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Get Into the Holiday Spirits

When it comes to spirits, wine and beer, flavor attracts consumers and keeps them coming back.

’Tis the season for celebration and indulgence. 

Enhance holiday diners’ experience with innovative beverages that shake up your bar service, stir emotions, and wake up taste buds. Here are just a few ways to slake diners’ thirst for something special.

Go retro. Should old acquaintance be forgot? Not when it comes to vintage cocktails. Classic cocktails such as the Sidebar, Aviation, and Sazerac are being discovered by younger diners and rediscovered by older ones.

Take a chef-driven approach. According to the Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc., flavor attracts consumers and keeps them coming back in every category and segment of spirits, wine, and beer. Create housemade signature syrups and infusions of fresh fruit and herbs. Incorporate savory, smoky, and burnt flavors into beverages. Add umami with buzz-worthy meat cocktails that include bacon, sausage, beef jerky, and chicken broth in their mix. Go veg-centric with beets, okra, and other veggies. Tap into the popularity of beer cocktails by mixing bloody-Mary spices, hot sauce, clamato juice, soy sauce, chipotle-tomato juice, beef broth, and tequila into various brews.

Warm up. Even if the weather outside isn’t frightful, hot, boozy coffee cocktails such as Irish or Spanish Coffee and Café Brûlot bring comfort, joy, and distinction to bar menus. Spike hot chocolate and cider. Use on-trend matcha for tea cocktails. For nonalcoholic holiday beverages, use flavored syrups and whipped cream to boost the  indulgence factor.

Plan perfect pairings. List beverage-pairing suggestions for your shared-plates and snack menus just as you would for your regular food menu. Train servers to guide guests to good choices.

Curate craft beverages. Distinctive craft beers, craft cocktails, and housemade craft sodas offer premiumization and enhanced flavor.

Pour on the shareables. Expand the sharing-plates experience with pitchers of colorful punch, spigot jars with fruit-infused cocktails, or punch bowls of Tom and Jerry (another retro holiday favorite) for the whole table. Shareable beverages are ideal for large parties, offer value, and allow for individual portion control. One example: At Rickhouse in San Francisco a shareable punchbowl of rum, lemon juice, bitters, ginger beer, and amaro CioCiaro sold for $50.

Perfect presentations. Sure, we eat with our eyes, but guests also love to drink in the beauty of artfully prepared beverages. Ramp up garnishes—use extra layers of fresh fruit or veggies, colorful spices, sprigs of fresh herbs, and sprinkles of crushed peppermint or shaved chocolate—that add flavor while enhancing perceived value. Add special barware to the mix, too, as beautiful glasses make drinks look special. 

Break out the bubbles. Think beyond champagne and sparkling wine. “Spritzes” of soda water, juice, liquor, and bitters are today’s white-wine spritzers. Fizzy “adult” versions of soft drinks are also coming on strong, according to Technomic Inc’s 2016 Food Trends Report. Use charging canisters to easily carbonate flavored syrups and mixers to be added just before serving “for a delicious carbonated beverage that differentiates your operation from the competition,” advises Gordon Food Service Corporate Consulting Chef Gerry Ludwig, CEC.

Go local. Give signature beverages a hometown feel with locally produced spirits and other ingredients. Use names with historical and/or regional significance.

Run holiday limited-time offers (LTOs). Get the word out that the season is the reason for your holiday beverages. Create a “get ’em before they go away” sense of urgency.

Promote holiday beverages. Run late-afternoon happy-hour and late-night “happier-hour” specials. 

Stay true to your brand. Holiday beverages must fit with your brand. A Caribbean-themed beverage promotion, for example, won’t make sense for an Italian restaurant.