Keys to writing a successful bar menu

It has been well established that the design and layout of a menu can affect guests’ choices, and with a bit of planning, your menu can increase turnover without any change in food and beverage costs.

This becomes especially relevant in the hotel and resort sector, where table service is de rigueur and most guests never actually make it to the bar. As the menu is often the only interaction your guests will have when choosing their libation, it is an important tool in getting across the information you want them to have.

The following are a few things you should consider to make the most of your bar menu.


Don’t fall into the trap of organizing your cocktails by their base spirit. Nothing betrays a lack of imagination like a list of “Vodka Cocktails,” “Rum Cocktails,” “Gin Cocktails,” et cetera.

If you are an all-day outlet, consider structuring your menu towards the time of day, with healthy juices at the beginning and digestif cocktails at the end. If you are a concept bar, think about style, flavor, alcohol content, color or even number of ingredients.

Get creative with your products as well as cocktails; I know a bartender who arranges his bourbons by wheat content. This might be a touch extreme when many beverage menus struggle to split American whiskies from Scotch, but have a close look at your products and find a niche that makes you stand out from your competitors.


Be wary when organizing your products by price. Yes, it can encourage your guests up the page towards aspirational brands and, if they are the type that desire to make a statement with their purchases, this could suit your venue very well. However, if you have a wide range of clients from mixed income backgrounds, you could unwittingly embarrass your guests or pressure them into spending more than they had planned, which will make them uncomfortable and unlikely to return.


The key here is not to write too little or too much. Bear in mind that most of your guests will be with company, and they won’t want to wade through reams of information to discover a desirable drink. Dom Pierre Pérignon’s oft repeated — if unsubstantiated — proclamation that he was “tasting stars” might be a nice introduction to the Champagne cocktail section, but please don’t go on to bore us with how many bubbles there are in an average bottle!

One of the reasons Twitter is so successful is that, in an age of instant gratification and ever shortening attention spans, it limits users to 140 characters. While I don’t suggest you monitor text to that degree, it is certainly a figure worth keeping in mind.


Be aware of your clientele mix and direct what you write towards them. In a traditional 5-star lobby bar you should remain strictly formal; however, if your outlet is aimed at a younger market, the text can be a little more descriptive or risqué. Event menus such as Valentine’s Day or private parties allow you to get really creative.

If you do decide to throw some adjectives around, be accurate in your descriptions and don’t overdo it. I once read a menu where a two-ingredient drink was described as a “fantastically simple symphony.” The cocktail was simple, certainly, but fantastically simple? And surely a symphony is complex by its very nature?


Aristotle considered order, symmetry and limitation to be the greatest forms of beauty. I very much doubt he had beverage menus in mind, but I do believe that applying these ideals can be very beneficial.

If your menus open like a book, try to format the text so the pages line up as a mirror image. Don’t allow concepts or product families to straddle pages; keep the same number of cocktails on corresponding pages and the same number of lines in each description.

Before you print, spend some time proofing the document. Check that font size and style is consistent and especially that spelling is correct. Your menus represent your outlet; mistakes will have a detrimental effect on your guests’ opinion of it.


Once you have developed your menu as a sales tool, train your staff how to use it! Opening the menu at a certain page will influence which products the guest sees first. Train the staff to consider the time of day and to anticipate the needs of the guest they are serving.

Most importantly, make sure employees understand the menu concept so they can guide the guest through your offering and make recommendations, enhancing your guests’ enjoyment and, ultimately, your bottom line.



Andrew Mullins is operations director at Fling International, a Stamford, United Kingdom-based firm dedicated to the improvement of bartending, bar operation, hospitality training and guest experience.