Why should the food menu reflect all the excitement, always? The beverage menu is also an integral part of the food offering at a restaurant. Very rarely do people order just food and leave out beverages. If nothing, at least a fresh lime soda or a cola is ordered along with a meal, or sometimes even a hot beverage to wash down a quick meal.
Cultural contexts and propriety demand that restaurants offer a glass of water to customers in India. While most waiters have been trained to ask if their customers will have regular or bottled water (sometimes there’s a choice of sparkling too), some restaurants have tried to add value to the regular water served to their customers. Whether it’s glass bottles or glass jars kept at the table, you might find water flavoured with fresh sprigs of mint or wedges of lemon or orange. These small touches look pretty and give the customer an added value to the most basic of requirements on the menu.
A well-designed beverage menu can make bottom line healthy for a restaurant. But really how much of Gin and Tonic can you drink? There may be days when you want to give that neat whiskey a rest and opt for something that’s not a beer or a sugary mocktail? While a certain sameness in the menu can be comforting, it can also set in a sense of déjà vu. Bartenders are also looking for a challenge to stir things up at their end, and experimenting with different themes can bring some excitement on both sides of the bar.
So why are themes important? Firstly, it helps the restaurant stay on top of trends. Seasons are the easiest to use as an inspiration while crafting a menu. If it’s summer, your customers are likely to look for something that’s light, refreshing and cool to wash down with their food. Customers will likely order more drinks than food because the heat can dull hunger. Lighter, less potent spirits may be preferred and customers may be looking for something new other than the Long Island Ice Tea or Pina Colada. Adding a prefix “Summer menu’’ could help you make this new set of drinks relevant to the season. The same holds with winter, or the Monsoon season which is specific to India. Winters see a lot of warm, spicy drinks being preferred to the cooling drinks of summer.
Big events like the IPL series, Olympics, the Super Bowl, the Football World cup or an F1 race offer themselves as themes to create special beverage menus. A lot of customers love to watch sports on the big screen at their favourite watering hole, with their friends. This is a good opportunity for restaurants and bars to capitalize on the mood of the moment and craft a different menu for sports lovers, create a special ambience with a sports theme and have offers and contests to draw more people. While most have big screens and contests and special offers, menus take inspiration from teams playing on a particular day. During IPL, one restaurant was offering dishes and drinks around the theme of the teams playing on that day. Drinks were interestingly named after some of the star cricketers and cricket terminology like “Maiden over’ and “Leg Before Wicket’’ and the food was inspired by the cuisine found in the states that the team came from. If it was a home team game, then there was no guesses as to who was the muse for the menu. In Bengaluru, one pub named it’s beverage special for the week as “Namma Match Menu’’ to create around a big match involved the home team. Drinks were named after the typical language usage in the city like `Swalpa adjust maadi’ and`Sakkath Hot drink.’
Special themes help to create a stir and get people buzzing about your new menu and the innovatively named drinks.
Leverage a big event: Themes also help you market your product on social media. Restaurants create social media campaigns centered around their themes to generate excitement and increase footfalls into their restaurant. When you have a theme that is reflecting something topical – like summer/winter, a cricket match, a sports event or a major event that everyone is talking about, you can ride on the coattails of an already trending topic and win some brownie points.
A smart chef/bartender is one who keeps costs low while investing heavily on imagination. Using seasonal vegetables and fruits as the inspiration, a restaurant can make use of seasonal produce in their beverage menus and take advantage of the competitive pricing. Using seasonal vegetables is good to keep costs low while also giving chefs and bartenders an opportunity to work with fresh and local ingredients. Seasonal fruits and vegetables also help you plan menus in advance, knowing that a particular fruit will be in season at a particular time.
Theme menus are great as a marketing gimmick. When everyone is counting down to a new season of Game of Thrones, a good chef/bartender could come up with cocktails that are built around the theme of the TV series that has taken the world by storm. You can’t go wrong with this kind of a promotion, provided you invest some thought into the characters and how to adapt their characteristics to your drinks.
Themes are also great to target a specific group of customers who might be feeling left out with a generic menu. If you’re having a Daiquiri promotion or a Bloody Mary promotion, a Blood Mary fan is definitely going to check out your menu. So theme menus help in reaching out to previously ignored groups of customers and grow your customer base.
Themes in menus can shake up a restaurant kitchen staff in a good way. It can create excitement, increase focus on work, add to research and help them expand their skills too. And not to forget, bring in more customers too. What’s your winning theme for the season?