BRIGHTEN ANY BEVERAGE PROGRAM WITH THE RIGHT GLASS FOR THE RIGHT DRINK.
by MIKE SHERER
Glassware: Riedel’ single malt Scotch glasses. Martini glasses by Opus. Martini glasses by Kay Young. Wine glasses by Opus. Martini glass (top) by Opus.
Remember the old line “You can dress him up, but you can’t take him anywhere”? When it comes to restaurant beverage service, there’s a corollary that states the case: if you don’t dress up your drinks, they won’t go anywhere.
Glassware provides visual packaging, the dressing that helps merchandise drinks and enhance their perceived value. You can mix the greatest Margarita or Martini in the world, but without a striking container, it might not get the attention it deserves.
More and more operators are turning to specialty glassware to help them merchandise signature drink programs. Beverages served in stylish glassware attract customer attention and spur impulse sales, and classy glasses can also burnish the image of your entire beverage program.
Glassware should merchandise a drink, complement your establishment’s decor and make a statement about how you want customers to view your operation. Having one or two specialty drinks in dramatic glassware won’t do much for your beverage program if the rest of your glassware doesn’t do its job, too. If you’re considering trying out a new glass for one of your specialty drinks, take a look at your whole line while you’re at it. Some of the factors to consider when evaluating potential new glasses are style, size, shape and maintenance requirements.
Purists will say there’s a proper style of glass for every beverage. Certainly, customers have come to identify certain kinds of cocktails with a particular style of glassware. The resurgence of classic cocktails has been attended by a corresponding expectation that presentation will also be classic–a Martini in stemware, a Margarita in a coupette, and an Old Fashioned in a, what else, double Old Fashioned tumbler.
There are many glasses that are associated with and even named after specific drinks. Tom Collins, Hurricanes and pilsners all have their own specialty glasses. Champagne almost always arrives in a flute, cognac and armagnac in snifters, and cordials in, well, cordials. Restaurants that feature many specialty drinks, such as Ft. Lauderdale’s Polynesian restaurant Mai Kai, are often forced to stock literally dozens of different styles of specialty glasses.
“If we had our druthers, we would have 60 different glasses, but it’s not operationally possible,” said Larry Dwyer, managing partner of Hudson Club in Chicago. “I know of bars in Belgium able to serve 200 beers in 200 different glasses. Our volume is way too high to pull that off.”
Fortunately, many styles of glassware are adaptable enough to do double, even triple, duty. Hudson Club offers more than 100 wines by the glass, 20 draft beers and 50 more in bottles, 26 single malt Scotches, and 20 cognacs and armagnacs, but limits this broad range of beverages to about 15 styles of glassware.
Dwyer effectively merchandises some of Hudson Club’s more unusual beverages by serving them in unexpected glassware. Belgian ales and other high-alcohol beers arrive in 10-ounce goblets, while Belgian lambic beers come in champagne flutes and sour ales in wine glasses. Bartenders pour single malt Scotches in snifters.
El Chico, a Dallas-based Mexican restaurant chain, has employed conventional glassware in unconventional attempts to merchandise beverages. For some time, the chain offered “Mugeritas”–Margaritas served in 10-ounce handled mugs. Recently, the chain switched to a 16-ounce “shaker” glass, which guests perceive as a better value, according to Nichelle Ritter, El Chico’s beverage specialist. The restaurants also serve a “Mexican Martini,” a Margarita made with Cuervo Traditionale served in a 10-ounce Martini glass. Servers mix, shake and pour the drinks at tableside, a snappy presentation that has had a very positive impact on sales, Ritter said. El Chico’s “Ultimate Margarita,” made with Cuervo 1800, is served in a 12-ounce “cactus” glass–a coupette with a green stem shaped like a cactus.
Perhaps no cocktail has made as big a comeback as the Martini. And few beverages project as elegant an image as a chilled, stemmed Martini glass, and operators are using the sophisticated imagery to set apart their programs. Robert Woodrick, owner of Bistro Bella Vita, Grand Rapids, MI, highlights the Martini bar in his restaurant with a display of the collection of stemmed Martini glasses he’s found over the years. Though the restaurant also has an espresso bar and a combined fresh juice and smoothie bar, the remainder of Woodrick’s glassware is fairly straightforward.
“We didn’t want fancy glasses; we want people to see the drink,” Woodrick said. “It’s like using white china so you can see the presentation of the food.”
Even a classic can be improved, and glassmakers are churning out new glasses with a twist. Seattle’s Palisade uses a blue stemmed Martini glass for its Olympic Martini served during “sunset hour” from 3 to 6 p.m. Side Street in Memphis serves Martinis in “Z-stem” glasses that manager Harlan Detlesky says are so popular, they vanish by the dozens. And Hops Grill & Bar, the Tampa-based chain best known for its beer selection, serves Martinis in a “sidecar,” a small frozen carafe that accompanies a chilled and garnished glass.
In glassware, size does matter. Many operators are switching to oversize glasses for the positive effect they believe the big ones have on a customers’ perception of an operation.
“I’m constantly looking for something leading edge, something no one else has,” said Lynette Baskin, bar manager at Palisade. “I want to wow people with the presentation. We wanted something larger and taller for our wine-by-the-glass program, for example. We changed to a 10-ounce glass, increased our pour to seven ounces and adjusted prices accordingly. Immediately we got a much more positive response from guests. Customers pay five-dollars-and-something for a drink; oversize glassware really helps value perception.”
