There’s something about this time of year that brings out our indulgent side. It starts with that extra slice of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, and then it’s a slippery slope all the way through to the inevitable reckoning on January 1 and all the various proclamations of austere diets that only last for roughly two weeks.
In any case, knowing that the holiday season is synonymous with decadence means that you should adjust your F&B offerings to better appease this primed audience, all in the pursuit of greater guest satisfaction and hopefully a few more dollars in your wallet. As this is a wine-focused column, I’ll focus on the beverage side of things, but also keep in mind that food has an equal role to play.
As a start, what is mulled wine? Individual recipes vary, but the essential ingredients include red wine, sugar, orange slices, cinnamon and cloves, all stirred together in a simmering pot of deliciousness. The key behind mulled wine’s popularity, however, rests not only with its delightful and well-themed flavor but also with its ability to activate other senses in the form of a hot drink (touch) and soothing aromas (smell). Thus, to maximize a consumer’s satisfaction with this beverage, your recipe should include the correct proportion of aromatic compounds—so as to titillate but not overpower the nose—and it should be served in a mug or glass that complements the touch factor.
Alas, though, it wouldn’t be the holiday season without a myriad of other sugary alcoholic drinks, first and foremost of which are eggnog and hot buttered rum. Unless you’re planning to buy the store-bought premade eggnog, the real thing isn’t that hard to whip up from scratch from egg yolks, milk, cream, sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. From there, this love-or-hate-it holiday mixture goes best with rum, bourbon or brandy. As its name implies for the latter, butter and rum also go great together once you throw in some citrus zest, honey and spices. My advice for both of these winter classics is to treat them as the base concoction, and then add your own personal touch either in the realm of additive indulgences like whipped cream and caramel swirls or unorthodox combinations like eggnog with Fireball Whiskey or a hot buttered rum affogato.
Next on the savory side are your Irish coffees, alcoholic hot chocolates, White Russians and everything else with Bailey’s, crème de cacao or a coffee liqueur such as Kahlua. Much like my suggestion for eggnog and hot buttered rum, start with a tried-and-true recipe as the foundation before applying your own unique flare to offer diners something a tad different. Along these lines, three excellent flavor infusions within the given theme for your consideration are gingerbread, candy cane and peppermint (this last one, lucky for you, already comes in schnapps form).
Moving away from dairy-based brews, think in terms of colors, specifically bright green and scarlet red. The latter is very easy to play with as you can thematically transform a martini, mojito, margarita, mimosa or Moscow Mule (why do all the best cocktails start with the letter M?) into a lucent rouge delectation by introducing a respectable dollop of cranberry, raspberry or pomegranate liqueur. Green is a rarer but not impossible color to reach, especially when you are working with crème de menthe, chartreuse or anything that’s green apple flavored. And when all else fails, a drop of food coloring can solve any concerns.
My point throughout all these brief mentions is to get you thinking about what you can do today to give your restaurant that extra bit of vitality for the holidays. There’s still time to amplify your F&B spirit with a limited selection of themed drink specials. Make it a fun exercise by getting your team together for a few hours to nail down a few options that aren’t a stretch of inventory to create. And any effort you put in now can be revived and expanded upon next year.