Thanks to the endless variety of cocktails nowadays, establishments may feel compelled to flood their menu with options.

While an abundant selection is excellent to keep things fresh and flexible, it could also result in guests ordering drinks that fail to satisfy them. The drink could be made to absolute perfection, but still, the guest’s ignorance of its components can easily overrule quality. This dilemma is evident across the industry, calling for places to come up with intuitive solutions. The goal in mind is to bridge the gap between customers and concoctions they would truly enjoy.

Pre-Pandemic Scenes at Blue Ribbon Federal Grill

Pre-Pandemic Scenes at Blue Ribbon Federal Grill

Located in the heart of Wall Street, and in the shadow of the Federal Reserve, a joint called Blue Ribbon Federal Grill developed a brilliant menu, carefully detailed to make sure each guest knows precisely what’s coming their way. Chilled had the pleasure of sitting down with Sam Ehrlich, Wine Director at Blue Ribbon Restaurants, who elaborated on their approach to menu design, what influenced it, and more.

We were curious about what makes the menu at Blue Federal Grill unique. However, Sam Ehrlich pointed out that practicality reigned superior to individuality during the process of creating the menu. He stated, “Honestly, “unique” was never really our first goal. When my colleague Sean Sant Amour and I were designing the bar menu for BRFG, our primary goal was creating something fun and accessible for a clientele with which we had no previous experience. The bar program we were building was going the most ambitious and sophisticated of any of our restaurants to date at the time and we wanted to avoid certain pitfalls.”

Cocktail Collection at Blue Ribbon Federal Grill

Cocktail Collection at Blue Ribbon Federal Grill

Going into further detail on said “pitfalls,” he explained “chiefly the creation of a cocktail list that relies on a very wide selection of ingredients, quite a lot of which might be unfamiliar, without providing the guest any guidance of what to expect from a drink.” Sam and his colleagues wanted to prioritize not leaving any guest in the dust and took some pointers from other businesses they believed to be proficient in that matter. “We started first by thinking about the menus of other bars we admired that really took the time to demonstrate for their guests what drinks were about and why they were successful. Cane & Table in New Orleans and Attaboy and Blacktail here in NYC were all major influences in that they employ a really coherent graphic component in their cocktail menus.”

Blue Ribbon Federal Grill Cocktail Menu

Blue Ribbon Federal Grill Cocktail Menu

While highlighting the part of his menu that stands out to guests, he continued to dive deeper into the inspiration of his menu. He quoted “There is no question that the centerpiece of our menu is the cocktail graph. Sean and I had both visited Cane & Table a couple of years apart and were both in total admiration for the compass that they employed in their menu, to guide customers toward the right drink. We wanted to make our own version of this and when we thought about where we were going to be stationed, nestled in the heart of Wall Street, we knew that a Profit & Loss chart was the answer. It was something that would be instantly recognizable to most of the guests coming in the door and combines a little humor with a clear statement about what to expect – whether a drink will be familiar or a little different and how strong it will feel (Low-Proof, Full-Proof or Over-Proof).” The graph does an excellent job at mapping each cocktail according to factors of strength and disposition, and the menu makes sure to list every possible ingredient found in the drinks.

After learning the backstory of the menu, we asked Sam the simple question: Just how important is menu design for a bar? He replied, “In an age when serious cocktails, made well and with high quality ingredients, are the standard rather than the exception, great design is not only essential but expected.”

Sam capped off the interview with a few helpful tips for bars/bartenders who are looking to craft a stand-out menu:

“It can be over-the-top or understated but there needs to be some intention on display.”

“Make sure that you are working with someone whom you trust and who can execute your ideas.”

“Lastly, while there are certainly bars that can pull it off (the late great Blacktail really stood out in this regard), book-length menus mostly detract from a guest’s experience. A couple of pages should be sufficient to demonstrate your selection.”

*Like many restaurants across the country, Blue Ribbon is currently closed due to Covid. However, we thought it was a great time for restaurants to consider updating their menus while there is more downtime.