Cocktails - a potential source of extra profit for pubs

Related tags Cocktails Gin Smirnoff ice

Some licensees are reluctant to experiment with mixing anything more exotic than a gin and tonic - but they could be missing out on an important...

Some licensees are reluctant to experiment with mixing anything more exotic than a gin and tonic - but they could be missing out on an important source of extra profit.

Most pubs don't serve cocktails... unless, of course, you class a gin and tonic, vodka and orange, whisky and ginger ale or any of several dozen commonly ordered spirit-and-a-mixer combinations as a cocktail. In many cases you wouldn't even be offered ice and lemon with these "cocktails".

It's true - all these drinks are cocktails, and classic ones at that. You might have been told that the legal definition of a cocktail is a drink which contains three or more liquids. However, this is a common mistake, which probably goes to the heart of the reasons why many publicans are reluctant to get involved in the business of mixing anything too complex.

The licensing laws state that all alcohol must be sold in measures of 25ml, 35ml or multiples thereof.

However, there is an interesting get-out clause - as the law says "if these spirits are part of a mixture of three or more liquids then the quantities above do not apply".

What that effectively means is that the gin in a gin and tonic needs to be measured, which in the UK almost invariably means using an Optic or similar spirits dispenser, while in a Singapore Sling - gin, cherry brandy and lemon juice - the gin and other liquids can be poured straight from the bottle. But both are cocktails.

Given that lack of training is one of the main reasons cited by publicans for not serving cocktails, it's understandable that most steer well clear of letting either themselves or their barstaff loose with an unmetered spirits bottle.

However, in the right bar environment, cocktails can be an important area of added profit. If you visit any of the major branded town centre pubs, you will find that most of them offer a cocktail menu, some fairly basic and some quite ambitious.

Groups of younger customers can be easily tempted into straying from their normal drinking repertoire in order to buy an exotic sounding cocktail, which will normally command a higher margin than most standard drinks.

What are your options?

The first is to create a cocktail menu using the spirits brands you have on the Optic. You can create a reasonable range using whisky, gin, vodka, white rum and brands such as Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort and Malibu. Most will mix well with a range of juices, ice, and sliced fruit to create long drinks.

If you want to add flavour or colour using speciality liqueurs which are not on Optic, these can be poured into measuring cups, or jiggers, to protect both the recipe and your profits. Most spirits companies and suppliers will be happy to supply a range of cocktail recipes using their brands.

Another straightforward option is to concentrate on prepackaged cocktails. In fact, premium packaged spirits such as Bacardi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice are actually premixed cocktails under another name.

Beverage Brands' Woody's range of premixed cocktails uses names more associated with the cocktail sector, including recent additions such as pina colada.

You could also ask spirits suppliers for training support. Gordon's has been running its Perfect Serve gin and tonic campaign for five years, training thousands of bar staff in the basic principles of a tall glass, lots of ice, good quality mixer and a fresh wedge of fruit. Perfect Serve is now accepted as the industry standard for spirits, and brand owner UDV plans to bring the same expertise to bear on a wider range of gin-based drinks.

You could even go the whole hog and train your staff to mix cocktails properly. So called "free-pouring" is a standard part of the theatre of bartending in most parts of the world, particularly the USA. Some bars where cocktails are important have even tried to argue, with little success so far, that ice should count as a third liquid - this would enable them to freepour all spirits.

Freepouring spirits

Angus Winchester, cocktail guru for style bar magazine Flavour, and an experienced trainer of cocktail barstaff, writes:

One of the most frequently asked questions in training sessions is could you teach us how to free-pour?

  • always approach this one with mixed feelings. Yes, free-pouring is the fastest way to pour spirits, be they in cocktails or in highballs and the like (a highball being any spirit and carbonated mixer), but as with most sharp tools, they cause the most damage if misused.

Free pouring should only be attempted if certain conditions are in place:

  • your managers are totally happy with your ability
  • it is predominantly used in cocktails where there are many ingredients and the constant use of a jigger would slow things down
  • your pouring ability is tested on a regular basis (at the beginning of every shift is recommended)
  • you use all the same flow of pourers and use pourers on every product
  • you use common sense when it comes to the various liquids you are pouring - chilled Baileys will pour "slower" than room temperature vodka, for example
  • the bartenders realise that just getting drunk is not always guests' sole aim so bigger is not always better.

Cocktail pitchers​Cocktail pitchers are a popular and profitable way of generating extra business, especially during the summer when customers like to share a drink outside. UDV suggests the following do's and don'ts for making the most of pitchers.

  • Glassware

You should be able to get hold of glass or good quality plastic pitchers from your normal supplier. Additionally, some spirit brands are producing pitcher kits for distribution to key on-trade accounts. Check with your local representatives to see what's on offer.


Lots of good quality, chunky ice will be required. In the height of summer the idea is to provide consumers with a cool, refreshing alternative to other long drinks. You can only achieve this with ice, and plenty of it.

Fresh fruit

Garnish your pitchers with all manner of fresh fruit like oranges, lemons and limes as well as grapefruit, mango and pineapple for something a bit more exotic. Fresh mint for Pimms is essential of course, as is celery for bloody mary's.


There's a lot you can do with standard mixers like orange, lemonade and cola but why not experiment with other flavours like cranberry, coconut, lime or mango. You will be amazed how popular these more interesting combinations will be with your consumers.

Related topics Spirits & Cocktails

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