The trend of serving cocktails through a draft system is one that doesn’t seem to be tapping out anytime soon. Still on the fence about swapping out the on-site shaking and stirring behind your bar? Two industry pros with insight into draft cocktails share the pros, cons and what this type of beverage program can mean for your business.
The Benefits of Serving Cocktails On Tap
The Polite Pig, a restaurant opened in Orlando, Florida’s Disney Springs earlier this year by four-time James Beard Award nominees James and Julie Petrakis, includes a draft system that includes six custom cocktails, plus 10 beers, three wines and one nitro cold brew coffee.
Patrick McKinney, the Polite Pig director of operations, says this is because of the benefits of utilizing a tap system.
“Drinks on tap allow for quality, consistency and speed, all three of which are essential in a fast casual environment,” McKinney says. “The benefit to offering cocktails on tap definitely lies in both the speed and consistency. This allows our bartenders to spend more time with each guest while providing a quality product with each pour.”
Jeremy Rader, general manager of Krause’s Biergarten + Cafe in New Baunfels, Texas, credits the draft system used to dispense two cocktails, 73 beers and five wines with creating a perfect pour each time.
“Cocktails on tap provide a perfectly mixed drink in seconds as opposed to risking a cocktail with a messy liquor-to-mixer ratio,” Rader says.
He also touts hygienic benefits: “Logistically, drink dispensing systems are a one-stop shop for cleaning as opposed to staying on top of the build-up of used shakers and stirrers.”
“Cocktails on tap provide a perfectly mixed drink in seconds.” – Jeremy Rader of Krause’s Biergarten + Cafe
Is There a Downside to Draft Cocktails?
“Guest perception has been our only challenge to date,” McKinney says. “Many guests are not familiar with the concept of draft cocktails and wines, so we always offer guests a sample before they make their final decision.”
The sample ends up paying off for employees, as well, he says.
“This gives our staff the opportunity to really exceed expectations while also educating guests,” McKinney says, noting that staff has also received education from the Cask and Larder Brewery on best practices for cleaning lines.
Rader also cited education as a challenge for any tap program.
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“Challenges include the assumption by customers that cocktails on tap aren’t as fresh,” he says. “They are!”
The Best Cocktails On Tap
McKinney says the Polite Pig’s six housemade cocktails all sell well with guests, thanks, in part, to the carbonation they are able to infuse, “which improves the overall quality and flavor even more.”
The Polite Pig’s top sellers–vodka lemonade, Old Fashioned, and a tequila and grapefruit liqueur mix–prove that all spirits have a chance to get in on the action.
While he says they haven’t found any ingredients that aren’t tap-friendly, Rader advises against creating cocktails that contain a lot of pulp.
“Guest perception has been our only challenge to date.” – Patrick McKinney on serving cocktails on tap
Instead, he says, Krause’s has found success with a margarita made with cane sugar and Z Pepe Blanco tequila. A red sangria served on-tap and finished with fruit slices was also an unexpected top-performer, he says.
“It’s one of our most popular drinks,” Rader says. “It was really surprising how much sangria we sold last winter for being a biergarten.”
What to Know Before You Invest in a Draft Cocktail System
Where there’s a tap, there’s a keg. McKinney advises any new restaurateur interested in implementing a tapped cocktails program to first think about logistics around square footage.
“What we needed to know and be prepared for ahead of time was simply having the space to hold and refrigerate all of the kegs. Plus, we met with our architect to plan for how many lines needed to be run,” he says. “Pre-planning was key for all parties. There are no special taps, we just had our designer create our tap handles with our product names.”
Rader says for Krause’s, stainless steel taps and connections have worked best, and last longest.
The Future of Craft Cocktails On Tap
Though the majority of their business focuses on beer, Rader says that the popularity of the cocktails on tap is influencing menu planning: “Krause’s will be trying more cocktails on tap soon.”
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