Thursday, January 22, 2009

:: when you want a cocktail before dinner ::

One of the blogs I follow somewhat religiously is Between Meals by Michael Bauer, over at He has a very interesting post today dealing with the topic of ordering cocktails before dining at a restaurant. In his (extensive) experience, he is frequently asked if he would like a cocktail as soon as he is greeted by his server, before he has a chance to peruse the cocktail list [1]. Further, when there are multiple people seated at the table, the server often puts down only one cocktail menu (and one wine menu). This holds up the process of choosing a cocktail even further, as everyone now has to pass around the single, precious cocktail menu. Commenters have given a number of suggestions on how to deal with this, such as listing cocktails and wines by the glass on the menu page preceding the appetizers.

I'm trying to think if I've encountered this issue here in the Boston area. I often eat at the bar in area restaurants, and the bartender knows to await my decision. However, I have noticed that at many places Fred and I get one cocktail menu for the two of us, whether we are sitting at the bar or not. This perplexes me, since I've observed that food menus change more often than cocktail menus - surely the cocktail menus aren't so precious that they can't print up enough for everyone. Perhaps, as Mr. Bauer has suggested, it is a relict of having a single (large) wine list where one or two bottles are chosen for the whole table by a single person. Whatever the reasoning behind it, the practice is certainly outdated given the surge in popularity of craft cocktails. In fact, I'd go a step further, and suggest that restaurants provide a separate cocktail list that contains cocktails, wines, and liqueurs suitable as apéritifs, much like the common practice of having a separate dessert menu with after-dinner drinks listed.

So, does anyone else have opinions about this?

[1] When I was in France on a business trip, this was often my experience as well. However, the custom of having an apéritif is so ingrained there that everyone pretty much knows what they want before even sitting down. I should also note that the notion of an apéritif *cocktail* is something that doesn't really have traction in France, at least not to my knowledge.


Sunday Cook said...

My husband and I eat at the bar most of the time. In that case, it's usually easy to ask for a second cocktail menu if one hasn't been offered.

When we sit at a table, we'll usually just order a "standard" drink (something on the rocks, martini, etc.) rather than ask the server to bring us a cocktail menu.

Can I throw out there that one of my biggest pet peeves is when I order a pre-dinner cocktail and the server doesn't have the instinct to hold our food orders until the cocktails are mostly drunk (especially since we usually also order the wine(s) to be drunk with our meals when we place our food order). I *do not* want to drink my martini as an accompaniment to my green salad, thank you very much.

I agree with the hypothesis that cocktail menu hoarding is a vestigial holdover from the days of huge wine lists.

frederic said...

Having experience now behind the other side of bars as well as talking to bartenders at other places, often it is because they are running low on drink menus for the whole establishment. Sometimes these are bound volumes and other times they are just printed sheets. The places that don't run out? Ones with laminated menus or menus in sleeves. The issue is that guests have no problem using their menus as drink coasters and place mats for dining -- well, however you want to call drink spills, dried liquid rings, grease spots, and the like. If a restaurant has enough for everyone at the first sitting and they lose a number of them each round of guests, they will be short by the end of the night and very short by the end of the week. If they have to send out a print order, it could take a few days.

At one place I worked, we were commanded to move the menus off to a safe space (in front of but away from the guests at the bar and remove all but one and put it on the ledge near the table) so they didn't get ruined. Otherwise, you have to swoop in and remove menus from tables or bar guests to give to the next set of guests.