It’s human nature, in most scenarios, to eventually disassociate with a term or word that defines one person as part of a larger group once a negative connotation is brought into play.
In our industry, consider the phrase “flair bartender,” which in the mid- to late-1990s was all the rage on-premise, a combination of service and entertainment. But after the Tom Cruise film Cocktail brought some less than flattering attention to the genre, combined with the more serious approach of the early 2000s Prohibition craft cocktail craze coming up, flair bartending eventually began to walk the path of the Dodo bird.
That same craft cocktail movement, interestingly enough, brought us the term “mixologist,” a word meant to emphasize the sometimes scientific and always detail-oriented approach of this new wave of bartenders mixing drinks in the same way a chef might create a fine dish. The precision and care that went into each recipe — and each recreation of that recipe in a glass — was “mixology.”
But in the last few years, as is human nature, there are those who find themselves described as mixologists who have taken less of a liking to the term. To some it feels too sterile, evoking images of test tubes and laboratories. To others, it is simply over the top, placing too much emphasis on the cocktail than on the overall bar experience consumers are after. These folks are, after all, bartenders, when it’s all said and done.
“It’s interesting: When I focus-group and play with the word ‘mixology,’ I now get a negative reaction to the term,” says Jon Taffer, host of Spike TV’s hit show Bar Rescue. “And I don’t get ‘mixology.’ If it’s going to take you three-times longer to make the drink, don’t you have to charge three-times the price, as an operator? Or you’re making less money. So, I think there is a pushback on ‘mixology.’”
It would seem that whether it’s the person behind the bar making the drinks or it’s the owner, ‘mixology’ as a term and as a service approach may be feeling some blowback in certain areas around the country. Just as it was with flair bartending, now it seems ‘mixology’ is being impacted by a perception that it is, perhaps, overly complicating an industry that, at its core, is simple in its goal. And the future consumer may be thinking along the same lines.
“I think what we’re finding is that Starbucks is a little responsible for this,” says Taffer. “For the past eight to ten years, Starbucks has become the training ground for bars. College students, 18, 19, 20, 21 years old, go to their local Starbucks or coffee shops and they sit around these little round tables just like a bar; they sip on their beverages just like a bar; and they socially interact and they hang out, just like a bar. They do it in a low-energy, socially interactive environment. And by the time they turn 21, they like that social, lower-energy environment where they’ve been having coffee all these years. And I believe that sets the stage for the kind of bars they’re going to.”
In October of this year, actress Judy Greer appeared on Late Night With Seth Meyers to explain why she was quite fervently against mixology. She cited her disdain for muddling, the high cost of drinks (as Taffer pointed out), their sometimes smallish size, and the amount of time they take to prepare (again, to Taffer’s point). Meyers himself suggested he wanted no part of an egg anywhere near his cocktails. Check out the full clip here: https://youtu.be/-pxISlDYRT4
And while Hollywood screen stars and talkshow hosts shouldn’t determine what we do or think as an industry, their discussion of it on national television is indicative of a topic approaching its zeitgeist. Going forward, it would seem the trend may be bar owners, operators and tenders, as is human nature, striving to disassociate from something receiving negative feedback. Let’s see how this plays out.
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