Communicating creativity: From cocktail conception to consumer perception 

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The journey of a cocktail passes through many different people before it gets into the hands of the consumer. Who is involved in its communication process – and how can that impact the final outcome? 

The story of a cocktail’s creation starts with its creator. And how a team communicates is important to getting the idea from the creator into liquid form. Replicating it across a bar team will depend on how each of its members learns, combined with a trusted method of training to finesse this process. 

Once a cocktail is on a menu, communicating it to a consumer can come in many forms – visually through social media, as a recommendation by someone in the press, or over the bar from the bartender. Many different people can also be involved in this communication process – from a photographer or videographer, to a bar’s PR, and editors and journalists covering it in their respective publications. 

But there are plenty of variables at play too, with both good and bad results: how a photographer approaches a brief, or how a PR delineates between specialist members of the press and not so  – and, of course, how the press interpret and relay that information to the consumer. In the end, each cog in the communication wheel brings their own personal perspective to the narrative. We ask those people how they approach communication. 

The creator: Monica Berg, co-founder of Tayer + Elementary 

I get my inspiration from anywhere and nowhere, but I tend to make drinks based on specific flavour memories or experiences. For example, when it came to the Watermelon Negroni, it was a bit unusual because the task/brief was to make a drink that could easily be replicated by an at home audience (during the pandemic’s first lockdown) which is why I decided to take a classic (Negroni) and just make a slight seasonal twist to it.  

When I’m communicating a cocktail idea to a team, the best way in my experience is learning by doing. We don’t teach by telling only, but through a combination of: one, sharing the information; and two, doing the task together, so the team sees what’s being done and I can explain in detail the critical steps and also answer any questions.  

For this, it was mainly practical – but since we had to tweak the prep process in order to make it suitable for a larger scale, it was a process of observing, changing and adapting. While the Negroni can be batched (and stable) for a long period of time, the watermelon is very sensitive to change which means the infusion part needed to be done daily. This means you have to monitor it closely, so you don’t end up wasting too much at the end of the night. General training is the same for everyone, but then it’s adapted to each of them to be more efficient. 

To communicate a cocktail idea to a team, the best way is learning by doing.

Where this communication process can break down is when there’s a lack of understanding or prioritising the right elements. It’s also rare we do something only once, which is why we are committed to continuous training and repetition, so that there is a natural evolution in the thought process as you grow into your role. 

Whoever has the drink idea leads the process, and the rest support. Once you get to the testing phase, you taste, and brainstorm a solution how to fix whatever problems we identify. The last step is to get sign off from everyone – any drink going on the menu has to get a ‘yes’ from whoever is part of the RnD session (this rotates based on rota and includes everyone on the team regardless experience or seniority). When it goes on the menu, you listen to feedback from guests, if they suggest improvements (meaning valid points such as balance, intensity etc) then we will go back, re-test, and make changes if necessary.  

In the resulting photography and PR you can have quite a lot of control, but once you ‘release’ anything out into the world, you have zero. This is why it’s really important to work with people who get it or get you, so they can help you in communicating your vision. Where what you originally wanted to communicate gets lost is in assuming others have the same knowledge or experience as you, and not taking the time to explain. For me, I lean towards caring about if something is delicious more than communicating a story. What is really amazing to see in Elementary, for example, is that our guests get really attached to their favourites, and they make them a part of their lives, and create their own stories with them. This for me, the beautiful part of creation; the fact that something you did, can be meaningful to someone else.  

The bartender: David Hovezak, bartender at Tayer + Elementary 

For me to be able to take someone else’s creation and produce it in real cocktail form, the best communication medium for me personally is always verbal, and face-to-face where I can really understand what they want and ask questions. If the communication is straight-forward and with as many details as possible, the recipe shouldn’t take long. 

When it came to Monica communicating what she wanted from the Watermelon Negroni, for instance, her brief was ‘a fruity Negroni but still a Negroni’ – a spirit-forward, bitter-sweet drink with watermelon flavour. That meant equal parts of the ingredients infused with watermelon and allowing for dilution. The main focus was to find the best possible watermelon. 

