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Don't Knock A Classic: Tap Into The Hidden Power of Your Well Drinks List

Posted by Rebekah Gallacher on 10/4/18 5:00 PM in Menu Management

18 minute read Print

well drinks list

The well drink is a bartender’s workhorse: it's quick, reliable, and relatively profitable. It’s also  the most overlooked part of any bar program. 

Though it's often an after-thought for most bars, your well liquor is worth your time and attention.

We're dealing with an educated drinking public these days: with the advent of the craft cocktail movement, people are paying more attention to the liquor industry and are often very knowledgeable about spirit quality, price, history, and creation.

That interest and consumer expertise trickles down to the well. It’s less acceptable to have a well comprised of bottom-of-the-barrel booze; to today's consumer, your well is now representative of the rest of the bar program.

Here’s a refresher on why your well drinks list matters, how to show it some love, and how to build a profitable well you can be  proud of.

What Is A Well Drink?

A well drink – sometimes known as a house drink – is a basic mixed drink that incorporates lower-tier liquors whose brand is not specified by the patron—e.g., a vodka soda or a rum and coke; a call drink is one in which the customer specifies the brand of liquor they would like used in their drink like, Jameson and ginger or Hendricks and tonic.

Well drinks get their name from the workspace right in front of a bartender—known as the “well” or “speed rail”—which houses their most-used products. The liquors in the well are the starter tier booze and often considered the “house brands.”

A bartender's well typically includes:

  • Vodka
  • Rum
  • Whiskey
  • Gin
  • Tequila
  • Common liqueurs, like Triple Sec or Blue Curacao.
  • Sour mix

New-school additions to the well that have become more popular in recent years are: 

  • Mezcal
  • Bitters
  • Vermouth

Benefits of Having A Well Drinks List

Well drinks may not show off the prowess of your mixologists, but they’re a hardworking part of your arsenal and have undeniable benefits.

    • They’re quick to make: You can turn out a well drink faster than your guest can say “Cape Codder.”
    • They’re profitable for the bar: Given the effort it takes to make them, these drinks are a cost-effective part of your bar program.
    • They offer an affordable option for your guests: Not every night is a top-shelf night, and providing an array of options that make your guests feel comfortable and well taken care of is part of hospitality.

How to Stock Your Well

More than ever before, your “house” booze represents your brand and the ethos of your bar program. If you’re thinking of giving your well a second look, there are a few things you can do to ensure you’re making the right choices for your bar program.

For your well liquor, consider:

  • Your brand: Think about how upscale or casual your establishment is and whether there is a particular theme you want to be consistent with.
  • Your patrons: Consider the demographics of your clientele and what they expect, what they’d be satisfied with, and what they’d pay for. You can also consult data on the most popular liquor brands to see if they align with your brand and patrons’ preferences.
  • The local scene: What’s particularly popular in your area? You may want to incorporate this into your well brands. It may also be a good idea to use local distillers in your well—pricing may be more advantageous because of proximity.
  • Seasonality: You may want to make changes to your well liquor as the seasons change, so keep this in mind as you make purchasing decisions.
  • Price vs. quality: Of course, price and quality are significant considerations for your well liquors. The best well liquor walks the line between affordable and broadly applicable.

Here’s some great intel on what bartenders have had in their wells for the last few years.

Pro Tip: 

Pay attention to the changing prices of your well liquor. If you’re watching for pricing fluctuations, you can make the business decision to change brands so it’s more economical for your program.

How to Sell The Well

Everyone loves a deal, so making your well drinks a totally viable options for guests—and moreover, a delightful experience—is good for business.

The well can work as hard as you do, but only if you know how to sell it properly.

To sell your well, think about:

  • Garnishes: Use fruit, peels, and herbs to liven up your well drinks. This can be especially economical if you’re growing your own.
  • Fresh juice: Fresh and natural juice will up the ante on your well drinks.
  • Proper storage of ingredients: Keeping mixers cold and fruit or veg garnish as fresh as possible is essential.
  • Glassware: As opposed to pouring well drinks in standard pint glasses, consider using your speciality glassware.

Most Popular Well Drinks

Here are ten of the most popular well drinks and how to make them:

Vodka Based Well Drinks

 

Vodka soda


Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Vodka
  • Soda Water
  • Garnish: Lime or Lemon Wedge  [Ask Guest's Preference]

Instructions

  • Pour vodka into a glass with ice.
  • Fill with soda water.

Vodka Tonic


Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Vodka
  • Tonic Water
  • Garnish: Lime or Lemon Wedge [Ask Guest's Preference]

Instructions

  • Pour vodka into a glass with ice.
  • Fill with soda water.
  • Garnish and serve.

Screwdriver


Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Vodka
  • Orange Juice
  • Garnish: Cherry Garnish

Instructions

  • Pour vodka into a glass with ice 
  • Fill glass with orange juice.
  • Add garnish and serve.

