Behind the Bar The Business of the Bar

Why to Incorporate Mini Cocktails into Your Beverage Program

Tiny drinks can have a big effect on your bar.

Tini Martini at Pulitzer’s Bar in Amsterdam
Tini Martini at Pulitzer’s Bar in Amsterdam Image:

Pulitzer's Bar 

One of the most pronounced trends of recent times is that of health-focused drinkers consuming less, year over year. As bargoers continue to focus on quality over quantity, the concept of mini cocktails—a trend that has blossomed over the last couple of years—is one to consider integrating into your bar’s beverage program.

“Mini cocktails allow guests to sample a wider range of cocktails in a shorter amount of time. Think of [a] chef's tasting menu with small portions that eventually add up to the perfect amount of weight or volume,” says Andrei Talapanescu, the head bartender at Pulitzer’s Bar in Amsterdam. “It also breaks the barrier in the decision-making process of choosing a suitable drink. In a way, it makes you feel like you're investing less money and time into a certain experience while having the full benefits of it.” 

Tini Martini at Pulitzer’s Bar in Amsterdam
Tini Martini at Pulitzer’s Bar in Amsterdam.  Pulitzer's Bar

Often, guests might hope to taste multiple drinks on a menu but can’t do so for a variety of reasons: They may have plans later or need to drive home afterward. Mini cocktails allow guests to sample several drinks without as great a risk of inebriation. “Someone who’s out for a quick happy hour after work can stop in and have a delicious Gibson or Manhattan without walking away with the full buzz of a full built cocktail,” says Marshall Minaya, the beverage director at Valerie in New York City. “Or they can have a few and achieve that desired buzz.”

An Ideal Way to Experiment

Mini cocktails also provide a budget-friendly opportunity for drinkers to sample unfamiliar flavors—whether they be new cocktail converts trying classic cocktails or seasoned sippers looking to experiment—without spending full price for a full-size serve they don’t know if they’ll enjoy. They also give bars a chance to test cocktails on a smaller scale before rolling them out onto the full menu, as a way of assessing what sells and what won’t. “People in Amsterdam are very novice cocktail drinkers,” says Eric Van Beek, the former bar manager at Bar TwentySeven in Amsterdam and the current bar manager at the recently opened Las Brujas in Mexico City. “I found that, in this way, we could introduce classic cocktail flavors to people without [them] having to spend tons of money. People were willing to experiment and try new things. So many people used [the mini cocktails] section of the menu as a sort of personal cocktail tasting.”

Mini cocktail flight at Little Donkey
Mini cocktail flight at Little Donkey.  Little Donkey

Whether these scaled-down cocktails are included on a happy hour menu or as a small section on your full menu, they bring a new tasting experience that can benefit both the guest and the business. “Upstairs in the Blushing Bar, we wanted to stay cocktail-focused and offer a more aperitivo-style happy hour,” says Minaya. “With sherry and amaro floating around the menu, the mini classic cocktails fit in perfectly. We can batch them easily so we can get them to customers quickly.”

Perfect Pairing Size

Another application for mini cocktails, especially enticing for bars within restaurants, is serving them during meals as cocktail pairings with specific dishes—a feat many restaurants struggle to execute with excellence. A primary concern for these sorts of dinners is potentially leaving your guests overserved over the course of, say, three or four courses. Mini cocktails allow for thought-provoking flavor pairings without the inebriation that an equal number of full-size cocktails would impart. 

Bamboo Tini at Little Donkey
Bamboo Tini at Little Donkey.  Little Donkey

Robert Phillips, the bar manager at Little Donkey in Boston, says that food pairings were his initial inspiration behind adding mini cocktails to the restaurant’s menu and highlights the value of flavor pairings with menu items, creating a bespoke drinking experience for guests. “We already do oyster add-ons, such as caviar and a peated scotch splash, so we thought, Why not a slightly savory, salty mini cocktail to pair with oysters?” he says. The thought led him to create the Bamboo Tini, a riff on a classic Bamboo, but prediluted with herbed tomato water and pre-chilled. “The cocktail and oyster compliment each other,” he says, “and you don't necessarily have to commit to a normal-size cocktail that may take you into your next course.” 

The possibilities are vast and enticing for bar programs to incorporate these scaled-down cocktails onto their menus. With the trend of many health-minded drinkers consuming less, along with the enhanced business opportunities that come with guest-friendly cocktail-paired dinners and the ability to test cocktails at a smaller scale, mini cocktails provide a unique value proposition that many bar programs across the globe are beginning to embrace. Perhaps yours should too.