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Serving Cocktails in Bars, Hotels and Restaurants

customers holding cocktails

Cocktails are enjoyed all over the globe. In order for you to present yourself in a professional manner, you must have a thorough knowledge of the ingredients found in cocktails and the way in which they are served and presented.


Some of the questions that customers might ask you could include:

  • What is the alcohol content of various cocktails?
  • Does a certain cocktail contain rum, brandy etc?
  • Are any non-alcoholic cocktails served?
  • How would you describe the taste of a certain cocktail?


Also, if a customer asks you to recommend a cocktail for them, you must spend time to try and establish their taste preferences. It is also useful if you know the purpose of the cocktail. For example, is it a pre-dinner cocktail, an after-dinner cocktail or a long drink cocktail? Once you have established this information, you are in a better position to make your recommendation.


The three categories of cocktails?

Cocktails fall into 2 broad categories:

  1. Pre-dinner cocktails – usually acidic or dry, e.g. Dry Martini, Gin and Tonic
  2. After dinner cocktails – usually richer, sweeter and creamier, e.g. Brandy Alexander
  3. Long drink cocktails – usually contain fruit juice, soft drink or milk e.g. Sec on the Beach, Strawberry Daiquiri

It is essential that you know the exact ingredients and the ratio of alcohol to other beverages for each cocktail served at your workplace. This knowledge will help you provide the customers with accurate information.


Promoting cocktails

Sometimes when a customer approaches the bar, they will already know what drink they wish to order. However, on other occasions the customer is not sure and will ask your advice. This is your chance to promote the sale of cocktails including any special or promotional offers that the establishment may have.


It is useful if you have a photo or display card to help describe the cocktail to the customer.


Customers will often order cocktails that they perceive to be good value. You should try to guide them towards a speciality drink or creative cocktail that gives them good value for money.


When promoting cocktails to customers, remember that they will want to know:

  • the price of the drink
  • the ingredients used to make the drink
  • the relative strength of the alcohol contained in the drink.

If a customer requests a cocktail that is not on your establishment’s list, it may still be possible for you to prepare that cocktail if you have the required ingredients and a reliable cocktail recipe book.


The main ingredients found in a cocktail bar should include:



Soft drink/juices






White rum

Dark rum

Dry vermouth

Sweet vermouth


Angostura bitters

Orange bitters



Cherry brandy

Crème de Cacao

Crème de Menthe




Grand Marnier

Tia maria

Soda water

Ginger ale



Bitter lemon

Tonic water

Mineral water

Orange juice

Lemon juice

Lime juice

Pineapple juice

Tomato juice



Identifying customer needs

In order to identify customer requirements correctly, it is important that you listen carefully to the customer’s order. Repeat the order back to them to check that you have heard correctly. If you are not exactly sure what it is that the customer requires, don’t be too embarrassed to ask them for further information. It is better to clarify the order at this stage, rather than mix the wrong cocktail and waste money and your customer’s time.


Each person ordering a cocktail will have different tastes so it is important to find out individual preferences. You may need to ask questions like the following:

  • Would you like ice with your drink?
  • Would you like me to add the mixers or would you prefer to add them yourself?


You must serve the type of cocktail exactly as requested by the customer. Also, if a customer asks for a particular brand of spirit to be used in their cocktail, you must prepare the drink using that brand. If that brand is not available, you must offer the customer an alternative brand before you prepare the cocktail.


Also, if the customer requests that a particular type of garnish not be used e.g. salt then you must make sure that requirement is met. If you are not the person preparing the drink, make sure that the request is passed onto the bar staff and double check the order before it is given to the customer.


Preparing and serving cocktails

Whenever you are preparing and serving cocktails, you must make sure that they meet the requirements of your organisation.

There are several different methods used to prepare cocktails. They include:


  1. Place ice and ingredients into electric blender.
  2. Blend until desired consistency is achieved.
  3. Pour un-strained contents into appropriate glass, e.g. cocktail glass, brandy balloon.
  4. Garnish.

Shake and strain

  1. Two-thirds fill cocktail shaker.
  2. Top with ice and required ingredients.
  3. Cover with shaker top.
  4. Shake with short sharp movements above your shoulder.
  5. Strain into appropriate glass, e.g. cocktail glass.
  6. Garnish.

Stir and strain

  1. Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full with ice.
  2. Add required ingredients.
  3. Stir until the liquor is chilled.
  4. Strain into the appropriate glass e.g. martini glass.
  5. Garnish.


