September 1, 2016 |

Signature Sips

By Pizza Today


Specialty cocktail menus drive revenue and customer loyalty

craft cocktail

At Taverna Rossa, guests cannot get enough of signature pizzas like The Spicy Pig, The Bee’s Knees and the Taverna Rossa R&D Pie.

When it came to developing the cocktail menu for the Plano, Texas, pizzeria, Tony Smith, vice president of {33} Restaurant Group, the management group that owns and operates Taverna Rossa, knew the signature drinks had to be as unique as the pizzas.

“Adding that unique touch is part of our culture,” Smith explains. “We wanted to make people remember the brand.”

Signature drinks set a pizzeria apart. The one-of-a-kind experience is one of the reasons the National Restaurant Association named artisan drinks a top trend in 2016.

While signature drinks are trending, most pizzerias are taking an approach that is anything but trendy.

Taverna Rossa settled on three branded cocktails for its signature drink menu: The Rossa Mule, The Rossa-Rita and TR’s Award Winning Bloody Mary that offer a creative twist on classic cocktails. The Rossa Mule, for example, is an elevated Moscow mule made with Bourbon-infused fresh strawberries and basil instead of vodka.

“We wanted to be cognizant of the trends without going too crazy with elements like smoke and liquid nitrogen,” says Smith. “Our flagship drinks will stand the test of time.”

In Greenville, Delaware, Pizza by Elizabeths also looked to the classics when creating its signature drink menu. Their branded cocktail, the Elizabeth-tini, is a twist on a classic martini. Instead of vodka, the signature cocktail is made with a mix of Grand Marnier, cranberry juice and champagne.

“It wouldn’t seem like us to do something original; we had to get creative,” explains owner Betsy LeRoy. “We’re a high-end pizzeria and wanted to create a signature cocktail that reflected our brand.”

At Best Pies in Truckee, California, co-owners Chris and Elise Best took a different approach to putting a twist on the classics. All of the drinks on their signature cocktail menu feature handcrafted versions of standard cocktail ingredients. Fresh juices, ginger syrup and alcohol infusions are all made in-house. In addition to adding unique flavor to their one-of-a-kind cocktails, Elise Best also believes the artisan approach helps keep their drink prices, which range from $7.50 to $11 for signature cocktails, in check.

“Making (ingredients) yourself is almost always less expensive than buying them,” she says.

The servers at Best Pies are not selling mixed drinks; they are selling the stories behind the cocktails.

“People love the stories and, once they know them, the cocktails sell themselves,” says co-owner Elise Best. “We make sure our servers know what inspired our signature drinks and how to tell those stories.”

The 601, made with Templeton rye, homemade simple syrup and fresh muddled blackberries, was named after the vigilante group that targeted the locals in Truckee, California in the 1900s.

At Taverna Rossa, Smith also encourages servers to talk about the inspiration for the signature cocktails. TR’s Award Winning Bloody Mary, which D magazine awarded “Best Bloody Mary” in 2013, was inspired by his grandfather’s recipe.

“There is a history behind it,” he says.

Even the back bar at Taverna Rossa was set up to promote attention to the signature cocktail program: The bartenders make hand-crafted infusions for each of the signature drinks like fruit-infused bourbon and pepper-infused vodka; once the signature ingredients are mixed, infusions are poured into oversized mason jars and left to steep on a display shelf behind the bar.

“People always ask about them, which gives bartenders an opportunity to talk about our signature cocktails,” Smith says. “It leads to a story.”

Signature cocktails can also lead to a revenue boost.

cucumber carft cocktailWhen Pizza by Elizabeths introduced its cocktail program in 2003 — after a decade of serving only beer and wine — there was, “A noticeable revenue bump,” LeRoy says. Today, cocktails generate up to 30 percent of total alcohol sales.

Best Pies also earns 30 percent of its bar revenue from cocktails.

Despite the solid revenue returns, Best Pies, Pizza by Elizabeths and Taverna Rossa all sell their signature drinks for the same prices as other cocktails. At Taverna Rossa, the Rossa Mule is $11, the Rossa-Rita is $10 and a Bloody Mary is $9, prices Smith calls, “Approachable.”

“We could sell these drinks for $13 but it’s more important to us to get them out there and get people excited about coming back to order them again,” he says.

To control costs and maximize profits, Smith believes it’s essential to keep cocktail prep times in check, especially on busy weekends when Taverna Rossa can do 1,000 covers in one evening.

“Efficiency, output and consistency are as important in our cocktails as they are in our pizzas,” he says.

At Best Pies, the goal is to keep drink preparation under five minutes. To help keep the bartenders from falling behind, the handcrafted ingredients are made before the restaurant opens and the bar-backs and owners often help out behind the bar during a rush. The reward, according to Best, is a reputation for serving not-to-be-missed artisan pizzas and cocktails.

“We never wanted to go with the flow,” Best explains. “We wanted to create our own special versions of every drink that could be served with the same speed and at the same price as our other cocktails. It makes us stand out.”


Making the Menu

You can refer to a bartending book for classic cocktail recipes. When it comes to creating signature drinks, there is no instruction manual. Here are three tips for developing a signature drink menu:

  • Look for inspiration. The ingredients in the Rossa Rita — infused tequila, fresh orange juice, fresh lemon and sangria float — were inspired by a SPICY drink Tony Smith, vice president of {33} Restaurant Group, enjoyed at a Mexican restaurant. “I knew I wanted to recreate the flavor with a Rossa twist,” he explains. Look for ways to rethink favorite cocktails or classic recipes into one-of-a-kind drinks.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. At Pizza by Elizabeths, the staff often sat at the bar after hours experimenting with ideas for the cocktail menu. “We all tasted them and gave our feedback; it was a very collaborative process,” owner Betsy LeRoy recalls. Some recipes made the cut, others were poured down the drain.
  • Start local. Seasonal fruits from local farms are often the starting point for the signature cocktail menu at Best Pies. In the spring, homemade lavender honey is added to cocktails while fresh muddled blackberries are a staple in the signature drinks of summer. “We’re a local pizzeria and we like to feature local ingredients on our pizzas and our cocktail menu,” Co-owner Elise Best explains.

Jodi Helmer is a North Carolina-based freelance journalist who covers the intersection between food, beverage and business for a variety of publications.

More