Visit any yuppie restaurant across the country and you can be assured of one thing. In addition to the traditional cocktails like Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour, Manhattan, Negroni, Shirley Temple and Daiquiri, the bartender will whip you up brightly coloured, ingredient-first drinks replete with fancy umbrellas and twirly straws.
Even more interesting is the inclusion of storytelling woven into each beverage, where patrons drink it with their eyes and ears before the cocktail meets their lips. This is part of the new-age F&B industry's efforts to boost its bottom line, using cocktails as the fait accompli.
Pre-covid, India's restaurant sector was expected to touch Rs 4.95 trillion by FY21. However, the pandemic slammed the brakes on this growth, with many restaurants pivoting to a delivery-only model to reach 40 per cent of their Rs 2 trillion target. With the onset of revenge dining, where patrons are eager to explore new restaurants and cuisines, the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) expects the industry to rebound with gusto and touch Rs 6.21 trillion by FY25.
In the restaurant business, there is a growing demand for alcoholic beverages due to factors like rapid urbanisation, and an expanding middle-class population with rising purchasing power. A study by ICRIER and law firm PLR Chambers shows that shifting Indian consumer preferences can be seen in their growing exposure to foreign brands and international travel, and it is reflected in their demand for noveau cocktails.
Restaurateurs are paying heed because sales of these drinks could offer 40 per cent to 70 per cent of a restaurant chain's bar sales. In a world where the dining experience has evolved into an exquisite fusion of flavour and creativity, cocktails have become more than just drinks; they are a canvas for artistry and innovation. Restaurants are leaning on the skill of expert mixologists to create curated cocktail menus that can elevate the bar scene.
Cocktail Sales: A Revenue Game Changer
The world of mixology has seen a transformation like never before. Ranbir Nagpal, the founder of Yazu, notes that "cocktails add a touch of glamour and excitement, attracting customers and increasing revenue for the establishment." He reveals that the trend of ordering cocktails is on the rise, with 70 per cent of bar sales at Yazu's Mumbai and Goa outlets attributed to these creative concoctions.
Believing in the pivotal role of cocktails, Sonali Mullick, head of operations and mixologist at Bayroute restaurant chain, saw that the past six months have seen a promising growth trend in this segment, owing much of its success to the distinctive and innovative cocktail offerings. "It contributes about 40% to our restaurant's overall business," she stated.
Radhika Dhariwal, director and founder of Pass Code Hospitality, which has F&B destinations across India, reminisced about NRK House in Mumbai, which used to be a garment export house in the 1980s. Run by Naveen R. Kapur, this lush haven was nestled amidst the vast mill compounds of the city's bustling Lower Parel region and is now home to PCO speakeasy.
Inspired by the garments designed at NRK house, she and her brother, Rakshay, created a menu that celebrated textiles from various parts of India at PCO, inspiring their mixologists to create something new and interpret fabrics differently. And they decided to take a very fresh approach to how this menu was put together—by running an internal competition between the bartenders and choosing the best for the cocktail menu.
Vishal Tawde, head mixologist at PCO, explained that the fabric inspired each cocktail and attempted to capture certain aspects associated with that textile. For instance, the Kanchipuram silk cocktail captures a specific traditional element of this textile; it is inspired by the fact that Kanchipuram saris were traditionally worn on special and religious occasions, often when halwa was also served.
"Hence, this cocktail borrows from some halwa ingredients, including cardamom and cashews. Moreover, the cocktail is dusted simply with gold to bring the slight elegant sheen of the Kanchipuram sari to the glass," he explained.
Innovative Curated Menus: Pouring The Magic
What sets apart the curated cocktail menus of these establishments? The answer lies in their commitment to pushing the boundaries of traditional mixology.
For instance, the mixologists at Yazu infuse spirits with unconventional ingredients like Pandan leaves or white sesame seeds, crafting unique flavours and textures. 'Komorebi', for instance, marries vodka infused with Pandan leaves, offering an unexpected twist to a classic cocktail. The inspiration behind these distinctive blends is a desire to provide guests with innovative drinking options.
Ditas, which has outlets in Delhi, Mumbai and San Franscisco, reveals their distinctive concept—collaborating with illusionists on Wednesday nights. Mixologist Lordston Soares said, "An illusionist entertains guests with sleight of hand magic, culminating in a mind-reading card trick. This unique experience leads to a special cocktail presentation that incorporates elements of mystery."
As a hat tip to India's rich culture and diversity, restaurants like PCO have adopted initiatives like 'Ode to Textiles'. Dhariwal explains how menus like this bring the nostalgia of Indian fabrics to the forefront of patrons' minds. Customers can touch the fabric that inspired the cocktail, smell the ingredients, and even watch a short video about the fabric's origins. Such initiatives celebrate regional heritage and history, bridging the gap between culture and cocktails.
Maheswar Panigrahi, Head Mixologist, Epitome, said that We are very different from others. Other restaurants sell cocktails but hardly 5 or 6 signature cocktails, but if you see our Cocktail menu, we have a wide range of cocktails, around 70 cocktails, we wanted our guests to try their cocktails in different spirits, not only with vodka or rum.
As head mixologist of Epitome, Maheswar Panigrahi, has curated a range of cocktails, exploring various spirits beyond the usual suspects, all crafted with botanicals, fresh fruits, and bitters. This innovation extends to using flavoured ice matching the cocktail's core ingredients, creating an immersive experience.
Cocktail Menus: A Revenue Game Changer
The restaurant industry is evolving as restaurateurs push the boundaries of traditional mixology, curating innovative cocktail menus. Mixology-inspired events have proven to be more than just marketing gimmicks for the restaurant industry.
It can boost revenue significantly by attracting new customers looking for a unique dining experience, enticing guests to try new drinks, generating positive word-of-mouth, and encouraging repeat visits. Restaurateurs believe such events can increase revenue by up to 80-90%.
Highlighting the significance of these events, Mullick has witnessed an impressive surge in revenue during Bayroute's recent cocktail menu tenure. "It was all because of heightened patron engagement and increased spending," he explains. Yazu's Ranbir Nagpal hints at a brand-new cocktail menu with the potential to increase revenue by at least 20%.
In the ever-evolving restaurant industry landscape, cocktails have transcended their traditional role and emerged as a cornerstone of innovation, creativity, and business growth. The mixologists and visionaries behind these establishments continue to elevate the dining experience, one cocktail at a time.