Saturday, July 30, 2016

:: pumping out paradise - the secrets of a high volume tiki bar ::

The first talk I attended at Tales of the Cocktail was about how to gear up a Tiki bar for volume. The speakers were Paul McGee, Shelby Allison, and Erin Hayes of Chicago's Lost Lake, Mindy Kucan of Portland's Hale Pele, and Scotty Schuder of Paris' Dirty Dick, and each gave their own methods and secrets. Historically, Tiki has been high volume with Steve Crane's Kon Tiki Port in Chicago doing $2.2 million in sales in 1966 (equivalent of $17.1 million today).

So what is high volume? At Dirty Dick, the three bartenders on an average Saturday night make around 500 drinks for the room that holds 95 (including standing). At Hale Pele, the two bartenders churn out an average 337 drinks on a Saturday for the 54 seats (included patio seating outside). And Lost Lake will do 607 drinks on an average Saturday night for the 80-85 capacity room (including standing) using 3 bartenders with one of them being a dedicated service bartender.

The next topic was on bar design. Bar stations should be thought of as cockpits with much consideration going into tools, ingredient, and equipment placement. For efficiency's sake, everything should be in arm's reach plus or minus a pivot. Cheater bottles can help as can bartenders learning to be ambi-dexterous so that no time is wasted reaching across your body. Paul McGee added to the cockpit concept by suggesting to "treat your well like it's a desert island and make sure it is stocked for the entire night."
At Hale Pele, the two bartenders share service tickets. Most drinks utilize crushed ice for which they dole out accurately with a measuring cup. A split well that also has cubed ice makes the most of the resources. Mindy mentioned that at Hale Pele, the vodka soda is the hardest drink to make since it takes you out of your element to assemble it.

At Dirty Dick, the bar was set up by high volume bar consultants. They never thought it would be that busy, but they were lucky to have set up such great stations that require little movement. Lost Lake has three stations that service about 30 guests each. The wells are split with Hoshizaki cubes and cubelets (crushed), and 90% of the drinks are made on a Hamilton Beach spindle blender via a 3 second buzz. Also, to save time, the base spirits are batched.
Bar prep is a considerable issue given all of the juices, syrups, batches,and garnishes utilized. For example, Lost Lake will need 85-100 banana dolphins for an average Saturday night not to mention the other needs like 21 liters of lime juice or 8 liters of passion fruit syrup for that night. To accomplish that, they hire one full time and one part time prep staff. Dirty Dick similarly has a full time prep worker who puts in 10 hours per day, 5 days per week. There, that person is paid the same as the bartenders especially since tipping is less of an issue in France. Hale Pele though relies on the bartenders to show 90 minutes before open to juice pineapple and prep garnishes. The citrus juices are prepared by a local commissary kitchen, and the syrups are BG Reynolds brand (although they are beginning to make more in house). The commissary kitchen saves storage space since materials do not need to be kept on the premises. High volume allows for more buying power, the ability to employ a prep person, and allow for higher quality overall.

Some tips for efficiency were that bottles can be lined up underneath or near the equipment to make the drink, and if you move from right to left with the bottles to make the drinks, it is unlikely that you will leave anything out. In terms of batching, Dirty Dick batches everything but the citrus, Lost Lake batches base spirits only, and Hale Pele skips batching entirely. Efficiency can be furthered by zoning glassware, bar cooler arrangement, and back bar layout. Clutter-free Tiki is not a myth especially if you utilize a P-Touch for labels to dictate where things live. Such labels reinforce muscle memory.

Menu design is also another way to increase efficiency by getting people to order quicker. At Hale Pele, they rely on visuals via watercolors of the drinks to get drinks to sell. Breaking down the drinks into sections like tart & tangy, coconut, cinnamon & spice, and for the adventurous can guide people; moreover labeling everything with 1-4 volcanoes to indicate strength helps. Dirty Dick likewise uses the 1-4 skulls for strengths. The menu has sharing bowls on the right with the indication that the table will get their drink quicker. Similarly, Lost Lake increases speed by pushing sharing bowls. As for menu design, they depict the mug with an image as it starts a conversation; also many people are ordering by cuteness of the mug or the presence of fire.

A variety of methods can be brought in for speed. The fastest is the spindle mixer with a 3 second buzz where the result is dirty dumped into the mug with the blender not too far behind in time cost. Shake and stirred drinks are a bit longer, but the most time consuming is the Swizzle so fewer ingredients are uses and the drinks get less garnish time to make up for things. Frozen drinks are a great asset since the dispense is immediate from the machine due to all of the work being done in advance. It can also appease people with a small pour to buy time before their drinks can be made.

As for garnish, drinks do not have to be rushed an made less cute just because you're busy. Set yourself up for easy garnishing with a formula and good bar design. That formula can include one of each type plus a budget or perhaps correlating ingredients in a drink with what garnish would be used. Social media is the best way to check up on garnishes, and a good bar manager can actually tell which bartender garnished the drink due to style. Mindy also recommended putting the straw in first so it will not push the garnish down, and prefers to think "garnishes are like lovers in a hot tub -- all pushed together and tight."

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