Some months back I was brought in to give bar consulting, staff training and menu development.
Xiao Shuai and Zak had strong ideas about their overall vibe, and while quite new to the ways of the mixed drink trade, they had plenty to bring in terms of their vision for the place. To this end, we crossed swords on a number of points, but we saw eye-to-eye completely on the style of drinks and wet product they wanted to offer - a menu of original, locally inspired, un-pretentious and accessible items with bags of personality.
This is of course super fun for me, developing new cocktail recipes is a voyage of discovery and research into products, flavours and of course building stories around the marrying of all these things. The hours on training I enjoy, the tasting sessions(!), but also writing up and designing the collateral gives me great satisfaction and, for a time at least, a level of complete involvement and a sense of shared ownership of a project.
On the point of consultation, I said we didn't always see eye-to-eye on everything; at the end of the day, it is not my bar. To that end if you are stepping in as a 'contractor' on somebody else's show, you have to tread lightly and cannot be imposing your will in contradiction to a client's vibe. Interior choices, bar set up, staffing and service style, it all warrants input, but gentle guidance and suggestions, rather than dogmatic insistence is needed, and the client will take as much or as little of it as they wish, hopefully taking on the more vital aspects of your shared wisdom.
So, in the end I passed on a cocktail menu, that physically manifested the traditional edge of the setting, while feeling not-to-formal. They wanted to present uptown drinks with the easy charm of a back-street bar. Also, being in Beijing, they wanted the recipes to draw heavily on local personality and flavour: this meant using local liquor (huang jiu for example); domestic fruits and other typical flavourings (teas, dates, grapes, yoghurt, cumin, amongst many other things) and tongue-in-cheek names like the Ping-Pong Diplomat, Dharma Rum, and Fang Dynasty. All in all, I was very satisfied with the job. Setting a new bar and team up with a world-class drinks offering, spirit selection and a strong foundation in understanding the DNA of creative recipe development to grow and keep customers coming back for more. Feedback so far is really positive on the drinks, and the bar too.