beyond the lime wedge

Ever order a cocktail at the bar and feel like they just served you a drink AND meal? The evolution of garnishes has come a long way, and as a treat, today we’ve got a guest writer joining in to discuss the topic. Dayton Uttinger has been bartending since before it was “legal” for her to do so and today provides us the bartenders perspective on the trend of complicated garnishes…

Beyond The Lime Wedge

Five different orders in my head, I balance your tables’ three drinks in one palm while sliding a few menus under my arm. You’re watching, anticipating the relief of alcohol after a horrid work week, as I stop suddenly, halfway to your table. Damn it. I roll my eyes and retreat back to the bar, unpacking everything to add the lime wedge to your gin and tonic.

This happens multiple times a month, but I’ll always turn around because I realize how vital garnishes are to a drink. Often times, they are one of the only consistent parts of a drink; there are several mojito recipes, but all of them call for a lime garnish. The citrus flavor is vital for the classic mojito, potentially even more so than the liquor used.

However, though garnishes are consistent by and large, an interesting development is evolving in the mixology world. Increasingly complicated garnishes are gaining traction. Everything from entire fried chickens to moving boats are now included with your basic cocktails. While detaching a chicken leg from your Bloody Mary can make for an interesting Sunday brunch, elaborate garnishes have a few implications throughout the industry that you should pay attention to.

More Prep

Let’s start with the more obvious. If your garnish is outlandishly large or delicate, than it will take your bartender longer to make it. He’s not just backtracking to place a lime on the rim of your glass either. Especially if the bar is offering some degree of customization (maybe you only want half a chicken), this will take some time. Be prepared to wait a little bit, but this should not translate to a lower tip. If anything, your bartender is putting more effort into your drink, so tip accordingly.

However, before you even order, complicated garnishes will require more preparation and coordination with the kitchen. Chefs will be responsible for stocking cooked garnishes. This means they’ll either have to make it specifically for the front of house, or you’ll be getting leftovers from last week.

Tools to Judge

Already, you can tell the difference between a bar that cuts their fruit daily and one that uses week-old lemons rejected by the kitchen. With more garnish options than ever before, the average customer will have a lot more material to judge the quality of the bar. They’ll be able to access quantity, freshness of the ingredients, and how well it complements the drink.

Furthermore, you’ll get a better idea of your bartender. Does he roll his eyes when you order it? Does she neglect to inform you how much your specialty garnish costs? Pay attention to your bartender’s behavior here. Of course elaborate garnishes are a pain, and you can bet that we’ll complain about it later. In front of you, though, there should never be any outward sign that it’s a problem.

Tastier Drinks

While everyone has their own preferences, presentationhas a lot to with how drinks taste. Intricate garnishes present the customer with more visual and scent cues. More information can translate into a better expectation of the flavor profile, and therefore an enhanced taste. Especially with increasing competition as bars strive for a unique enough drink to collect social media followers, bartenders will have to be more methodical than ever with their recipes.

Whether this trend is here to stay is another matter. If executed correctly, customers might grow to expect a greater range of garnishes as standard. As is, only higher end or niche bars regularly carry such elaborate finishings, but it is certainly not exclusive. More and more guests are currently demanding kooky cocktail toppings, causing bartenders to produce more unique drinks. Not all of them will be good enough to stick around, but they’ll certainly be entertaining.


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