Consumers choose winter warmers when seeking a festive, seasonal treat.

Restaurants can make money at both ends of the meal by serving hot drinks as bookends to the food.

Hot cocktails can set the stage for a good meal, while Irish coffee, tea and cocktails can be the perfect end.

“People like to be soothed and like the feeling of what a hot drink does, which is very different to the stimulation of a cold drink,” says Tom Pirko, president of BEVMARK, a company that advises food and beverage industries, based in Santa Ynez, California.

“There’s almost a ritualistic thing to a hot drink—to finishing a meal or having coffee with breakfast. People can feel that certain meals are incomplete without certain beverages in place. There’s a great opportunity to please the customer and give them a complete experience by having something to start and finish the meal.”

Despite the year-round warm climate, hot drinks become more popular at the nine restaurants and lounges at The Breakers Resort and Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, in the run-up to the holiday season.

During the day, hot ciders, hot chocolate, eggnog lattes, and pumpkin drinks are favorites with hotel guests.

The pumpkin spice latte and pumpkin spice cappuccino with Captain Morgan rum, a cinnamon stick, pumpkin syrup and whipped cream are popular, as is The Snowflake, a coffee drink with peppermint schnapps, coffee, cinnamon and whipped cream.

And the hotel’s afternoon tea begins every year in December and runs through April.

“Hot teas are really big because we do the formal teas around the season,” says Nick Velardo, director of food and beverage, restaurants and recreation. “We do seasonal teas such as the Holiday Blend (a black tea) and White Christmas (a white tea), both for the holidays, which contain flavors such as nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom. They’re promoted on the tea menu, and our servers promote them.”

Tea is popular both at the formal teas and after dinner, Velardo says, but it doesn’t hold a candle to coffee.

Specialty coffee drinks such as Irish coffees are also more popular at this time of year for after dinner. Popular are Irish coffee with almonds and amaretto, Jamaican coffee with Tia Maria liqueur, and the Soprano cappuccino, which includes a shot of Frangelico liqueur.

In the evenings, hot cocktails become more popular. They’re not huge sellers, Velardo says, “but the people who do like them really appreciate them.”


The cocktails include Apple Spiced Martini; Whiskey Cider with 12-year-old whiskey; Vanilla Martini with apple cider and butterscotch schnapps; and Chocolate Covered Cherries, which includes Godiva Chocolate Vodka, Dark Chocolate Godiva liqueur, amaretto, cherry juice, and fresh coffee.

At dinner, hot cocktails can be a great extra sale as an after-dinner drink—either in place of, or in addition to, dessert.

“It’s a way to have a treat at the end of a meal, and it is something people can fit in,” Pirko says. “It’s also an indulgence, but a less-guilty indulgence. “But you need to have staff who will promote these drinks and mention them—they’re very high-margin products.”

Wayzata Bar & Grill, a municipally owned restaurant in Wayzata, Minnesota, serves hot cocktails as celebratory drinks for the holidays.

General manager and sommelier Gina Holman creates drinks such as the Caramel Apple Crisp containing Apple Pie Liqueur from Travis Hasse, Laird’s Applejack, Sobieski Cynamon Vodka, fresh apple cider, vanilla flavored ‘alcohol infused’ whipped cream, and cinnamon; and the Pomme Tarte, containing Calvados, Grand Marnier, fresh apple cider, and cinnamon.

The restaurant also serves a number of what it describes as “coffees with a kick from around the world.” There’s the Italian Stallion (Tia Maria, Tuaca liqueur, strongly brewed coffee), The Mexican Jumping Bean (Azteca de Oro Solera Reservada brandy, Kahlua Cinnamon Spice Liqueur, strongly brewed coffee) and drawing inspiration from Germany, The Bear’s and the Bee’s Coffee (Barenjager Honey Liqueur, Ausbacht Uralt brandy, brewed coffee).

“I think it’s fun to highlight regional components to have things designate products for a particular region,” Holman says. “These drinks also introduce new products to customers,” she adds.

For example, someone with a German heritage might want to try the Bear’s and the Bee’s Coffee, which features Germany’s unique Ausbacht Uralt, which is known as ‘the great brandy from the Rhine.'

“They may love brandy and Cognac from France and not realize there is a unique German alternative for them to try with family and friends for the holidays,” she says.

The coffees and ciders appeal to both men and women and are particularly popular as after-dinner drinks.

“Our servers have been trained to sell these drinks as an alternative to selling a dessert,” Holman says. “Customers may want something sweet at the end of their meal, and considering we are in Minnesota, this is a great option to satisfy their sweet tooth and warm the belly on a cold winter’s night.”

These drinks are good for the restaurant as they cost between $6.95 and $7.95 and have a good profit margin, Holman explains.

The drinks are served in a clear mug and are promoted three at a time on the menu. Holman expects the most demand for these drinks to be this month.

The Hot Cubano from Havana Central

Havana Central in New York City starts introducing hot drinks and a brand new food and beverage menu in early November “to keep things interesting,” says the director of operations, Randy Talbot.

With its chain of holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day—November through the early spring is the peak time for hot drinks, he explains.

Popular hot cocktails are the Coquito (blended rum, egg yolk, evaporated milk, cream of coconut, condensed milk, ground cloves, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and a couple of other mellow herbs).

