When talking about mixed drinks or mixology in general, well drinks are often relatively overlooked. However, these unassuming cocktails are actually the backbone of any decent bar. They can be both satisfying and tasty when made correctly. While many drinkers prefer more advanced cocktails, if you are looking for an uncomplicated night out without spending too much cash, a good drink can be your best friend.
Well Drinks Demystified
Well drinks are also classified as “rail drinks” because they are often made with the liquor that the bartender keeps on the easy to access rails of the bar. These drinks are simply mixed drinks made up of a combination of one or more liquors combined with a soft drink or mixer splash. One extremely popular example of a well drink is the classic rum and coke.
What’s the Difference?
The main difference between a well drink and any other cocktail is the fact that well beverages are usually made with the cheapest liquor that the bar has. These cheap liquors are kept at around waist height on what is often referred to as a speed rail in bar terminology. The rail is actually physically similar in appearance to a well, which is also where the term “well drinks” gets its name.
Most bars stock a wide variety of well liquors. Your average bar will carry well gin, rum, vodka, tequila, and whiskey on the speed rails. These bars are also stocked with various sodas, sour mixes, triple sec, grenadines, and juices, in addition to garnishes to offer a finishing touch. Typical garnishes include cherries or citrus wedges.
In general, a well drink is ordered in generic terms such as a “vodka soda” or a “rum and coke.” In that case, the bartender will grab whatever well liquor the patron requested and mix with whatever is on hand. However, sometimes a customer might want to order a cocktail and specify particular alcohol to include. When a customer orders a drink that requires a specific liquor, that is referred to as a “call drink.” Some examples of call drinks include a “Jack and coke” or a “Seven and seven.” In that case, the customer expects a particular brand, so using a well liquor is not appropriate.
Lastly, some customers might request a “premium drink.” These are drinks that are made with top-shelf brands of liquor. The top-shelf liquors are the most expensive, and the prices of these cocktails typically reflect that. For example, someone might request a “Goose and soda,” which needs to be made using Grey Goose instead of any generic vodka.
What are the Benefits of a Well Drink?
When you are in the bar business, you usually have a list of best-sellers. These best-sellers tend to be your standby craft beers or fancy cocktails that patrons will want to post on Instagram. But how can you extend your profit margins to something as simple as a well drink?
In most cases, you will incur a food cost percentage somewhere in the neighborhood of about 5% per item. In the case of well drinks, they actually have a higher profit margin than any other menu item, drinks, and dishes included. When the food item’s cost is low, the profit margin increases, which means more money in the bank.
Most restaurants will average a food cost percentage of around 25% up to 40%. On the beverage menu, wine and beer will incur anywhere from 20 to 50% depending on the item in question. That being said, well, drinks produce the highest profit margin out of any menu item. They are cheap to supply and easy to make, so the more well drinks you can sell, the higher your profit will be.
Another reason well drinks are so cost-effective is the relatively low amount of time they require to make. A bartender could spend that same time constructing a fancy $15 cocktail. At the same time, they could make ten vodka cranberries at around $7 a piece. And the best part about mixing well drinks is there is no shaker involved. Just ice and a few pours, and you are ready to go.
If your bar relies on well drinks, bar managers should conduct pour tests often to limit the amount of over-pouring that happens when the bar gets crowded.
There is no reason to not serve simple well drinks at your establishment with all of those benefits.
Get the Most Out of Your Drink List
By now, you are interested in the benefits of cost-effective well drinks. You are excited to add them to your repertoire. But how can you kick them up a notch and make them more enticing to your customers? By following just a few simple tips, you can shift your well drink sales into overdrive and turn a more significant profit.
- Give your well drinks fun, and unique names to attract attention. The world is your oyster when it comes to naming your drinks, so you should have some fun with it and be creative. You could rebrand your tequila sunrise as a “Cancun Cocktail” or call your gin and tonic a “Blossom Soda.” Really, there is no limit to what you can do, and the more creative you are with it, the more reason you have to justify charging a little more for the same product. The overhead will stay the same, but your well cocktails will take on a premium edge.
- Dress up your drinks. Let’s be honest; a dinky drink in a disposable plastic cup is less than memorable for most bar patrons. You can upgrade your simple well drinks by sprucing up their garnishes. Adding fancy garnishes such as mint leaves or fancy fruit slices is a great way to liven up your cocktails. Another great idea is to ditch the plastic cup altogether. You can invest in some fun tiki glasses or Moscow mule mugs. You can even try using “artisan” fresh-squeezed juices to give your mixes an edge. Just be sure that your barbacks are well-staffed if you decide to increase their duties. You wouldn’t want your bar getting in the weeds because that’s when disasters happen.
- Make your happy hour happier. One great way to sell well drinks along with other menu items is to pair them up with complementary dishes that your servers can sell during happy hours. For example, your restaurant might charge $10 for a well drink and $20 for a premium sushi roll. The sushi roll comes with a high-profit margin, but it is seldom ordered because of the high price point. During your happy hour, you could pair both of these menu items together and sell them both for $25. This strategy will benefit you by selling more expensive menu items while also selling a very low overhead drink. And if they like the well drink, they might be inclined to order another one at full price.
- Host a contest. It is always an excellent move for a bar or restaurant to include their patrons and their staff in their menu items. By sourcing the team and the patrons, they establish a connection to the menu and really tend to make it their own.
You could host a contest in which staff and customers could submit their idea for a drink concoction that only used the basic well drink ingredients. The winning selection would be featured on your menu as well as your social media accounts, and the customer or employee could receive a prize. Getting the most from your well drinks will not only allow you to maximize profit, but it will also lower overhead in the long run.
Using well drinks in unconventional ways is an excellent opportunity to maximize profits. It will benefit both patrons and owners alike.
Well drinks are often looked down upon in the bar community for their low price and the use of the cheapest liquors at the bar. But well drinks can be beneficial to both customers and bar owners alike. Customers don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to enjoy a simple cocktail, and bar owners and increase their profits while keeping customers happy. When customers are satisfied and have their drinks, they will want to come back for more.
Well drinks are easy to make and save a lot of time. When the bar is busy, this means that customers can get their drinks quickly, and the bar can continue to operate smoothly. Additionally, well drinks can be made to taste good. Just because they use the cheapest liquor on the bar does not always mean that they lack in taste. Many bars choose to upgrade their well drinks with artisanal toppings or garnishes and a variety of mixers. All in all, a well drink is a classic drink and a bar staple. If you are looking to save time and money, whether you are a bar owner or a customer, the lowly well drink is the way to go.