Doing the splits
Firebirds has had great success with half bottles of sparkling wines. “Instead of offering it by the glass, we sell splits and avoid that waste,” explains Pulsinelli. Many customers are ordering half bottles before dinner as an aperitif. “From an accessibility standpoint, splits have been a great hit for us,” says Wise. Customers can trade up in quality without a big jump in price. For guests, half-bottles are the ideal solution to multicourse meals. “Splits allow them to start with a glass of Champagne and still enjoy a red wine later with their steak.”
Using some of the bottles that are already open gives restaurants more flexibility to boost offerings and sell more sparklers. After a bottle is opened for a glass pour at the Bubbly Mermaid, it’s kept out in a big ice bucket that resides on the tiny bar, where guests can check out the labels. “Oftentimes, people will order whatever they see open,” reports Naff.
If an upper-shelf bottle was opened the night before but is still fresh, Naff will discount the wine to $15 a glass. Customers can also order half glasses, which encourages trial.
The Bubbly Mermaid also draws customers Monday through Wednesdays with a two-for-one oyster special, which keeps the Champagne flowing.
Mixology with a Twinkle
Champagne and sparkling wine have become a key component in cocktail programs, and operators are going beyond the basic Mimosa and Bellini. “A quick splash of sparkling wine adds texture and a layer of flavor to cocktails,” notes Grajewski at Mina Group.
Firebirds has found lately that the cocktails made with sparkling wine tend to sell well, says Pulsinelli. The Flirtini, priced at $10.50, has been a staple on the drinks list for years; it’s a blend of Cruzan Mango rum, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, cranberry juice and a splash of Domaine Chandon.
A variation on the Peach Bellini was a hit with guests last summer. “A touch of sparkling wine just before you drop it off at the table really gets the aromatics going, and enlivens the senses when you taste it,” says Pulsinelli.
At Sage Restaurant Group’s Mercat al la Planxa, a tapas concept in Chicago, “one of our best-selling cocktails incorporates a dry sparkling rosé,” says Wise. The drink, Rosado, mixes New Amsterdam gin with Aperol and orange blossom honey and a sparkling rosé cava.
“I challenge anyone to be in a bad mood with a glass of sparkling wine in their hand,” says Wise.
Thomas Henry Strenk is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, NY, specializing in all things drinkable.