The best beverage partners give advice that can't be ignored.
"Recipes aren’t worth much if you don’t understand how to put them together and how to prep. We have all seen it: A menu looks great, then you cringe watching the bartenders construct the drinks,” says Josh Durr, founder of Hawthorn Beverage Group.
Cocktail consultants can be a tremendous help in creating or revamping a cocktail menu, but their role is not merely to produce a piece of paper with recipes on it. To ensure that those cocktails actually get served and are enjoyed by customers, both sides of the relationship have additional work to do. The consultant must build the right menu for the venue and for the staff who work there, while the restaurant owners, managers, and bartenders must understand the new menu and be motivated to execute it.
The latter requirement is often the most challenging aspect of the working relationship. Joseph DeLuca was a cocktail consultant for many years before deciding to accept a job with a distributor. “I left consulting because I honestly could not stand to take someone’s money when they wouldn’t take the advice that they paid for; it kept me awake at night,” he says.
DeLuca says that sometimes a restaurant’s employees were uninspired to do the work that comes with learning to prepare new drinks, but as a consultant he was unable to require them to do so. “Ensuring staff investment is the job of the management staff. Staff ‘buy-in’ is in their hands,” he says.
Beyond that, he says both the bartending staff and their managers could feel threatened by an “expert” so they work to undermine the process, fail to order the necessary ingredients to make the drinks, hide the menus, et cetera. “They often see the consultant as an extension of the management team instead of as a coach and teacher,” DeLuca says.
Aidan Demarest of Tello Demarest Liquid Assets, whose clients have included The Los Angeles Athletic Club and The Raymond 1886, says that sometimes clients want cocktail programs that are above the skill level of the staff, which can lead to failure as well.
“We always recommend that potential clients do some research at bars and restaurants they admire, so they can see the level of detail and tool and training required to really upgrade or create a cocktail program,” he says.
But Demarest has found a few ways to help align the goals of the client with those of the managers in place. He says, “Money is generally a great motivator, and if we have been brought in it’s probably because the operation is not making what it should. We reinforce the idea that not only does this new program mean you’ll still have a job, but also that it’ll be a better one. We have worked on projects where the manager or GM was not on board with the new concept, usually because no one wants to do more work for the same money. So we have asked the owners to implement a bar sales bonus if there isn’t one in place. We also ask for their input and creativity, so that it is their project, too. This motivates the GM or bar manager to make the new bar program work. “