Sometimes guests come to you knowing exactly what they want to serve, and sometimes they want a little guidance. This post outlines how I typically guide a client through crafting their menu mix.
Menu mix refers to the various drink categories you put on an event menu. There are four main menu mixes, though there are certainly ways to do bars that don’t fall within these four categories.
Most Common Menu Mixes:
Beer + Wine
Beer + Wine + Signature Cocktails
Beer + Wine + Mixed Drinks
Beer + Wine + Mixed Drinks + Signature Cocktails
Keeping the Menu Limited
Guests will sometimes be eager to add everyone’s favorite beer, wine, and spirit to their menu, but really it’s best to keep the menu at around 2-3 of each classification (beer, wine, signature cocktail).
The first reason for this is because more variety will inevitably mean that you either need to buy more beer than you need or buy less beer of each type in order not to over order. A group of people can only consume so much. Let’s say the group of 50 people will drink an estimated 2 cases of beer. If they have 2-3 beers you could do a case of each. If you have 6 beers, you end up with 8-12 beers each, making it almost certain that you’ll run out of a couple of favorites, or you’ll have to over-purchase to ensure you don’t run out of anyone’s favorites.
Also, while we recommend limiting menu items for budgetary reasons, another big reason is what we call Analysis Paralysis.
Large menus at event create lines when every time someone walks up to the bar they have to either ask the bartender what their options are or they have a long menu to read. Keeping it simple speeds up service and puts less pressure on the guest to make a quick decision when there are many options.
I tell my clients “Experience trumps options.” If people know that every part of the menu was carefully thought through and curated for the event, they won’t be put off that their favorite item isn’t on the menu, they’ll be excited to try the beverage experience that has been assembled for them to enjoy.
Nearly all events will include beer (though I did admittedly have one event that refused to add it to the menu because – and I quote – “It looks like urine in a glass” ).
I always recommend that my guests put one light beer on the menu, and by that I mean light in calories, not light in color. I’ve done a few events where a light beer wasn’t offered and guests always ask for one.
I also recommend that you stay away from heavier beers like porters or stouts. They’re fun to try, but they’re generally too heavy for people to really drink at an event. The few events I’ve done where they put heavy beers on the menu only a few guests would try them, and usually only one.
I also like to recommend my clients include local beers on their menu. Not only does it support small businesses, but it also provides another level of experience for the out-of-town guests that may be coming to town for the event.
One last thing to consider, if you care to, is the recycling abilities of the venue. If it’s at someone’s home, ask them if they recycle, and if they do if they recycle both aluminum and glass, or just one, etc. Here in Nashville, the city doesn’t pick up glass for recycling, so I try to order cans (if acceptable to the guests). If it’s at one of our favorite venues, they ONLY recycle glass, so I try and get bottles.
Wine is a topic so complex there are actual degrees in it. Many of your guests are likely going to be intimidated by the sheer number of options, and therefor I always try and keep it simple for them by having favorites that I recommend that I know are easy to drink and generally crown pleasers, around the $10 per bottle price range. (If your target clientele is more the $6 or $15 per bottle range, then you should pick favorites at that price point).
When picking wines to recommend, try to stick to varietals that people are familiar with. Think chardonnay (the #1 most consumed wine in the country) more than vino verde and pinot grigio more than gewurztraminer.
I also try and pick wines that are approachable both with and without food. A medium bodied pinot noir more than a spicy zinfandel or a citrusy pinot grigio more than a super buttery chardonnay.
Don’t be afraid to throw in rosés to round out a “one red, one white” type menu too!
The other thing you’ll want to consider is the flavor preferences of the group. I, for example, don’t enjoy sweet wines, but many of my clients do. For those that prefer sweet wines, I’ll suggest sweeter rieslings, or a moscato.
While there is no end to the different of cocktails you could serve, some cocktails do better at events than others. In general, it’s better to avoid high-spirited cocktails for long events if you’re trying to minimize your liability for injuries and accidents caused by intoxication, and to keep it generally classy until the end of the event.
My suggestion is to create an “inspiration menu” that is comprised of cocktails that you have recipe tested, have figured out how to batch, and can be easily switched up based on seasonality. For example, a mule can have blackberries in the summer and apple cider in the fall. Your clients won’t necessarily HAVE to pick something from the menu (unless you require it) but it’s likely that they will if it’s robust enough.
Where you’re located will also dictate the types of cocktails that your clients will gravitate towards. In Texas? You better have a healthy tequila cocktail section. In Florida? You better know your way around rum cocktails. Kentucky? Get cozy with bourbon. You get the point.
I hope you find this helpful! If you have any questions, or comments on this post, you’re welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.