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Where Do Cocktail Prices Come From? | Serious Eats

Why does your drink cost $11 or $14 or $20? [Pouring Ribbons cocktail photo: Alice Gao]

Unlike the people who drink them, not all cocktails are created equal. Or at least that’s what their prices seem to indicate. The mixed drinks at one bar in one city might be double what they cost at a cocktail-conscious watering hole in another part of the country.

Complicating things further, there are plenty of bars and restaurants that go out of their way, it would appear, to price their house cocktails consistently—say, all for $12 apiece—suggesting to a casual observer that, perhaps, all these drinks are an equal value.

I reached out to several managers of serious cocktail destinations in order to better understand what accounts for the broad swings in price we encounter from place to place as we ply the now-extensive craft-cocktail landscape, as well as why some cocktail menus are priced uniformly.

A cocktail by nature is a combination, in differing ratios, of a set of ingredients that each have costs, so many cocktail bars spend a lot of time and effort crunching the numbers behind their drinks. Setting prices for a cocktail-focused list can take a lot more work than menu-pricing might take at a wine or beer bar. That’s certainly the impression I get from Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the bar manager at Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon. He approaches the pricing of his cocktail menu with a great deal of mathematical precision, coupled with a small dose of professional intuition.

By this reasoning, the markups on higher-priced cocktails can sometimes be thinner, as a percentage of price, than those applied to their cheaper counterparts; that said, pricier drinks serve the bar in more indirect ways than simply by pulling in straight profit. And knowing how to write a cocktail menu that can thread this needle takes experience.

Not all bars price cocktails on a graduated scale—some favor parity instead. Eamon Rockey, general manager of Betony, a fine-dining restaurant located in Midtown Manhattan, oversees the pricing of the establishment’s entire beverage program. Unlike Morgenthaler, whose menu prices are tied to the cost of each drink’s production, Rockey prefers consistent prices across Betony’s cocktail list.

“I really, really love offering things at the same price,” Rockey says. “It’s something that has been consistent amongst the programs that I’ve curated over the past several years.” With only a couple of exceptions (such as its $17 Milk Punch, which requires two days to prep), the cocktails at Betony are priced at $15. “There are some cocktails where the ingredients are more expensive than others, there are some cocktails that are more involved than others, but, at the end of the day, what you’re actually seeking as a guest, I hope, is an experience. And if the experience of that drink is worth 15 bucks…then you’ll look forward to ordering another one.”

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Where Do Cocktail Prices Come From?.

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