From increasingly considered aperitif lists to the rise of the after-dinner drink, bars in restaurants are showing a notable evolution in what they serve and how they serve it. With benefits to both venue and guests, offering great cocktails before and after meals in restaurants can be as important to business as the menu.
As a part of this steadily growing phenomenon, more and more restaurants are pouring as much care, effort, and quality ingredients into their drinks offering and positioning as their cuisine.
The benefits of offering a range of quality drinks before and after a meal in the restaurant reverberate in different directions. The enhanced customer enjoyment to extended length of stay, and, of course, increased spend all help towards the bottom line - and these are just a few of the ways that impact is felt.
By having a quality drinks offering, restaurants can utilise their bar to get creative either side of the meal. Additionally, drinks can step into those occasions where food sales may falter: for instance, upselling an after-dinner drink to guests who might otherwise dismiss dessert.
The offering of cocktails and spirits before and after food is soaring. Complex ingredients and an increased preference for savoury flavours allows cocktails to offer an exciting and varied partner to a range of dishes. This was clearly demonstrated at this year’s The YBFs awards, celebrating grassroots food and drink talent among rising stars and established names of the UK’s food and drinks industry.
The drinks programme for the awards was curated by class mixologist Monica Berg of Tayer & Elementary. Renowned for pairing drinks with food, Berg served up two flavour-driven aperitifs to open the ceremony: a Gordon’s Gimlet of Gordon’s London Dry Gin with fino sherry, Peychaud's bitter and palo santo, and a Johnnie Walker Black Label Highball with neroli, cedarwood and soda.
Berg explains that “fresh” flavours are vital, and so using quality spirits is key. Gordon’s London Dry Gin and Johnnie Walker Black Label were well-suited to the aperitif adaptation for the event, demonstrating just how versatile spirits can be before a meal.
Inventive, quality drinks don’t just add to the beginning of a meal, either, but can bring a new dimension to the after-dinner occasion. Creatively, The YBFs awards positioned the delicious range of Baileys drinks, served in mini milk bottles and poured over ice, alongside more traditional after-dinner desserts. In restaurants, making use of liqueurs and drinks in this way helps to extend the overall meal, adding an extra moment of indulgence for guests.
In a restaurant environment, the introduction of cocktails before or after can add a whole new dimension to the customer experience. “It’s like introducing a new section to your kitchen,” explains Rob Simpson of The Clove Club. “It’s the liquid section of your orchestra.”
A bar with an enticing pre- and post-meal menu also offers a democratic option to customers, providing guests with a more affordable, entry-level opportunity to experience a restaurant and venue. “If you have a good bar, you’re offering a low entry commitment. This way, it’s less pressure.” Cocktails served alongside food also help to “invigorate the palate”, he explains; “Acid plus bitter plus effervescence and salt gets the palate going before eating.”
In positioning the bar alongside food, spirits and cocktails can add a lot more complexity than we may expect, providing flavours that work perfectly before and after a variety of dishes. This year, Berber & Q founder Josh Katz created a Berber-inspired twist on the Johnnie Walker & Ginger to match the restaurant's famous Joojeh chicken kebab. The Johnnie Walker & Ginger accounted for one-fifth of all cocktails sold in its first week at Berber & Q, making it a best-seller.
Elsewhere in London, drinks expert and multi-award winning mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka ‘Mr Lyan’, adds that an elevated drinks offering within restaurants helps to bring additional spend in-house, as well as tackling issues with sustainability and food waste. “Previously, people might have a drink elsewhere before or after a meal but from a financial perspective, why wouldn’t you bring that spending into the restaurant?"
Additionally, “When you have a bar and a kitchen together, you’re using the ingredients in full, it’s easier to have crossover and share ideas. You don’t waste as much, which makes financial sense and you end up creating really interesting drinks and dishes.”
Restaurants across Britain are putting modern spins on drinks to serve them before and after the main meal. Rob Simpson concludes, “It’s a different revenue stream - you can add new products and capture attention in different ways. If the service and quality is great, people can come in, have a drink, get a taster, then come back.”