So you’ve been asked to create your first cocktail menu. Congratulations!  Tons of bartenders spend years trying to get this privilege, so it’s definitely something to celebrate. That said, it can also be a challenging project so it’s definitely not something to take lightly.

Here are some tips for your first cocktail menu to help prevent you from being overwhelmed and hopefully make your first menu a success!

By the way, this post was updated and inspired by a post in our Facebook Group. If you’re not already a member, check it out!

By the way, I talked about this several years ago on our YouTube channel – some timeless good advice here!

Now on to the tips!

Pump the Brakes

Don’t feel like you have to make dramatic changes right out of the gate. Especially if you are new to the bar, take time to get to know the bartenders, the customers, the processes that are in place, and the environment that you are working in.

I’ve seen a lot of new managers/lead bartenders/consultants walk into a new place and begin changing everything without really understanding what is already working. The whole bar gets turned upside down and then the bar manager/lead bartender/ consultant leaves and the place is in worse shape then before.

Keep in mind what’s already working and don’t throw it all away. Build upon it!

Vary your Glassware

Don’t put everything in a coupe or a flute, look to spread the glassware as much as possible. Not only does this help keep things more visually interesting, but it helps reduce the risk of running out. The last thing you want to do is run out of a particular glass during the busy times because everything is served in a coupe!

House-Made is Not Always Better

Don’t paint yourself into a corner with house made products. There is definitely a time and a place to make your own ingredients, but if you can find a good product on the market that you can use, try that first.

It’s very tempting to make all of your own ingredients, but that’s a great way to find yourself spending all of your time doing exactly that: making ingredients for your beverage program. Don’t forget to include the time-cost of all of the hours of labor creating ingredients. You may save money on product but pay twice as much once you account for your time.

Think of the Margins

I love Green Chartreuse. That should come as a surprise to no-one. But I rarely used it on my cocktail menu because it was an absolute margin killer. If you start your menu development with no regard for cost, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment later when you get around to running the numbers. (Or worse: when your manager / owner takes back the menu because yours wasn’t profitable!)

Consider product cost from the very beginning and you’ll save yourself the heartache.

Standardize your Pours and Recipes

This sounds silly and obvious, but you would not believe how many bars and restaurants don’t have this simple process down. The difference of a 1.5 oz pour and 2 oz pour may sound trivial, but this can really effect your profitability and your bonus (if it is tied to your cost of goods). The same applies to cocktail recipes and wine pours: make sure everyone knows what they should be pouring!

Systems are your Friend

If you find yourself doing the same process over and over again, whatever the process is, it’s time to think of creating a system for it. Inventory, ordering, ingredient production, etc are all great candidates to begin documenting how you do things so that way each time is repeatable.

The benefit to doing this is once you document the process, you can train other people how to do those tasks and begin to offer them the opportunity to advance their career (and yours)!

Congratulations again – creating the cocktail menu is one of my favorite parts of the job!  Hopefully these tips help you wrap your head around the project and make something that’s both delicious and great for your bar’s bottom line!

Chris Tunstall

Co-Founder of A Bar Above and career bartender and mixologist. I love experimenting, creating cocktails, and drinking Green Chartreuse.