Drink in the sights

09 October, 2017

Jake Burger told an audience some years ago that a menu is your shop window. It’s your opportunity to sell yourself, to bring the guest into your world and engage them. To do a menu like ours you need to be the type of bar where the guest wants that type of thing. In a hotel bar or a restaurant bar a menu like ours would fall flat on its face. We can get away with this because of the audience we’ve built. Our guests are prepared to go on this journey with us, they’re engaged and receptive and we have their attention. This is our one chance to strike.

Five years ago only a handful of bars were producing interesting menus. That’s all changed now, as there’s more of an expectation from menus and the standards are higher. A menu is a statement of intent, it’s part of the guest experience and therefore needs to be good. And we’re not alone in thinking this way, as attitudes regarding cocktail menus have most definitely changed over the years.

At Tales of The Cocktail, the World’s Best Menu category was once one of the forgotten categories and one of the least cared-about awards, but now it’s one of the most sought after. A lot of bars and bartenders have started to care about that particular award. I’ve seen really, really good menus coming out of places such as Paris and Chicago recently that years ago would have been award-winning and now they aren’t even being considered. The competition is much tougher now. Things have evolved and the category has gotten better and better.

We spend around $85,000 a year on cocktail menus at both Dead Rabbit and Blacktail. We’re able to spend that money because we can recoup the investment. The financial return on something like this isn’t necessarily across the counter, it’s more about noise and PR.

Our menus generate press and awards and, as a result, those awards mean we generate more footfall and our team gets opportunities to study, earn extra money and travel. Because of that we have a very low staff turnover and a happy, dedicated team, which makes our bar better, so that we can continue to win awards and generate press. So it’s full circle.

The Dead Rabbit has a living mind and voice. It’s not just my mind, it’s a combination of many minds and the menu is our opportunity to let the guest see that. Jillian [Vose] oversees the drinks creation, but we also have a copywriter, a designer and an illustrator who are based in Belfast. The menus are always going to be controversial, and I rely on people like Jack and Jillian because of the sensitivity. When they are 100% behind the menus, that’s when I feel confident to release them.

The New York Bus Tours stop at The Dead Rabbit to point out The World’s Best Bar. We’ve become a tourist attraction, and the awards, the menus and the cocktails are at the very forefront of that. It’s a common misconception that we’re obsessed with competing against other bars.

The truth is that we’re competing with ourselves, to be better than we were before. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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