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In large markets – such as New York, Las Vegas, Chicago or San Francisco – there is always huge, untapped demand for beverage consultants to advise on cocktail menus and help with the strategic and tactical issues involved with starting a new cocktail program. What about in smaller markets? There, it may be harder to find consulting clients. If you are looking for ways to get involved with beverage consulting in smaller markets, here is what you need to know.
Some of the best resources that you can use to find potential clients are regional and national spirits brands salespeople. These sales reps know which restaurants and bars are opening in advance, which gives you plenty of extra time to make your pitch before the competition. They also know which on-premise establishments are most likely to need a beverage consultant. So, now is the time to start networking, both online and in person. Look for sales professionals from companies like Southern Glazer’s Wines & Spirits.
Once you have identified a few potential targets, that is the time when it is crucial that you find out as much as possible about both the needs and capabilities of the establishment. Are they looking for certain types of spirits to add to the menu? What is their core clientele? What is their current staffing situation? This will help you craft your pitch to what they are looking for.
It can be helpful here to produce a list of potential services that you can offer, as well as suggested pricing for those services. And you will also want to develop a shortlist of questions that you can ask any client, regardless of size, such as, “What style of cocktail are you looking to serve?”
The easiest way to get a feel for the lay of the land is by stopping in and having drinks at different on-premise establishments around town. While doing this reconnaissance, you will want to combine a mix of dive bars, chain restaurants and high-end, sophisticated restaurants. This will let you see at a glance what the competition is, what type of pricing exists, and what the potential clientele will be.
Often, you’ll be able to distinguish local differences that make smaller markets much different than larger markets. For example, you might find that, instead of serving 12-ounce cocktails, patrons are requesting larger, more generous cocktails (such as 34-ounce party margaritas served in oversized glasses). And you’ll also have to determine whether the locals will embrace esoteric wine varietals or exotic spirits. It could be the case that the same exotic spirits that you used in your previous consulting gig are not going to be as successful in a much smaller market.
By this point, you’ve probably started to develop some pretty good ideas about the types of cocktails that you would like to offer, as well as which ingredients will be required. In large markets, it might not even be an issue to think about ingredients, but it could turn into a much larger issue in smaller markets. Simply put, certain fruits or vegetables may be impossible to source (especially if they are out of season), and small production or craft spirits may be exorbitantly expensive to order.
To help matters, it’s best to meet the local purveyors and local distributors. Find out how products make their way to market. That way, if you are in desperate need of fresh cilantro to cap off an amazing cocktail, you will know exactly where to find it, and how to source it at the most attractive price.
The next step in putting your new cocktail program into action is making sure you have the right talent behind the bar to make your amazing new cocktail creations. Smaller markets tend to have a shorter supply of top talent, so you might need to attract talent from other, larger markets where you have already worked.
The two positions that you will need to pay particular attention to are Head Bartender and Beverage Manager. While different establishments might have different names for these positions, the idea here is simple: people making the cocktails and people in charge of ordering new spirits to replenish the supply should both be on the same page when it comes to rolling out a new cocktail program.
In smaller markets, one common tactic is simply to hire the “hot bartender” that you’ve perhaps already encountered on your visits to the local watering holes. With a little training, you can transform any restaurant staff into expert, knowledgeable servers who will be able to talk intelligently about the ingredients in each cocktail, as well as the specific technique used to make them.
You really cannot under-estimate the amount of training that might be required here. For example, the general rule of thumb is to allocate at least three days of training. Even experienced bartenders may not know all the ins and outs of serving and pouring certain cocktails, and you want to make sure that each cocktail is created exactly the same way that you envision them.
As a final note, be aware that pricing for cocktail consulting in smaller markets is much softer than in larger markets. Here, you should expect to receive anywhere from 10% to 20% less than if you were consulting with a large client in a city like Las Vegas. Just don’t accept an offer that is obviously uncompetitive or below market value. You deserve to be paid fully for your time, talent and experience.
There is definitely a difference between cocktail consulting in smaller markets and cocktail consulting larger markets. You will soon discover that there are pros and cons to both. But the good news is that everything you learn in one market can easily be applied to any other market, large or small. Be flexible in your approach, keep your eyes open for new trends and new tactics, and you will be successful in your new role as a cocktail consultant.