Avoiding the Mixology Mix-up: What’s in that drink?

If you’ve been a bartender or a server for an extended period of time, you probably know the ingredients to classic cocktails: Martini, Margarita, Mojito, Manhattan. But with the upsurge in “signature spirits” and the mixology craze, drink orders can easily pose confusion for new and seasoned restaurant professionals alike.

How do you navigate the difficult drink order? Even if you don’t know the exact makeup of the drink a patron has requested, there are four key components to almost every type of cocktail that can clue you in, and therefore, help you explain to the bartender exactly what the guest wants.

Alcohol. Listen in for the type and/or brand of alcohol the guest has requested. For instance, was the order for a Gin Martini? Or for a Grey Goose Martini? Originally, Martinis were created with Gin, but over time, people have requested Vodka as a replacement. Usually, when a specific brand is preferred over another, the patron will mention it within the order. If a customer requests a “Martini,” with no additional qualifiers, it is important to clarify the type of alcohol and whether or not a particular brand or category (house, top shelf, etc.) is preferred, as it can affect both the price of the cocktail and overall customer satisfaction.

Method. Method means two things: the way a cocktail is mixed and its resulting texture. A Gin Martini can be ordered dry, sweet, dirty or even extra dry. The base ingredients are still Gin and Vermouth, stirred with ice, but depending on the method requested, the resulting drinks can be quite different. A cocktail can also be ordered “Sour,” in which case the bartender will add the juice of half a lemon and half a teaspoon of powdered sugar. These details are an important part of the drink “recipe” for any bartender.

Serving. Serving involves the mixing and style of the drink. Shaken? Stirred? The mixing method (shaken, bruised, stirred) affects the temperature and amount of ice that melts into a drink. If a customer does not wish for the cocktail to be diluted, he or she may order it stirred, rather than shaken. Neat? Tall? The style of the drink ordered informs the type of glass the cocktail will be served in, the amount of ice used and the texture. For instance, a Margarita could be ordered “On the Rocks,” which means in a Rock glass filled with ice, or “Frozen,” where the alcohol is blended with ice. Knowing the different ways a drink can be served and quickly recognizing these types of requests from customers can help you decipher complex-sounding drink lingo.

Garnish. Not all cocktails include garnishes, but a number of them do, so it’s key to know which ones will complement the taste of a drink. At some restaurants, it’s the server’s responsibility to garnish, and the name of
the drink requested can tell you what type of garnish is expected. If a Martini Gimlet is ordered, the traditional olive garnish is replaced with pearl onions. Also note the proper placement of the garnish: inside the drink, on top of the drink, or split on the rim of the glass.

Picking up on verbal cues within customers’ drink requests can be helpful in conveying the order to the bartender and ensuring that drinks are prepared correctly. When in doubt, do not hesitate to clarify the order with the guest, especially when you know the cocktail can be prepared a number of different ways with the same base ingredients. If the name of the drink ordered is not something you recognize, and no specifics are given, check with your bartender to see if he or she is familiar with it. If not, ask the customer politely for the ingredients or preparation specifics so that the drink served is exactly what was expected. Brush up on these four key components, Alcohol, Method, Serving and Garnish, so you know what to do the next time you encounter that Vodka Martini Gimlet, shaken, not stirred.