Instant gratification, education and participation will be recurrent themes throughout restaurants and hotels in the coming year. The economic upturn in 2014, coupled with the desire to attract the millennial patron, has led to a surge of hip new concepts, personalized service and customized experiences geared towards satisfying this “demand” generation.
While this shift is a driving force, operators must still find a way to balance the desires of their longstanding regulars with this emerging customer base. Chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers are providing experiences that are less formal yet high in quality, more interactive and rooted in catering to the pleasure seeker.
In compiling The Pleasure Principle, our annual report that previews the hottest trends and predictions that will be shaping the restaurant and hotel industries, we identified key influences in hospitality marketing, hotel, food and beverage for 2015. Here’s a look at some of the on-premise beverage trends.
SPICE, SPICE BABY
Restaurants these days aren’t afraid to bring the heat. And diners aren’t afraid to accept the challenge. With the proliferation and popularity of authentic ethnic eats, there is no shortage of dishes that pack a punch.
The trend is moving to the bar as well. For example, Flora restaurant in Oakland, CA, serves up a cocktail named “Carter Beats the Devil,” a tequila-based drink with a Thai bird’s eye chile tincture.
From pickles to vinegary, shrub-based cocktails, we’re into sour flavors. It’s an easy way to add dimension to dishes and by refreshing the taste buds—it literally makes your mouth water.
You can make shrubs by preserving fruit with vinegar, sugar and water. The bracing beverage can be used in cocktails, like the Gunnersbury Park at Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago, which is a combination of Great King Street whisky, rhubarb shrub and spices.
EAT, DRINK, PLAY
Game halls are the next big thing. Adding an interactive gaming element to the bar atmosphere keeps people drinking and makes places a destination instead of a stop along the way.
For instance, Plank in Oakland, CA, keeps the fun under one roof with a beer garden, bowling and bocce. And Denver is set to welcome 6,000-sq.-ft. RheinHaus to its restaurant ranks. The Bavarian beer hall will feature bocce ball courts to keep the drinks and fun flowing.
WHO YOU CALLING SHORTY?
The solution to cocktail indecisiveness? The short drink. Miniature versions of full-sized cocktail offerings for guests who can’t decide what to order, or for those who just want to sample a few things.
For example, the drink menu at New York’s Alder offers “Shorts” of any of its cocktail selections for half off the full drink price.
And you can find “The Littles” at Dominick’s in Los Angeles. These 3-1⁄2-oz. portions of classic cocktails such as Martinis and Manhattans are served for $4 during the restaurant’s Happy Hour.
SORRY, YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (EXCEPT WHEN YOU CAN)
Bartenders tip their hats to the past and add a bit of spectacle to their presentations by incorporating flasks into the mix.
Large-format cocktails at Rose. Rabbit. Lie. at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas are served in customized glass flasks that guests can take home with them.
The Robert Burn’s Hunting Flask cocktail at Charles Phan’s The Coachman in San Francisco is presented to guests in a small metal flask and poured tableside over a large block ice cube.
CIDER HOUSE RULES
The craft beer movement has paved the way for an influx of artisan ciders. On tap, in bottles and even in the can, these easy-drinking, sweet yet tart beverages are a welcome addition to bar menus.
The Seattle Cider Co., for instance, offers its tart and tangy Dry Hard Cider in a 16-oz can. Cider makes for great cocktails, too. At the Yardbird in Miami, the Porkchop cocktail plays on classic ingredients often paired with pork—apples and mustard—and mixes bourbon with a house-made Dijon simple syrup, cider and thyme.
Gin is the latest alcoholic beverage to have its moment in the sun.
New York’s Gin Palace offers only gins and gin-based cocktails with more than 70 varieties available to sample, plus the house specialty: Gin & Tonics on tap.
Spaniards are obsessed with their Gin Tonics (as they call them). Special bars dedicated to the drink have sprung up all over the country—each one mixing up custom Gin & Tonics with obscure tonics and artisanal gins.
THAT’S QUITE A PACKAGE
Restaurant and wineries are getting creative and having fun with wine presentation. Wine bottled in 1-litre, old fashioned milk bottles? Yes please!
That’s how Vaso di Marina, made by Portalupi Winery, is packaged. The wine can be found at Duboce Park Café and Precita Park Café in San Francisco. Wine flights are served in test tubes at Wine Lab in Costa Mesa, CA, which is a fun nod to the bar’s scientific name.
And wine labels with bold creative names like WTF Pinot Noir and GR8 Cabernet Sauvignon will continue to rise in popularity, taking the snobbery out of wine drinking often associated with the Boomer generation.
THE TRIPLE D: DRAMATIC DRINK DELIVERY
Restaurants and bars are sharing moments of delight and spectacle as they up their drink delivery game.
Gaspar Brasserie in San Francisco, for instance, offers the Cafe Brulot, a classic New Orleans after-dinner drink (shown above); it’s served tableside, where it is set aflame before being extinguished with coffee.
The Library at NYC’s NoMad Hotel is taking bottle service to the next level. Bottles arrive on a custom-designed bar cart with three premixed cocktails and all of the fixings.
For example, a bottle of gin comes with the ingredients for a Negroni, a Southside and a Gin-Gin Mule. You also receive cocktail tools, ice and a plethora of bitters, vermouths and sweeteners if you’d rather go freestyle.
ON THE VINE—WINE WORLD TRENDS
Sustainability is going mainstream: Virtually every winery and vineyard is continuing the movement toward a more holistic approach to growing grapes and making wine. It’s a practical movement to adapt to changing conditions in both the economy and the environment.
Blended wines will continue to gain popularity and see double-digit sales growth. And easy-drinking wines from Portugal (vinho verde) and South America will continue to grow in popularity in the coming year.
FINESSE THE FROZEN DAIQUIRI
The Island Oasis machine meets the artisanal movement. Bartenders are creating house-made mixes with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients and loading up the machine for positive profit margins and crowd-pleasing slushes.
What’s a Caribbean-influenced restaurant without frozen drinks? At Brooklyn’s Battery Harris, the slushy machines are pumping out Dark and Stormys made with toasted five-spice ginger reduction.
Palm House in San Francisco offers a rotating seasonal frozen house specialty cocktail. You can add a dark rum float if you’re feeling extra decadent.
INTO THE NITRO
The next big thing in coffee is nitrogen. Flash-brewed ice coffee is placed under nitrogen to enhance its natural sweetness while diminishing its acidity. When poured, the resulting nitro coffee delivers a stunning cascading effect and rich, creamy mouthfeel. You might even mistake it for Guinness stout until you taste it.
We’re seeing this trend in third-wave coffee houses across the country, including Stumptown in Portland, OR, San Francisco’s Coffee Bar (which serves Mr. Espresso coffee) and Minneapolis’s Spyhouse.
Andrew Freeman is president of Andrew Freeman & Co., a boutique hospitality- and restaurant-consulting firm based in San Francisco.