Mixologist Bob Peters was set to open a brand new restaurant in Charlotte, NC, on March 17. The Grinning Mule was fully stocked, staffed and prepped. Then on March 16 came the directive for people to stay at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, so the opening was tabled.
The shelter-in-place directive not only put a hold on the Grinning Mule, it put temporarily put Peters out of work. He shared with Cheers some of the ways he’s been keeping busy during the past few weeks.
For one, Peters has done some online events, such as a virtual Happy Hour hosted by local food magazine Unpretentious Palate, in which he demonstrated how to make punch. In addition to being a paid gig, the event included a virtual tip jar that participants could add to via Venmo or Paypal.
People could also chat at the end and ask questions about the ingredients and type of ice used. “It’s a great way to stay busy and engaged” with the community, Peters says.
He’s also been using the free time to go wild foraging for ingredients. You need to know what you’re doing in terms of food safety, he notes, “but it’s an amazing way to spend time and come up with new recipes.”
For instance, Peters recently made a syrup out of wisteria flowers that he foraged. Used as an ingredient this way, wisteria has a delicate, interesting nose and a light, floral grape flavor, he adds.
Peters advises bartenders waiting to get back to work to improve their knowledge and skill sets, whether it’s learning to carve or clarify ice or creating new garnishes. “That way, you will have improved your craft when we do get back to work.”
What will the industry look like when restaurants do reopen? “We have to put systems in place for the safety of the public,” Peters says. That means training staff on cleaning and sterilizing, making sure to wipe down tables with disinfectant and spacing tables correctly to enable recommended social distancing.
What is Peters looking forward to when the Grinning Mule is able to open? Among other things, he can’t wait to fire up the bar’s Ripples machine, which can imprint any message or image that’s sent to the device through its mobile app into a foam-topped drink.
Peters uses it for branding, inspirational quotes and images to surprise and delight guests with custom cocktails.
For example, say a couple comes into the restaurant to celebrate their anniversary, and they order a foamy cocktail. Peters will ask to take their picture, telling the guests, “I’ll show you why in a minute.” Then he’ll deliver the cocktail with the couple’s photo and a happy anniversary message imprinted in the foam.
Peters has also used Ripples to promote weekly specials and monthly events. Not only is it an unexpected personal touch, Peters says that guests tend to take photos of the foam images and messages on the drinks and post them online.
This helps draw attention to the bar or restaurant, he notes. “It’s marketing inside of marketing.”