The most important factor is knowledge!

In order to be able to communicate the drink properly to the guests, the most important factor is knowledge! And in this case not just knowledge about the Negroni, but also about all the ingredients like the watermelon (where it’s from, how it tastes now versus the second day, etc), and full knowledge about how it is made too – it’s important to understand why the cocktail is like that.  

When I communicate ideas to other people, I definitely lean towards verbal communication and visual – I always have a pen and paper. This means that you can see if communication went wrong and quickly understand how to fix it.  

The photographer: Lateef Okunnu, photographer & videographer, Peppercorn Media 

How clients want me to communicate their cocktails varies massively. Sometimes we send through drawings for them to look to for something similar, or use as a reference and sketch over the top of that. The original idea going in to what comes out can be hugely different too but we’re fortunate to work in an industry where creativity is part of the job description, and in a team environment a lot of ideas are bouncing around. If you looked all the way through from shot one to shot 60 you’ll be able to see our thought process. It’s really exciting, and with practical creative sessions, you never know how it will work until you see it on camera. Saying that, some want drink on table and that works too. 

When it comes to the creative process I think it’s better when there is flexibility on both sides. If a client has an idea I’ll never say no, but I also think it’s unfair for them if they’re paying a fee for something that doesn’t require much input from me. I like to think the collaboration will provoke more inspiration for both of us. 

It’s easier to make an impact with a really strong image, but with video but you have to hook them. 

What I’ve noticed now versus when I first started is that you need to capture peoples’ attention right away. I’m handcuffed to the idea that people need to be so wowed on social media immediately. For example, with videos I may make this minute-and-a-half-long reel, and the last quarter is where it crescendos, but when I look at the analytics nobody is watching past the first 10 seconds. That’s where communicating online has gone now: from storytelling to being instantly impactful. It’s easier to make an impact with a really strong image, but with video but you have to hook them. 

I always try to make sure that compositions make sense. You always have to look out for everything: you can’t shoot a sharing platter for four people with two seat and one glass of sake, for instance. It looks too forced: rather than selling a lifestyle or idea, you need to make it look as real as possible. You also can’t misrepresent what you’re selling. You have to be true to what you sell – this keeps everyone honest: after all, a photo can be seen across the planet in a couple of minutes. 

The PR: Rachel Harrison, founder of Rachel Harrison Communications 

When a client is launching a new menu or cocktail, in a perfect world I would want that information three months prior. Journalists and media are working on lead times and to get the most awareness and the most press, we want weeklies, dailies, and potentially glossies – anything less than that timewise and we’re really just looking at online coverage. It also depends on how long that menu or drink will be available for as I also want enough time to invite in media to try it. That would be a perfect world scenario. It maybe happens 10% of the time.  

When it comes to them having the right information ready, it also depends on the bar. There are bartenders or owners that are old hat and they know exactly what we’re going to be asking for; others require a bit of education. We have an entire checklist that we would put together which includes things like cocktail names, specs, who created it, what the inspiration was, photography. 

When we’re communicating a bartender’s idea, we want to maintain the essence of what’s being said, but we also need people to understand it. Bartenders are very smart, and they’re very creative, and sometimes I think they forget who they’re speaking to, because they’ve been speaking to other bartenders. So we want to take that essence, but make it understandable to our media, consumers, whoever our end user is. That being said, if they are saying something that’s really fascinating, we can’t water that down, that’s really important. We would probably pull that into a quote, so we provide an opportunity to describe the cocktail in layman’s terms, but then also provide an opportunity to really get the feeling of excitement or whatever the bartender is conveying. 

Sometimes it doesn’t work. Maybe it didn’t hit the note that you want…. We’re dealing with humans. There’s a lot of levels of what’s happening that we can’t always understand. 

