Updated: May 18
Batching drinks have been around for a while now, particularly in high volume restaurants and bars, festivals, events, etc. And why not? It provides a more consistent product and is faster to execute during service. In the beginning there was some push-back against batching as it took away from the “show” behind the bar, customers may not see the alcohol brand being poured into the drink plus it required more prep labor. But batching today provides a lot more value more than ever before and could be the future for some bars and restaurants to even survive. Some cocktail bars are even exclusively batching and are doing away with bar tools, like cocktail shakers altogether, opting for draft and batched cocktails only.
As we are moving into a post-Covid world with labor shortages, out of stock issues, restaurants and hotels seeking more cost saving measures, new and permanent safety measures, this approach to batching is one to consider moving forward.
What is Batching?
Just so we’re speaking the same language … batching is the process of pre-measuring all of the ingredients in a drink -- the syrup, juice, puree, alcohol, etc. And, in service, pouring the batched contents either right into the glass of ice or briefly shaken or stirred. Or, for draft systems, batching the contents right into a keg. It is the opposite of making cocktails á la minute, rather a simpler 2 to 3-step process at the point of execution.
There are some batching methodologies that vary and are debated – should you batch with or without the alcohol? Should you pre-dilute it by adding the water? Should you only batch portions of the drink that is used in other drinks? All of these exist in some form or another; there is no right or wrong, it just depends on everything from the capacity at your restaurant or bar, the experience of bartender staff, labor considerations, and the overall bar / restaurant vibe. But, if you are considering making cost efficiencies and want to develop systems that can impact the bottom line, you may want to consider a batching program that is the right fit.
The “whole” drink-batching technique (with the water added for dilution) was introduced about 5 years ago at the award-winning craft cocktail bar, White Lyan in London. Because water is added and the batch is chilled, there is no need for shaking, stirring or straining, totally eliminating the need for those bar tools. All the craft cocktails were batched and bottled so the person behind the bar simply pulled a “Daiquiri” out of the cooler and poured it right into the cocktail glass. And then added a simple garnish. The rationale being that they wanted to give more time interacting with the guest and more opportunities
for them to try multiple drinks. This bar closed a couple of years ago, but not before passing along their knowledge to many other mixologists who have taken that concept to the US.
Cocktails on Draft are also another form of batched cocktails that have taken root and continue to expand. But many were doing draft cocktails as a novelty, not necessarily as a time-saving measure for top-selling drinks. (I don’t recommend putting a cocktail on draft unless it moves.) But having a top selling drink on draft is well worth the effort and investment in the equipment.
If you are considering a batching program or want to weigh the pros and con’s, I’ve outlined them below from a consultant’s perspective.
Because all the ingredients are pre-measured out in advance, a customer is going to get that exact same drink from whomever serves it at any point in the night. Nothing is left to chance as the drink will be a perfectly balanced one, every time, especially if one is batching the entire drink with the alcohol and added water for dilution.
Instead of a drink or cocktail taking 5-10 minutes to make, the drink can be made within seconds (literally) with just a pour of a bottle. Faster service can mean happier customers and time for a second or third round which means more profits.
Batching can dramatically reduce labor costs. Instead of having 2-3 bartenders behind the bar, this could mean 1-2 bartenders could handle a busy night as the drinks can be served faster.
Less Waste & Longer Shelf Life
Because everything is pre-measured in advance, it leaves less room for bartender mistakes. And, if batching with alcohol (which serves as a preservative), the batch can last for many days (even weeks) which can also positively affect the bottom line.
Also, the life of fresh juices are extended with the addition of ingredients like sugar syrups and alcohol.
Fewer Touch Points
As the industry has been implementing new safety measures behind the bar, batching is also a method that has fewer touch points during execution. Many guests may be taking more notice in what is going into their drinks and how it’s being touched.
Lower Entry Level for Bartenders
For those restaurants and bars that require an experienced bartender may have felt the sting of the current labor shortage, trying to find experienced bartenders and mixologists. A batching program can allow a more inexperienced person to execute the drinks and allow you to focus on finding bartenders that are more entry level and with a high-level of hospitality and customer engagement, like baristas or cashiers.
Synergies with "To-Go" Cocktails
With more states allowing permanent to-go cocktails, this is a natural synergy. If you are already doing to-go cocktails, batching would be a natural extension for the bar. Or, vice versa, if you want to implement a batching program, this is one way to kill two birds with one stone. Any cocktail that is a batched can also be bottled.
Prep Person vs Bartender
Most bars and restaurants that do batch hire someone specifically for back of house prep. This person does not need to know 100 cocktail recipes, nor be an engaging person obsessive with hospitality. They just need to be detail-oriented and professional which can open the door to more entry-level personnel.
Less “Show” at the Bar
With some batching methodologies, it means simply pouring right out of the batching container into a glass of ice with no shaking or stirring. Any special techniques that are required to add chill and dilution may not be needed. This is one of the major negatives of having a batching program is missing the “show” … but the positives may outweigh this depending on the situation.
With that being said, there are varying degrees of batching and "hybrid" batching programs can be implemented where there is still the "show" of shaking or stirring, but the number of steps is minimized.
Premium Perception may be gone
Some batching methodologies include the alcohol in the batch which means the guest will not see the actual alcohol brand being poured from the bottle into their drink. But, this may really only be relevant for guests sitting at the actual bar, not customers sitting at cocktail tables or in a dining room.
More Prep Time
While there is less labor at the bar in making the drinks, it does require more labor on the back end for the prep time. Depending on how complex the drinks are, the prep time can increase as much as 1-2 hours more than the normal prep time. But, with big enough batches, the prep time may only be 1 day / week (i.e., Sundays or Mondays)
More investment in batching containers
This is an investment, but not a very big one. Maybe be an investment of $100-$200 on batching bottles and containers. There is a bigger investment in draft cocktails and recommended for high volume.
More Refrigeration Space
This actually may be the most significant negative for some. Refrigeration space. When batching and serving, the drink needs to be cold which means it needs to be refrigerated. Granted, you won't need space for all the juices and mixers, but you will definitely need space for your batched bottles. It needs to be kept cold at the bar AND right after batching. If you can carve out some space in a walk-in cooler to keep them, great. If you're a tiny restaurant bar, it might be worth obtaining an extra refrigerator to hold your batched drinks and bottles.
So, what is right for your hotel, restaurant or bar? Well, it’s up to you and I would say “it depends.” I’ve always embraced elements of batching in many of the programs I’ve developed over the years, but I strongly believe it should be carefully considered for a wider range of accounts for the reasons outlined above.
Many craft mixologists have and are continuing to embrace this concept and focusing instead of implementing some serious craft techniques during prep such as clarification, centrifuging, complex infusions and recipes so at the bar, the bartender can focus on an elegant garnish with a killer presentation and on guest engagement.
We can definitely help think through the best strategies in coming up with a batching beverage program that is best suited for your bar.