“This particular drink is one of those that takes a lot of work but gives you a great flavor profile when it’s all prepared,” he says. “We combine the egg yolks and evaporated milk into a double boiler, cook it over a low temperature then transfer to a blender, add the cream of coconut, condensed milk, the rum, the spices, and blend for 30 seconds.


“You do that early in the morning and by the end of the night it’s gone. While those types of drinks create a lot of work on the front end, they create a lot of excitement with the guests, and it’s something they remember. It keeps them coming back. You want the experience to be very memorable.”

Other favorites at Havana Central are the Hot Cubano (dark rum, coffee liqueur, Cuban espresso, topped with cream, powdered hot chocolate and cinnamon), and hot farmers market cider (golden rum, apple cider, honey, cloves, a touch of allspice, and a cinnamon stick). You can sell that particular drink as it crosses the dining room and leaves a scented trail behind it, Talbot says.

And finally, there’s Latin hot chocolate, containing milk, cinnamon, Mexican vanilla (very different from regular vanilla—it has a little spice to it), Mexican sweet chocolate (which has a little mellow spice), brown sugar, a dash of red pepper, and golden rum.

The presentation of these drinks is spectacular, Talbot says, and since customers buy with their eyes, typically the drinks sell themselves as they are served at one table and another customer notices them.

The drinks are all made to order except the Coquito and have a profit margin of around 82 percent.

Tuesdays are the best for hot cocktails at Havana Central. These days the restaurant runs a cart outside selling $1 empanadas. Many people bring their empanadas inside and order a hot drink to accompany their lunch.

A mulled red wine syrup is at the basis of a hot cocktail served at the Golden Beetle, an organic eastern Mediterranean restaurant in Seattle.

Bar manager Andy McClellan devised it, inspired by his childhood in Germany and the gluhwein that’s served there, especially around the holidays.

McClellan uses the traditional ingredients of gluhwein and mulled wine (cinnamon, cloves, star anise or fennel seed, dried orange peel), combined with a decent wine. “Nothing too crappy or too expensive,” he says.

He heats the wine gently with the spices until it becomes aromatic, about 10 minutes, then adds equal amounts of sugar to wine, and whisks the mixture. Once it’s cool he removes the spices with a slotted spoon and keeps the syrup refrigerated for a longer life.

The syrup is used in the Monk’s Corner, which also contains Cognac, Benedictine, and hot water, and is and garnished with wide orange peel studded with cloves that drapes into the drink and adds to the flavor.

The syrup can go in any drink, he says, even English breakfast tea, adding sweetness and spice. This is suggested by servers but is not on the menu.

McClellan also serves a brandy-based coffee drink called a Nudge that’s always on the menu. It’s a traditional coffee drink with Cognac, crème de cacao, and Tia Maria, topped with whipped cream. Though it’s on the menu year-round, this drink is especially popular at brunch, or in the evening as an aperitif and as a dessert, he says.

Liquor costs on The Golden Beetle’s cocktails run no higher than 20 percent.

While all of the hot cocktails are popular before or after dinner, McClellan says he’s noticing more consumers drinking them with dinner, in the place of beer and wine.


The Irish coffees are more popular with customers over age 50, McClellan says, whereas hot toddies are well-liked across the board. They also have staying power year-round, he adds, since guests who feel they’re coming down with a cold often order them.

Women are mostly the consumers of hot cocktails and tea at The Breakers’ restaurants, Velardo says. “For most of our specialty drinks in many cases it’s women. I think they are more apt to experiment. I think the cocktails have a lot of flavors going on and a lot of sweetness. Males tend to know what they want, and that’s what they order. It’s hard to get them to convert to a new beer or a new drink.” Hot chocolate, he says, is a sure winner with children.

Havana Central’s hot drinks sell best with the female clientele that’s clamoring for them, especially if they’re in a group of women.

“I think when a group of women go out, they want to eat and drink what they want,” Talbot says. “It’s time to really relax and kick their shoes off. When they’re on a date, they’re very self-conscious.”

But whatever your clientele, there’s really nothing to lose by offering hot drinks, Pirko says. “Any hot drink is an extra sell. It’s very important for anyone in the foodservice business these days to make what amounts to an add-on sale. So any time you can add to the tab you’re doing yourself a favor.”

Their palates are still developing, but it seems hot drinks are also popular with a younger crowd—a much younger crowd.

Children are the focus for the warm beverages served at Donatella in New York City’s Chelsea.

“These drinks make us more appealing for the family and the kids,” says managing partner Ron Brannon, who says children are a substantial part of the restaurant’s clientele.

The most popular drink is the Nutella hot chocolate, which contains the obvious Nutella and high-quality cocoa ingredients, as well as a secret ingredient that makes it “not too sweet so you can finish the mug,” Brannon says. It’s served in an oversized coffee cup with whipped cream.

Donatella also serves hot cider (plain or spiked with rum) and eggnog.

The hot drinks are particularly popular on the weekends during brunch, but also after dinner during the week. Sometimes diners come in just for a hot chocolate and a pastry.

“We get our share of adults, but the ones who are driving it are the children,” Brannon says.

The costs are very good on all of these drinks, he points out—9 percent on the cider, the eggnog is 12 percent, and the Nutella hot chocolate is 18 percent.

“And the production costs are also fairly low, so from a business standpoint it’s very attractive to us,” he adds.

Nutella Hot Chocolate
from Donatella, New York
Beverage, Chef Profiles, Feature