jon Kraus, Nightclub & Bar’s March 2016 Bartender of the Month, believe another factor also contributes to the fun factor of a bar: the visuals.
“We drink with our eyes first, and then we smell and we taste," said Kraus.
Vidal and Kraus weren’t just talking about a bar’s lighting, back bar, décor and furnishings. Those elements do help to communicate and tie together your venue’s theme, obviously. But the menu, cocktail presentations and even social experimentation can really push the fun levels off the charts.
Make Your Menu Fun
Cocktails aren’t the only thing in a bar that can benefit from presentation. A great menu presentation can make a huge difference, and it’s an open opportunity. Think about how meta it can all get: a striking menu presentation listing the cocktails that you’ve perfected and elevated with, you guessed it, striking presentations. Your menu can excite people before they even put their eyes on one of your drinks.
Consider your brand, concept and theme. If money and even reality weren’t factors, how would you communicate how fun your bar is to your guests? Get creative and have fun yourself – our industry is entertaining by its very nature. Go all out and create a killer menu with the right language. Engage your customers before their eyes even snap to one of your cocktails. For example, why just use basic paper or lamination when you can take the time to really think about your menu and create it with a material that provides a tactile experience?
Some of Vidal’s and Kraus’ favorite menus are from Door 74 in Amsterdam, Super Panda Circus in the Czech Republic, Slippbarinn in Reykjavik, Trick Dog in San Francisco, and The Dead Rabbit, Pouring Ribbons and Donna Cocktail Club in NYC. One look and you’ll understand what makes these menus so incredible.
Not only is Door 74’s cocktail menu styled after The Game of Life, they also have a viewfinder menu.
Super Panda Circus is not just a ridiculously fun name, the menu is on papyrus scrolls.
Cartoons and comics are the design inspiration for Slippbarinn’s menu.
Trick Dog may be the undisputed champions of cocktail menu design. Some past designs are paint swatches, Chinese restaurant menus, and even a dog calendar. The bar is so famous for their creations that their website includes a menu archive.
The Dead Rabbit’s menu looks like a graphic novel.
A flavor matrix makes the Pouring Ribbons menu informative, engaging and fun.
The Donna Cocktail Club menu uses symbols and a legend to “guide you on your cocktail journey.”
Thoughtful and impactful menu design can put your bar on the map. Your cocktails aren’t the only things that can create a buzz on social media.
Make Your Cocktails Fun
As Vidal and Kraus pointed out during their 2016 Nightclub & Bar Show, if a cocktail is attractive and playful, your guests may not even care what's in them. Stunning and whimsical appearances can make people crave drinks they nothing about. This is often referred to as the Me Too Factor. Someone sees something incredible and they have to have it too. During a recent trip to Chicago I found myself falling prey to this very concept at The Aviary. I wanted to try everything on the menu but had seen their 3 in 441 cocktail all over social media. When I saw the specialty Porthole infuser it comes in sitting on a shelf I just had to try one myself, the Me Too Factor in full effect.
Incredible garnishes, innovative presentations, inventive glassware… If you have fun dreaming up these details and bringing them into reality, your guests will have fun too. Nobody really wants to go to a boring bar, except maybe government agents and gangsters in movies. Although, if those types of people are in a bar doesn’t it sort of make it exciting? Anyway, amazing presentations can set your bar apart from the competition, give your guests something to Tweet, Instagram and Periscope about, and keep them coming back for more. They can also turn your bar into a cocktail destination.
The Oriole in London makes beautiful cocktails.
Just look at these cocktails from The Gibson, also in London.
You know if you saw these Genuine Liquorette canned cocktails that feature an inverted airline spirit bottle and a mouth widened by a “Cha-Chunker” you’d order one.
The Aviary may have reached the zenith of what cocktail presentation can be.
Step up your garnish game.
So, don’t just do this…
Make Your Branding Fun
With your menu and cocktail presentations fully realized, think about the finishing touches you can put on your bar. These can be complicated or they can be simple. The keys are execution, staying true to your brand and concept, and considering whether or not your ideas a mere novelty or sustainable.
As stated above, what you offer up in the way of fun can be unassuming and complex. White Lyan in London opted for the latter. To control production, quality and costs, the bar uses its own house spirits to make cocktails that are prebatched before being bottled and refrigerated. Employees Only features a bar designed to give each patron a view of the rest of the guests. Unleash your creativity and take it as far as you can without alienating your target audience.
Strøm in Copenhagen uses a bit of social experimentation for fun.