  1. Pour required ingredients into an appropriate serving glass, usually over ice.


Spirit based cocktails

A spirit is a fermented alcoholic beverage that has been distilled to separate the alcohol from the water. Many spirits are made from grains such as rye, barley or corn. Others are produced from grapes, e.g. brandy

The main spirit groups are:

  • Whiskies/Bourbons e.g. Jim Beam, Bells,
  • Gin e.g. Gordons, Pink Gin
  • Vodka e.g. Smirnoff
  • Brandy e.g. Klipdrift
  • Rum e.g. Captain Morgan, Malibu
  • Vermouth e.g. Martini, Cinzano


A spirit-based cocktail refers to any cocktail that uses a spirit for the base.

cocktail shaker             blender

Non-alcoholic cocktails

Recently there has been an increase in demand for non-alcoholic cocktails. They can be made using the blend, shake, stir or build method of making cocktails.

These cocktails are usually served over ice in a long glass with a straw and the appropriate garnish.

Some of the ingredients suitable for non-alcoholic cocktails include:

  • fruit juices – pineapple, orange, lemon, lime and tomato
  • coconut cream
  • ice
  • cola
  • ice-cream
  • cream






In order to meet Liquor Licensing laws, measures of alcohol must be precise.  Illegal measures can result in fines. The system used to measure spirits and liqueurs, i.e. glass or measure, must be approved by the Government to ensure that the quantity is accurate.


There are several reasons for this:

  1. To stop establishments serving less than the amount designated.
  2. To enable staff and customers to have an accurate guide to the amount of alcohol that has been consumed.


Standard measures are used to determine the cost of the drink and the profit that can be made from it.


Using correct equipment and accompaniments to serve cocktails

Your establishment may have specifications for the way in which cocktails are to be garnished. This may depend on the image being presented and the price being charged for the cocktail. However, there are some recipes that have traditional garnishes, e.g. the olive or twist of lemon in a martini.

Most recipes will state the appropriate garnish. Straws are usually served with cocktails.

The range of garnishes that may be used to finish a cocktail includes:

  • lemon
  • orange
  • fruit
  • ice
  • sugar
  • salt.

Tips for successful cocktail mixing

  • Keep slices of orange, lemon or lime fresh by covering with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and storing in the refrigerator.
  • When cutting lemon, orange or lime peel, never include the white membrane of the rind. Shave off only the coloured surface and cut into desired shape.
  • Cherry or peel is always added to the cocktail after it has been shaken or mixed.
  • Where a twist of orange or lemon peel is stated, the oil of the peel should be squeezed on top of the cocktail and the peel is then dropped in the drink unless otherwise requested.
  • Always remember that bad mixing and bad presentation will ruin any cocktail no matter how good the recipe or ingredients.


Disposables used in cocktail service

The range of disposables required will vary between establishments. Check with your supervisor so that you are able to stock the correct quantity of disposable items. Decorative novelties such as parasols, plastic animals and swizzle sticks are used to make the drinks more visually appealing and hopefully increase sales. All disposables must be thrown away after they have been used once. The following is a range of disposable items:

  • coasters
  • swizzle sticks
  • decorative novelties
  • straws
  • cocktail napkins

Tips for preparing and serving cocktails

  • When preparing a table of drinks that includes cocktails – mix the cocktails last so they are still well presented when the customer receives them.
  • Always return stock and equipment to the correct storage area so that you and your team members can find things with a minimum of fuss.
  • Prepare garnishes before service and keep them covered and refrigerated if necessary. This will stop them drying out.
  • Never fill glasses right to the rim – spills are costly due to the waste and the time spent cleaning up the mess.
  • Alcohol is expensive – so take care when working with it to avoid breakages and spilling.
  • Remain calm when handling difficult customers or during a busy service period.
  • Be aware of what other team members are doing around you. Wherever possible help each other.

Never stand around and take part in idle chatter with other team members. This looks unprofessional to your guests. There’s always something you can do.



These are guidelines and you will find them in most hospitality establishments. However, different companies have different set of rules and policies. Be sure to check with your company.


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Sam Hospitality is the first-choice training provider for resorts, hotels, lodges and restaurants throughout Africa. Training is conducted in-house/ onsite and tailored to each establishment’s needs. For bookings, email training@hospitalitycourses.co.za