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The Craft Of Table Side Cocktail Service

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03/07/2019 What should bartenders keep in mind while serving table side cocktails.

The bartenders’ motive behind bringing the mixology panache from behind the bars to the guests’ table is to make their guests feel extra special and give them a memorable experience. The art of serving cocktails to the customers at the table doesn’t just include mixing the drinks and serving them, it takes more than that to offer a tableside cocktail service. There is no substitute for a good cocktail, but great welcoming hospitality defines the overall guest experience.

The brand ambassador of Monkey 47 gin, Lacy Hawkins told Liquor.com that the tableside cocktail service takes the bottle out from behind the bar and builds a personal experience with the customers. “It’s fun to watch everyone’s face light up when the bar cart rolls up to their table,” she says. Monkey 47 gin cart makes the rounds at The Modern in New York City. 

 One such tableside cocktail cart is the Martini cart where martinis are made and served to the guests on their table. You can catch one of the famous tableside Martini services at Dukes Bar, London, where the staff knows how to execute a tableside presentation perfectly.Mariantonietta Varamo, the bar and restaurant manager at Great British Restaurant at Dukes London hotel says that the team is the key. “You must find the right bartenders who have the skills of a maître d’ and the ability to move a trolley with grace,” he says.  

Here are some tips straight from the Bartenders for the mixologists to put their best cart forward for successful tableside cocktail service. 

Prep Yourself

What will you do if four tables order the cart at once? Who will man the cart? What are your restocking procedures? - Constantin Alexander, the beverage director for Hakkasan Group asks you to look at all potential scenarios before pulling off a tableside cocktail service. Alexander supervises the planning at the restaurant’s outpost inside the MGM Grand, which is known for its tableside served Smoky Negroni.

Alexander tells us that the key behind his team pulling off a smoked drink while serving different guests at the same time is they think ahead of time about all possible situations. He says, “We have multiple setups for the presentation, as well as backup systems like extra smokers. We can execute this drink for larger parties if necessary, as it tends to be a cocktail that gets ordered in large quantities. We’ve had nights when we’ve sold hundreds of these.”

Effortless & Quick

Patrick Smith, the bar manager at The Modern gives emphasis on the importance of simple and quick drinks. The Modern’s Monkey 47 Gibson is a tableside cocktail which includes different vermouths and special cocktail onions made exclusively for the brand by Filthy. While talking about it, Smith says that “One thing that’s unique about our Monkey 47 Gibson is its simplicity. Many of the cocktails on our menu have six or more ingredients. It’s magical to be able to mix so many things and have it become a cohesive and uniquely delicious drink, but it’s a different type of magic to take just a few ingredients and do the same thing. The constraints can breed creativity and artistry in a more minimalist way.” 

Matt Ray, the beverage director at Ace Hotel New Orleans advices to only sell what the staff has time to make and deliver. “A Ramos Gin Fizz is a great conversation, but maybe your mid-to-high-volume bar can’t handle a cocktail that takes six to eight minutes a pop,” he says. 

Know The Story & Details

Having knowledge of the history and background of the drink can go a long way. Customers love learning the stories and fun facts about the drink they are having. Also, the undivided attention of the bartender and confident delivery is a must. “Our charming bartenders are able to engage in conversation much easier, often involving the origins of the cocktails and the special ingredients used to prepare the ideal drinks,” says Varamo, the bar manager at the Dukes. “You enter a ‘Martini bubble’ once the trolley is beside your table, with a skilled bartender guiding you through the varied choices, carefully listening to your preferences, much like a tailor measuring you for a suit or dress.”

It is also important not to stretch the history of the guest isn’t interested. Leo Robitschek, the beverage director for Make It Nice restaurant group asks that bartenders not to make it a lesson unless the guest encourages it. “Just because a guest ordered an experience​ ​doesn’t mean they want a class. Read the guest, and make sure they’re looking for this kind of experience before you take over their dining/bar experience.”

Check Every Possible Assistance

Maison Premiere in New York City is well-known for its tableside cocktail services. Currently, their tableside cocktail services offer the Old King Cole & three Sazerac variations. The floor manager of Maison Premiere says that “After a guest orders the tableside cocktail, the construction of the tray is built by a back waiter, and they pull everything that is needed––liquors, garnishes, and barware. After the tray is built out, the manager is notified, and that’s when they bring it to the table together. After that, two members of the Maison Premiere team come to the table with an antique sterling silver tray, filled with ingredients, accoutrements, and garnishes that have been carefully developed to set this drink apart from any other Martini at Maison Premiere.”

Express your Brand

When you are offering tableside cocktail service, you are also expanding your bar or restaurant brand name. Varamo says, “Find [something that] is best suited to space and ambiance.” The establishment and the atmosphere should reflect your style & brand name.

Maison Premiere defines their style by having thoughtful drinks and detailed glassware and tools. “We use beautifully etched glassware, golden jiggers and a sterling silver tray from the late 1800s,” says Wasicek. “Guests start to realize what they’ve gotten themselves into as you start walking across the room to their table.”

Keep This In Mind

The most important aspect of tableside cocktail serving is the drink. All these popular tableside cocktail services are famous for a reason which is their drink, and definitely not just because of their presentation. According to Matt Ray - “It always has to start with a good drink. Regardless of the bells and whistles, if the drink is lackluster, it will bring your program down. The show won’t distract from a bad product.”

American Bars that serve tableside cocktails

Dante, New York City
Park MGM Pool, Las Vegas
The Modern, New York City
Cherry Circle Room, Chicago
Fleur By Hubert Keller, Las Vegas
The Bamboo Room, Chicago

Tableside cocktail serving is a craft which requires proper time management, excellent preparation, knowledge about the drink, and engaging interactive skills. There is no limit to what you can make, but you can’t bring the whole bar to the table.