Don’t let cost alone determine your restaurant’s glassware selections
By Lara Creasy
There are a lot of things to consider when choosing the best glassware for your restaurant concept, not the least of which is the overall cost. However, going beyond price to consider these few major topics will go a long way in helping you make some solid picks for your bar.
Aesthetics vs. Durability
Start by considering your restaurant’s overall aesthetic. Will your establishment be casual, high volume, no frills? Should you go with a tried-and-true workhorse of a brand? Or will your bar be more refined, with higher menu prices, requiring something more elegant, more unique? Are you going after social media exposure (and really, who isn’t)?
If you used an interior designer, involve them in the conversation and get their input on several glassware options you are considering to avoid a clash with the overall decor. Consider the volume of guests your restaurant is expecting. Will constant breakage be a potential problem for your bar? How careful can your staff – and your guests – realistically be with the glassware? I’ve certainly gone the route of choosing virtually indestructible glassware for high-volume operations I’ve managed, such as Superica and JCT. Bar. I’ve watched fully tempered glasses, like Libbey’s Gibraltar line and Arcoroc’s Granite series, literally bounce of the bar floor without breaking – a godsend on a busy night.
I’ve also observed many operations over the last few years using vintage or one-of-a-kind glassware for their cocktail menus, which creates a striking visual and gives guests something fun to snap for Instagram. But the thing with one-of-a-kind is that it can’t be replaced, so if you go the vintage route, make sure you have a constant source for those vintage pieces and a back-up plan for those vessels once they bite the dust.
Many glassware manufacturers are responding to the beverage community’s demand for pretty, unique or retro glassware by creating lines that fit the aesthetic demands of the modern bar, but are also manufactured to be durable, withstand an industrial dishwasher and come with an affordable price tag.
Libbey has a line called Retro Cocktails, which includes a martini glass, a coupe and a top hat-shaped cocktail glass, all of which I used when I opened Buckhead’s St. Cecilia. Arcoroc has a line of cut glass tumblers called Broadway that brings a vintage feel to modern glassware, a line called New York that has four distinct faceted glasses with a retro vibe, and a line called Be Bop that’s made to look like a glass tin can, fully tempered. Unique glasses are out there, even from the largest glass manufacturers. Ask your Atlanta Fixture sales rep for samples.
The sizes of the glassware you choose will have everything to do with how your guests perceive the value of your beverage menu. Before buying glassware, determine your ideal pour sizes and your desired profit margin. Think about how you’ll be serving each beverage to maximize its quality, then choose your glassware accordingly.
Many beer glasses are designed to encourage a fair amount of head in the poured beer. For example, Belgian Weissbiers are supposed to be served with at least 1/3 of their volume as head. That’s why you’ll often see the 10-inch tall, vase-shaped Weissbier glass come in grandiose sizes ranging up to 23 ounces. The idea isn’t to pour 23 ounces of beer, but rather to pour 16 ounces of beer with a three-inch head on top of it. Likewise the 16-ounce glass is for pouring a 12-ounce beer with a 3-inch head.
When choosing beer glasses, assess how knowledgeable your beer customers will be. Will they understand that a large head is the proper way to serve that beer, or will they think they are being cheated out of 1/3 of their beer? Can you trust your staff to properly relay that message and to pour only the ounces they should, or will over-pouring to fill the glass throw your costs off at the end of the month? If you are at all unsure about the answers to these questions, practicality suggests you may want to go with a glass volume closer to your desired beer pour, so there is little room for error.
Wine glasses, on the other hand, are designed to be served with no more than half of their volume filled, to allow for proper swirling and aeration of the wine. If your restaurant serves a six-ounce wine pour, you’ll want at least a 12-ounce volume in your wine glass, preferably more if your restaurant is encouraging a serious wine clientele. Well-made Burgundy and Bordeaux wine glasses with 24 ounces or more in volume are not unheard of. Again, make sure you can count on staff to pour only the 6 ounces you’ve costed out, regardless of the size glass you choose.
When choosing martini glasses, keep in mind that approximately 2/3 of a cocktail’s volume is achieved by dilution. In other words, shaking or stirring with ice will make the 3 ounces of gin and vermouth you measure out of a liquor bottle into a 5-ounce martini.
You’ll want to have a bit of space below the rim to allow servers to actually walk to the table without spilling half the cocktail, so a 51⁄2- or 6-ounce martini glass is ideal for a 3-ounce martini pour. If your pour is smaller or larger, adjust the volume of your chosen glass accordingly. And remember, if you choose a 10-ounce martini glass because of its grand appearance, you’ll need to serve closer to 5 ounces of undiluted liquor to make that glass appear full to your guests.
The amount of storage your bar will have is obviously a concern when choosing your glassware. Are you planning to store martini glasses and coupes in the bar cooler, or will you hang them overhead and chill them to order? Do you have adequate shelf space to store single layers of old-fashioned glasses, face down on ventilation decking? Or were you planning to stack the glasses? If you are, is that allowed by your local health ordinance?
The main problem with stacking is that many glasses, even ones that seem stackable, are not really made for that purpose. The rims of many glasses, even fully tempered ones, can nick when put surface to surface with another glass. There is also a danger of glasses sticking together when they are stacked right out of the dishwasher. is is because glass expands when it’s heated in the dish machine, then it contracts again when cool. One way to combat this is to allow glasses to cool fully before stacking, but who has time for that during a busy shift?
Manufacturers are responding to your storage needs in numerous ways, not the least of which is designing attractive glasses that are also stackable. Arcoroc offers a line specifically called “Stack Up,” as well as the slightly prettier Urbane, Skyscraper and Triborough lines, all of which are designed by bartenders, shaped to be stackable and come reinforced with ArmorimTM resistance, a process that makes the glass up to 5 times more resistant at the rim. These particular glassware lines all have interior ledges or gently tapered sides to allow them to be safely stacked without sticking together.
Another solution for glass storage that I’ve used in the past is taking advantage of hanging space where there isn’t shelf space. Footed cocktail glasses are a great way to satisfy multiple needs at once. For example, when opening King + Duke in Buckhead several years ago, I needed to solve a glassware storage problem at the patio bar. There was barely enough space for the refrigeration equipment and ice wells we needed in the tiny space, much less a surface for holding old-fashioned glasses. There was plenty of hanging space above the island-shaped bartop, however.
I remembered a glass that I had been served at Johnny’s Hideaway in Buckhead several years prior: a footed rocks glass, which they served all of their mixed drinks in, probably for the very same reason. I spec’d those glasses, the Libbey Embassy Footed Hi-ball glass and Embassy Footed Rocks glass, for King + Duke’s outside bar to use for mixed drinks, up drinks, neat drinks, you name it.
The unintended side effect of using this glass was to reinforce the very masculine energy in King + Duke’s overall restaurant design. Certain guests (mostly male) that didn’t care for “up” cocktails because the glasses seemed too “fancy” actually liked these glasses. Despite the stem, they feel substantial in your hand, and the overall shape is more similar to an old-fashioned glass than to a traditional stemmed glass. It was a win-win solution.
Lara Creasy is a consultant with more than 15 years experience in beverage management. She has developed wine and cocktail programs for such restaurants as Superica and BeetleCat through her consulting business Four 28, LLC.