Some Like It Hot

Temperatures are dropping, and customer preferences for warm drinks—both non-alcoholic and alcoholic—are rising, meaning operators can add to their beverage programs and bottom lines by tapping heated options. As hot toddies, cider, and dessert-friendly drinks embolden winter menus, operators focus their efforts on crafting drinks for tipplers and teetotalers alike.

“Warm drinks tend to stick to traditional seasonal flavors like pumpkin, peppermint, and lately salted caramel,” says Maeve Webster, senior director at Datasssential, a research firm dedicated to studying the food industry and dining trends. Webster says trends show full-service restaurants are a bit more adventurous when conceptualizing warm cocktails. “Warm alcoholic drinks tend to play more with the idea of balancing flavors. You see things like citrus being incorporated with indulgent flavors to cut the richness.”

At modern brasserie Eastern Standard in Boston, bar manager Naomi Levy uses a two-fold approach when crafting cocktails in this category. “You have to think a little more when creating a hot drink,” she says. “What hot thing are you adding to make this cocktail? Is it hot water or hot tea or hot coffee? Or you can start with flavors: Do you want it to be rich and creamy or light and easy?” From there, she thinks about the flavors, spices, and spirits that she wants to add.

Levy also says that while the bar at Eastern Standard can make warm drinks for guests year-round, during the winter months the warm drinks section of the menu expands and the restaurant adds special equipment behind the bar for making warm cider, served non-alcoholic, and hot toddies. One of her favorite seasonal additions is the Sid and Nancy cocktail made with rum, cognac, steamed half and half, and syrup spiced with cinnamon.

Molly Sutton, director at Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse in Des Moines, Iowa, notices guests ask for warm cocktails year-round, but sales of these drinks go up around the holidays. She says while guests occasionally order a hot drink to start their meal, like a hot coffee with whiskey for example, more frequently guests order warm drinks to go with their desserts. “People see it as more of a sweet thing,” she says. The restaurant chain, which has nine locations across the Midwest, features a warm cocktail section on its dessert menu, and most of the drinks are coffee-based with liqueurs and spirits added to them, as well as whipped cream.

Whether hot beverages come at the beginning of the meal or at the end, Webster says the trend won’t be going cold anytime soon. “It makes sense why these drinks sell,” she says. “It’s warming; it’s comforting; it’s good.”

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