Bistro Bella Vita pours its wines into either a 13-1/2-ounce balloon for red wines or a 10-1/2-ounce semillon for whites; both get a 6-ounce pour. The restaurant also serves 6-ounce Martinis in oversize 10-ounce glasses.
“True connoisseurs will criticize our 8-ounce wine glasses for not being big enough,” said Hudson Club’s Dwyer. “We only pour five-and-a-half ounces, but the glass has to be big enough to play with the wine.” That’s one of the concessions he’s had to make in standardizing glassware to handle the restaurant’s high volume.
El Chico recently switched an 18-ounce goblet in favor of a 23-ounce pilsner that it uses for beer and multi-ingredient cocktails.
“When evaluating our glassware, we look at a number of things,” said El Chico’s Ritter. “We look at value perception. Does it look good in the glass? Is it easy to use and sturdy? Is it easy to wash and not easy to break? Ultimately, it must appeal to guests. We try things out in a couple of units before we make changes.”
The shape of a glass may affect customer perceptions, but equally important are the practical considerations an operator faces. Just as pilsner beers range in flavor from the lighter American craft styles to the intense Pilsner Urquell, there exists a range of subtle variations among similar glassware shapes.
Hops Grill & Bar managers researched nearly 300 different beer mugs before settling on a 12-ounce faceted mug that fit their style and service requirements. “We picked the one that would freeze the best, keep its appearance and not thaw fast,” said Tim Curci, Hops’ vice president of operations. Hops has since added a 16-ounce mug and serves almost all the beers they carry in one of the two mugs. “About one out of 400 people will ask for a beer in a room temperature pint glass,” Curci said.
Glassware’s shape can help make the restaurant or bar experience more fun for customers. The Englewood, CO-based Red Robin chain, which specializes in a wide variety of burgers and innovative drinks, seeks out unusually shaped glasses for its beverage promotions. The chain featured drinks served in Mason jars with added handles during a recent barbecue promotion, and for the recent “Island Hopping” program, they created five drinks–four served in tall cylindrical 24-ounce plastic souvenir glasses and one in a glass Tiki mug. And their recent “Beakers” promotion featured five new specialty drinks, all served in 28-ounce beaker-shaped souvenir glasses. This summer, the chain expects to offer a variation of the Beakers program with a souvenir glass shaped like a flask.
Promotions have resulted in both drinks and glassware being added to the menu on a permanent basis, according to beverage director Kerry Lang. “Our Lava Java in the Tiki mug was so successful that we’re going to keep the glass and put smoothies in it, and perhaps Mai Tais,” he said.
One of the more unusual promotional glasses seen lately is a two-parter used by On The Border Mexican Cafe for its Smoking Margarita. Rolled out in February, the on-the-rocks Margarita, made with Del Dueno tequila, arrives in a 12-ounce cone-shaped glass with a burgundy rim. The glass fits into a base that contains dry ice which creates a swirling smoke effect when presented.
“The glass you drink out of really helps make the experience,” said Denese McNair, On The Border’s director of marketing. “We try to make our presentations of food and beverages exciting. When we come up with special drinks, we want to have special glassware to complement them.”
By no means the least significant factor to consider when picking the right glassware for your operation is maintenance.
“Durability is a big part of the equation,” said Palisade’s Baskin. “This is a big operation with large volume. We can’t have something that’s going to break easily. We’re working on crew behavior to allow us to bring in grander glassware, but it still has to be sturdy.”
Heavy usage also forced Hudson Club’s Dwyer away from the more delicate stemware and going instead with beaded rims. “I’d love to have Reidel crystal with sheer rims, but we go through five cases of glassware a week as it is.”
Bistro Bella Vita’s Woodrick chose fully tempered–and therefore more enduring–glassware. Durability was high on the list of priorities at Hops, too.
“We looked for a beer mug that would rack well and wash well,” said Curci. “If you can’t maintain a glass during a busy shift, it’s not worth anything.”
Mike Sherer air-dries his glasses on Mercer Island, WA.
For information about the glasses pictured, call Libbey at (800) 824-1667; Cardinal at (201) 628-0900; Kay Young at (510) 523-1082; and Opus at (800) 699-8988.
Care And Feeding
Glassware, no matter how well made, is fragile, and needs careful handling. Glasses break primarily due to mechanical impact and thermal shock. Any contact with other objects can cause small abrasions in the glass that can weaken it and make it more susceptible to impact or thermal shock.
Pre-heat glasses used for hot drinks with warm water;
Dump ice from glasses and let stand before washing in hot water;
Let hot clean glasses cool before filling with ice;
Use glassracks in automatic dishwashers;
Use plastic ice scoops to fill glasses.
Pick up glasses in bouquets or dump in bus tubs;
Put flatware in glasses;
Scoop ice directly with a glass.
Drink presentations are always more appealing when the glassware is sparkling clean and doesn’t look worn. Following the rules above will keep glassware looking new. To keep it clean:
Dump drink refuse in a garbage container before washing;
Properly measure detergents and sanitizers;
Use high-quality chemicals that conform to the FDA Food Code and meet your special requirements, such as hard or soft water problems;
Air-dry glasses on a corrugated drainboard, not with hand towels;
Don’t store glasses in overhead racks where they can trap grease and smoke; and
Dry glasses completely before putting in a freezer to frost them so they don’t pick up odors.
Test glassware occasionally to be sure your glasswashing system is cleaning them properly. Clean glasses dipped in water will shed the water in even sheets. Salt sprinkled in a clean, wet glass will adhere evenly to the sides.
Make sure you have plenty of glassware on hand. For restaurant service, the rule of thumb is three times the number of glasses per seat.