The average person can survive about three weeks without food. That same person will die after only three days without water. Our nomadic ancestors might easily have found themselves farther than a three-day trek from the nearest water source. Even today, many people in developing countries must walk an average of almost one hour a day to bring home fresh water.
A keen sense of thirst is critical for our survival. This fact, which we all intuitively know, but rarely consider, leads directly to my Beverage Rule of Seven: since we can survive seven times longer without food than without water, beverage service needs to be seven times faster than food service to feel equivalent. For example, a 30-minute wait for food—which will seem interminable to a hungry diner—is equally distressing as a 4-minute wait for drinks. Ironically, with the advent of the mixology movement, our industry seems to have lost sight of just how large drinking looms in our subconscious.
My job regularly takes me into the best bars in the world, and while I’m consistently impressed with the cocktails, I’m almost always frustrated by the service times. I recently visited three of New York City’s top cocktail bars one evening (I won’t name names, but all of them were listed in the upper half of The World’s 50 Best Bars), and not once did I receive my drink in less than ten minutes after I placed the order. In food time, that’s equivalent to waiting 70 minutes for your meal. Had I been dining, I’d have been out the door long before then—doubtless followed by the Chef de Cuisine with a fresh boot print on his or her derrière.
I tell every new bartender I train what many veteran mixologists seem to have forgotten: bartending is not about making drinks, it’s about serving drinks. All good restaurants have target service times for each course. Fifteen to twenty minutes is common for entrées, and appetizer times are usually under ten minutes. Applying my Beverage Rule of Seven gives a target beverage service time of two to three minutes, which feels comfortable to most guests. Making a great cocktail doesn’t justify pushing that service time to eight, ten, or sometimes even fifteen minutes. Too often, the focus today is on the cocktail and not the guest.
Drink recipes need to be created for cocktail menus, not resumes. The best chefs know that even the most sublime dish isn’t worth the menu paper it’s printed on if it can’t be executed in a reasonable time (and I’m talking under real-world conditions, not when there’s only one order in queue). You have to be able to deliver quickly when you’re four-deep and just skirting the weeds, otherwise you’re not making money. Mixologists need to relearn that lesson. No matter how good your cocktail may be, if you can’t consistently put it in the guest’s hands within three minutes, the recipe isn’t finished.