Cape Codder
[Vodka Cran, to Non-New Englanders]

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Vodka
  • Cranberry Juice
  • Garnish: Lime Wedge

Instructions

  • Pour vodka into a glass with ice.
  • Fill glass with cranberry juice.
  • Add garnish and serve. 

Pro Tip: A Cape Codder and a Cosmopolitan are fraternal twins in the cocktail category. What sets them apart is that a Cape Codder [Vodka Cranberry] has a higher cranberry juice to vodka ratio, whereas a Cosmopolitan has a higher vodka to cranberry juice ratio (just a splash).

Madras

 

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Vodka
  • Cranberry Juice
  • Orange Juice
  • No Garnish

Instructions

  • Pour vodka into a glass with ice.
  • Fill glass with equal parts cranberry juice and orange juice.
  • Mix and serve.

 

Gin-Based Well Drinks

Gin And Tonic  [G and T]

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Gin
  • Tonic Water
  • Garnish: Lime Wedge

Instructions

  • Pour gin into a glass with ice.
  • Fill glass with tonic water. 
  • Add garnish and serve.

Whiskey-Based Well Drinks

Whiskey Ginger 

 

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. whiskey
  • Ginger-ale
  • Garnish: Lime wedge

Instructions

  • Pour whiskey and ginger-ale into glass with ice
  • Add garnish and serve.

Whiskey Sour

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Whiskey
  • Sour Mix
  • Garnish: Cherry and Orange Slice

Instructions

  • Pour whiskey into a cocktail glass with ice.
  • Add sweet & sour mix. 
  • Garnish and serve.

 

 Rum-Based Well Drinks

Rum And Coke

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Rum [White or Dark]
  • Cola
  • Garnish: Lime Wedge (Optional)

Instructions

  • Pour rum into a glass with ice.
  • Fill it with cola. 
  • Add garnish and serve.

 

Cuba Libre

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Rum [White]
  • Cola
  • Garnish: Lime Wedge (Optional)

Instructions

  • Pour rum into a glass with ice.
  • Fill it with cola. 
  • Add garnish and serve.

Tequila-Based Well Drinks

Tequila Sunrise

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Tequila
  • Orange Juice
  • Splash of Grenadine
  • Garnish: Cherry

Instructions

  • Pour the tequila into a glass with ice.
  • Fill glass with orange juice and add the splash of grenadine.
  • Add garnish and serve.

Paloma

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Tequila
  • Lemon/Lime Soda
  • Garnish: Lime Wedge

Instructions

  • Pour the tequila into a glass with ice.
  • Fill glass with lemon/lime soda.
  • Add garnish and serve.

 

Miscellaneous Well Drinks

Long Island Ice Tea

Ingredients

  • .5 oz. Vodka
  • .5 oz.Gin
  • .5 oz. Rum
  • .5 oz. Tequila
  • Triple Sec
  • Cola
  • Garnish: Lime Wedge

Instructions

  • Combine the vodka, gin, rum, and tequila in a glass with ice.
  • Add a splash of Triple Sec
  • Fill glass with cola.
  • Mix,  add garnish, and serve. 

How to Price Your Well Drinks List for Profitability

Your well drinks list is a part of your bar menu; as such, you should be pricing it appropriately in order to drive profit. Forgetting about your well drinks, like many bars do, means you're forgetting about a viable opportunity to increase revenue. Big mistake.  

When pricing out your well drinks list, remember to include the cost of every ingredient, including garnishes. It’s a good idea to benchmark the price of your drinks against other establishments in the area, and consider how much you should charge in context.

Price ($) = Cost of Ingredients ($$) / Target Pour Cost (%)

To price your well drinks:

  • Calculate the cost of each ingredient (i.e., the cost of 2 ounces of vodka, 4 ounces of orange juice)
  • Choose a pour cost percentage (or profit margin) to target—the industry standard for liquor drinks is 15%
  • Divide the cost of your ingredients by the target pour cost, which gives you your drink price

A great way to do this easily is to use a drink price tool, which will do all the math for you.

Pro Tip: 

According to BevSpot data, one of the most popular and most profitable well drinks is the Tom Collins, which has a 12% pour cost on average. The daiquiri comes in second with an average 13% pour cost. Keep in mind, the industry gold standard for cocktail pour costs is 15%.

All Is Well In The Well

The ante is up on just about every aspect of a bar program—including well drinks—and that’s a good thing.

The public respects the craft of the bartender more than it ever has, and your guest will appreciate the extra attention to  detail in your restaurant's well drinks list.

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Written by: Rebekah Gallacher

Rebekah is a content strategist by day, with more than 10 years' experience in digital content, and a voracious foodie by night, with more years' experience than she cares to admit eating all of the things. Rebekah fell in love with the restaurant industry when she moved to Boston to attend Northeastern University. She managed to turn that passion into a career with BevSpot, the only all-in-one food and beverage inventory and ordering solution, where she is a Senior Marketing Manager. She would very happily discuss the Oxford comma over natural wine and pizza.


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