I think it’s important for two things. They have to try it on their own. Yeah. You have to talk to the bartender. So however, I’ve captured their interest via email or via phone or speaking is one is that’s that’s just the beginning. Yeah, you know, don’t get me wrong. We need to sometimes people will lift our exact copy. Yeah, and just drop into a store. Yeah. Not horrible. It’s fine. You know, it’s pretty much the way we want it, and it’s, you know what I mean, but I think a lot of the more kind of reputable publications are reputable. If this is something unique and interesting, yeah, they will listen to us and either come in and try it, and hopefully speak with the bartender to talk about the interesting, you know, everything behind it, but ideally, if we really want to break through, that’s what I want those two things, they have to try it and they have to speak to the Creator. 

If we’re working with writers that we know and trust, they’ll be sending questions after and it’s more of a discussion. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work. Yes, we want everything to be perfect, of course, and we want everything to be on brand. But maybe it didn’t hit the note that you want. It’s just not possible every time. We’re dealing with humans; we’re dealing with understanding; we’re dealing with levels of knowledge. There’s a lot of levels of what’s happening that we can’t always understand. 

The writer: Yolanda Evans, freelance drinks and travel writer 

I don’t write about anything I haven’t tasted. I normally go to a bar by myself, sit at the bar and it’s about if I find a cocktail interesting because of a technique, its heritage, is very visual or has a good story. I ask a lot of questions, and then I’ll put that in the back of my mind.  

I don’t think every drink needs to be a ‘big drink’, it can be something simple. Everyone is writing about the big and complicated ones, but sometimes it is the simple ones where you sit down and talk about it, and it can be really interesting – especially when it is a damn good drink. People put too much thought into complicated; people also want drinks they can try to recreate at home. 

Most of the publications I write for are for cocktail consumers who know quite a bit already so they don’t need me to explain basic things. It’s also very rare that I get to put myself in the article either or inject my personality.  

Everyone is writing about the big and complicated ones, but sometimes it is the simple ones where you sit down and talk about it, and it can be really interesting – especially when it is a damn good drink.

I don’t really use PR agencies unless I have to (like if a bartender isn’t media trained, for example, I like to use a PR). If they have really interesting stories I always tell them to pitch me stuff, but I prefer to set up interviews directly with bartenders. Saying that, I don’t want to spend my time chasing down bartenders…  

When I write about cocktails, the whole point really is to get someone into the bar. Taste is subjective and I get that something I like, someone else might not. I want to give good press to the bar, because I’m a writer but also a consumer: it doesn’t matter to me really if someone rates a drink until I get there. 

The consumer: Mrinal Mohanka, @DialaDrunk 

I think when I first stepped foot in the Nomad bar in New York was my first sort of exposure to creativity. Their menu even back then was doing things which I hadn’t really heard of six, seven years ago, and it was that exposure to different kitchen ingredients, different spirits, techniques that showed me that there’s a whole world here that is fascinating to explore.  

When I started my account I think discovering good bars was quite a pain point because most people, myself included, relied on a lot of the lists and rankings as a starting point. There’s a lot of stuff written about bars when they open, but ongoing bar reviews aren’t something that’ve been around a lot – in New York anyway. Over time, you have to gauge what’s genuine, versus maybe what’s sponsor driven or influencer driven. There are bars like Nipperkin in London, for example, that I’m shocked aren’t on a list. So I think once I moved away from that my source became bartenders and generally their recommendations have been genuine, insightful and super helpful.  

The more you learn or know about something, the better you’re able to appreciate it. So I always enjoy those conversations at the bar with bartenders.

I think I see bars as a cultural experience. I really value their artistic expression and their creative endeavour, whether that’s techniques they’re using or ingredients, flavours. I want to know what the story is, what they’re trying to say, and what really encapsulates that bar.  

The more you learn or know about something, I think the better you’re able to appreciate it. So I always enjoy those conversations at the bar with bartenders, those insights, what they were thinking, what they were trying to recreate, what their influence was. I think it helps you connect with the drink and the experience better. That being said, you can have the most creative technique, the most creative presentation, but if the flavour doesn’t live up to that, then you will be underwhelmed.