Sponsored by Haliburton International Foods.
Beverage programs offer restaurants opportunities to drive sales and a unique cocktail list can set quick-service brands apart from the competition. Craft and artisan spirits, regional signature, and culinary cocktails were named as three of the top five alcoholic beverage trends in the National Restaurant Association's 2017 "What's Hot" food trends.
"Beverages used to be an afterthought, but now they are treated with the same respect as the rest of the menu," says Mike Leccese, director of culinary and R&D at Haliburton International Foods. "Today's focus on craft beverages has really helped to highlight and enhance the total guest experience."
This makes it critical for restaurants to offer unique drinks. Cocktails and other mixed drinks can help tie a menu together, especially when they feature elements that highlight a brand's message. High-quality ingredients can distinguish a drink list while further elevating a restaurant concept's reputation.
"People are looking for niche and artisanal offerings as well as fresh, flavorful, and bold ingredients," Leccese says. "Instead of relying on highly processed mixers that are based on artificial ingredients, bar operators are keeping in-step with the food industry trend toward clean and natural ingredients.
Just like in food, paying attention to how flavors pair, can improve the quality of a drink. Leccese recommends layering flavors, introducing texture, balancing sweet and sour, and varying levels of heat and spice to find success. Including tactile elements, such as pickled or roasted fruits and vegetables, help further set a cocktail apart from the competition.
But adding new high-quality ingredients doesn't necessarily require extra work for the kitchen or bar staff. Savvy beverage managers can take advantage of resources that provide customized elements without the added stress.
Haliburton's Charred Pineapple Margarita recipe, made with fire-roasted pineapples, elevates the traditional margarita with hints of citrus, acidity, and caramelized sugar. Yet because the roasted pineapple pieces are individually frozen, bartenders can slack out the amount needed for service and freeze the rest reducing waste and improving efficiency.
"Think about flavors you enjoy and how you could incorporate them into beverages you normally wouldn't try," Leccese says. "Some find tequila or mezcal difficult to enjoy, but when mixed with some sweetness and citrus notes, you can help educate your guests to become well-rounded beverage consumers."
By Peggy Carouthers