After-dinner drinks are the ultimate in feel-good.
Diners can sit back and enjoy sipping on a beverage that either complements their dessert or takes the place of it, with flavor profiles ranging from sweet to spicy, bitter and creamy.
And having patrons who feel good is key for full-service restaurants because a diner who feels good will want to return to the source of his or her pleasure—over and over again.
“With after-dinner drinks, diners have something when they leave that makes them feel better,” says Tom Pirko, president of BEVMARK, a company that advises food and beverage industries, based in Buellton, California. “And if they feel good when they leave, they’ll want to come back. It’s a good way to part.”
The secret weapon to these drinks is alcohol, he adds, which always makes people feel good.
“With everything that’s happened in our economy and our changing times, people are really leaning to their dining experience truly being an experience,” says Tony Garcia, director of research and development for Patrick Henry Creative Promotions, a Houston-based marketing agency. “They’re picking and choosing when to go out, and when they do go out they want to have the full experience.”
After-dinner flights soar
One way to really provide an after-dinner experience is to offer an after-dinner drink flight.
Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville, New York, serves grappa, port, and dessert wine flights.
The grappa flight, featuring almond grappa, chocolate grappa, and straight-up grappa, far outsells solo grappa, says chef Marcus Guiliano, who owns and operates the late-night restaurant.
“People might not order this themselves, but might share with friends,” he says. “It’s fun. Instead of trying one drink, they can try three, and it’s more fun to share it.”
Flights are great for his spirits business, he says. “If we have something that doesn’t sell, like a liquor, or a local spirit—if we put it into a flight, we can sell it. So it helps me move inventory as well and it also provides an experience. It also helps get people to know more things, and has a knock-on effect that they order a new-to-them drink next time.”
The flights cost $12–$14—“slightly lower than if [guests] ordered the alcohol à la carte. It offers an incentive to buy a flight.”
Garcia says that flights are “always great. They’re hot no matter what you’re doing, and everybody likes samples. It’s a noncommittal way to get a taste of everything and is relatively affordable. Everybody likes the experience.”
Solera Cocina de España in Minneapolis offers its own version of flights.
It serves a specialty after-dinner drink, the Café España, which is a deconstructed cocktail of three beverages served on a plate.
There’s one serving of sherry, an espresso, and a Spanish-inspired mini-cocktail that includes Liquor 43 (Spanish vanilla liqueur), Torres orange liqueur, egg whites, and simple syrup. Presented on a rectangular plate, the cocktail and sherry are in separate 3-ounce whiskey glasses and the espresso is in a demitasse cup.
“We added this a couple of months ago when we wanted an after-dinner drink but didn’t want something that everyone else had done that was either too sweet or coffee-based,” says manager Jay Viskocil.
“Most diners who are looking to experience the offerings that we have are biting at that. They like the idea of getting a sampling, and it goes with the idea of our restaurant being a tapas restaurant—you’re getting a sample of three beverages. We’re finding a lot of times that one person will get this and one person will get that and they’ll share.”
The drink costs $12 and is promoted on Solera Cocina’s specialty cocktail list and on the dessert menu. Viskocil likes to think people see it on the specialty cocktail menu and look forward to having it at the end of the meal.
But single after-dinner drinks continue to sell well, too.
“After-dinner drinks are the backbone of our dessert menu,” Aroma Thyme’s Guiliano says, but pairing them with food items helps sales, he says.
“We take every dessert item and we pair it, and price it out, and give a combo price with the dessert wine or after-dinner drink. The key to this is making it as simple as possible for guests.”
Suggestions include the Warm Chocolate Brownie served with the Ultimate Chocolate Martini, and Warm Maine Blueberry Crisp served with a ruby port.
And no surprise for a Spanish-influenced restaurant, Solera Cocina does brisk after-dinner drink business in sherries and usually has around 15, ranging from sweet to super dry.
“We get the staff excited about them and have everyone find one that they particularly enjoy so they can translate that into a sales technique,” Viskocil says.
But sherry doesn’t get much play these days, so he tries to introduce it to more people, especially younger generations.
“We incorporate sherry into a lot of our specialty cocktails so it gives people exposure—it is an entry level way to get people excited about them,” he explains.
The sherries are popular, he adds, with the people who are into wine—probably aged 30 and up. They range from $5 to $12, although a couple of higher-end products that have been aged a little longer cost $35, though not surprisingly, due to the price, the restaurant doesn’t sell many.
Staff at Solera Cocina will pair sherries with desserts and talk about why they might pair well with the guest's dessert selection.
Costs on the sherries and the Café España run 26 percent, Viskocil says, “which is a little high, but it being a specialty item we can afford to go that high. You take a little more license with your specialty cocktails. Also when pricing cocktails over $10, you have to make some adjustments or they’ll be out of reach for most people.”
Not Too Sweet
Popular after-dinner drinks at Eastern Standard in Boston are egg-based.
The Gin Flip contains a full egg or an egg yolk, along with gin, almond syrup, simple syrup, and rock candy syrup, and is served straight up with a grated nutmeg garnish.
The Vin Amer Fizz contains vermouth, apricot brandy, Cava, lemon juice, and an egg white.
There’s also a Raspberry Lemon Fizz containing house-infused raspberry vodka or house-infused blueberry gin, Limoncello, and fresh lemon juice, shaken with an egg white.
“The egg white makes it frothy and meringuey on top, and that’s poured over ice and hit with soda water so it’s bubbly and light but with some sweetness,” says bar manager Kevin Martin.
For guests looking for less-sweet drinks, Eastern Standard’s menu features the Metamorphosis, which uses Becherovka Bitters from the Czech Republic, which have notes of cinnamon with bitterness at the end, teamed with lemon juice and honey.
“It’s a winter-fall spice after-dinner drink,” Martin says. “People say they want something not too sweet, not too sour, and we suggest this, something they’ve not tried before. It’s a house cocktail but a play off a classic cocktail called the Bee’s Knees, which uses gin instead of the bitters.”
Also popular is the classic Corpse Reviver, to which the restaurant adds Xocolati Mole Bitters. The other ingredients are Fernet Branca, brandy, and crème de menthe.
“It’s minty, has an after-dinner feel, and brandy is always a classic after-dinner sipping spirit,” Martin says. The drink is also easy to make, he says, since the spirits are all used in equal measures with a dash of the mole bitters.
It’s great to have a selection of after-dinner drinks on your dessert and drink menu, but the challenge can be getting them from your menu into your patrons’ hands. Staff training is the biggest key, so ensure that your employees have had the chance to taste the drinks and know how to pair them.
Staff should be trained to plant the seed of after-dinner drinks way before diners are thinking of them, Garcia says.
An idea is to mention to guests that they can take some of their entrée home if they’d like dessert, or that some desserts take a while to prepare, “but leave it at that,” he suggests.
Planting After-Dinner Seeds
“It’s just a mention, so leave it as such to plant the seed and build a little anticipation.”
Training is important, but also vital, Guiliano says, is “getting things into people’s hands, so I let people taste after-dinner drinks.” He makes suggestions based on what they are drinking for a follow-up drink or for the next time they come in for dinner.
And BEVMARK’s Tom Pirko is also a big believer in the after-dinner drink cart.
“If you bring a cart around, you can often entice somebody to try a Grand Marnier or something. It’s a great way to add to the check. The cart will make a comeback, and it’s something all restaurants should consider.
“Part of the psychology is that if you have well-trained staff, people don’t like to say no—tempt them and tell them it’s a great way to end a meal. People tend to want to say yes.”