Is Modern Mixology Worth the Hype?

Midnight Mary #3 - The Aviary, Chicago


Modern Mixology:  Profitable?  Maybe not.


No longer referred to as a mere bartender, the current “Mixologist” has lately risen in esteem practically to the level of Chef.  Restaurant owners bid competitively for the services of these Stars-of-Cocktails to the extent that entire public relation campaigns have been built around one leaving someplace to move to another.


Cocktail consultants have sprung up, bringing a whole new professional branch to the industry -- as well as a new cost.   Several of my clients and I have contracted their services, as we all have been carried away by the PR and hype of the Cocktail.


Not surprisingly, customers love cocktails!  These new creations are fun!  Here’s the “cocktail of the week” on Esquire’s “Eat Like a Man” blog, by Jake Stavis:


Original ingredients for the Midnight Mary #3:
1 1/2 oz North Shore Aquavit
1/2 oz Benedictine (not B&B)
3/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz galangal syrup
1/4 oz simple syrup
1 1/4 oz clarified tomato water
Fresno chile bitters
Nitrogen frozen basil foam
Garnished with heirloom tomato and pigmy basil

“We present the frozen foam tableside, spooning it into the guest's glass.  A cascade of smoke pours from the vessel as the liquid nitrogen sizzles in the bowl.  We then muddle the foam into a fine green powder and pour the finished cocktail on top...”


Unfortunately, I have strong reservations about the profitability of it all.  While people commonly believe restaurants are making money hand over fist, especially where liquor is concerned, in truth, the margins are slim.  High rents, payroll, liability and workers comp insurance, employee turnover, and overall operation costs keep the margin of profitability small.


Does the modern cocktail culture actually make money for the establishment? 


It takes a bartender about 30 seconds to pour a glass of wine, 45 seconds to pull a draft beer, and one minute to make a classic Martini.  The other night I sat at a bar and watched an experienced Mixologist take four minutes to make a specialty cocktail - not including the time spent taking the order, ringing it up, collecting money or running a credit card.  To be fair, let’s say specialty drinks generally take three minutes to make.


Applying this to some average pricing (high for some places and low for others), and assuming 50% of a mixologist’s time is spent actually making drinks, how much revenue is earned per hour in each category? 


Wine by the glass – $8 – average pours, 60 per hour =             $ 480.00

Draft Beer - $6 – average pours, 40 per hour =                $ 240.00

Classic Martini - $9 – average pours, 30 per hour =       $ 270.00

Special Cocktails - $12 – average pours, 10 per hour = $ 120.00


Clearly, these modern cocktails gross less per hour than other drinks.  Additionally, there is a longer learning curve in training the bartenders, not to mention the costs for the special ingredients.  (See recipe above.)  There’s a significant impact on those already slim profit margins. 


Given these higher costs, is the hype, the show (see recipe above), and the overall hipness of these drinks worth it?


In my discussions with various operators, some believe it draws customers in who have one of these drinks and then move on to a glass of wine.  Others tell me that despite the profit hit, it’s a necessary marketing tool in today’s restaurant climate.


Now that they’re celebrities themselves, I’ve had a few Mixologists tell me to stop interfering in their art.  I like a good cocktail as much as the next person, but my goal is for my clients to pay back their investors and stay open.


On a positive note, some of my clients’ Mixologists have become more time sensitive, designing their special house cocktails to be made faster and more efficiently.  I recently went to a large, successful restaurant that utilizes special house made mixes – pre-prepared cocktail ingredients minus the liquor, poured into squeeze bottles for quick and easy use at the service bar – and the speed of production was greatly enhanced.


Meanwhile ... bartender?  I think I will have the Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, Lazzaroni Amaretto, Oxalic Acid, Jasmine, Regan’s Orange Bitters with Farm Egg -- or as you call it, a #68.  [Red Medicine, Beverly Hills, CA.]

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