Nikki To.

Keeping an offering fresh and exciting is universal across the hospitality industry. New additions create intrigue for regulars, but also help attract new crowds. When it comes to a cocktail list, weekly specials and everchanging offerings generate excitement, but what does it take behind the bar to keep up?

Sydney’s The Waratah and Mucho Group are two forces that subscribe to the new-is-best memo, switching up drinks on a weekly basis. The Waratah Director Evan Stroeve and Mucho Group Creative Director Jeremy Blackmore speak to Hospitality about the logistics of rotating cocktail lists.

The Waratah opened in Sydney’s Darlinghurst at the end of 2023 with a focus on championing fresh, seasonal ingredients across its food and drink offerings. The venue’s downstairs Public Bar has a cocktail list that changes weekly in line with seasonality.

“Every week, a staff member is responsible for choosing five classic-inspired cocktails and injecting produce into them based on what is available from our New South Wales growers and farmers,” says Stroeve. Some of the creations so far have included a riff on a mojito with rum, pear, lime, and river mint plus a Frozen Irish which teamed whiskey with Single O coffee, milk caramel, and cap gum honey.

The decision to change the cocktail list so frequently stems from the venue’s farm-to-glass philosophy. “We decided to do this because the produce we use is alive,” says Stroeve. “One week it’ll be good, the next, something else will be better.”

The process for managing the weekly cocktail list starts with Stroeve sharing what produce is available on Sunday before the team gets to work. “We prepare cocktails each Tuesday that are ready for launch on the Wednesday,” he says. The cocktails are revealed each week on The Waratah’s social media accounts and displayed in-venue on an illuminated sign behind the bar.

Changing cocktails are not only a drawcard for guests, but for the bar team who are able to test out different ideas and develop their skill sets. “You get to see staff take ownership of the product,” says Stroeve. “It’s their menu, their creative process, and something for them to be proud of.”

While there are plenty of benefits, operators also need to be realistic about what can be achieved in a short timeframe. “Sometimes we need to wrangle in our ideas, not only for the sake of the guest, but because we have a limited window in which we can get it done,” says Stroeve. Additionally, produce can run out, but it just gives the team a chance to be quick on their feet to produce something else.

Mucho Group’s Cantina OK! and Bar Planet are two go-to spots for Sydneysiders who enjoy innovative drinks. Cantina OK! in the CBD runs a weekly special that changes each Monday, with broad parameters around what can be done.

“The weekly special can be anything — an idea from one of our team members, a collaboration with someone, or just a delicious new idea.” Past cocktails include the Zarza with tequila, lemon zest, lime, and blackberry and a take on a mango lassi with cardamon tequila, yoghurt, mango, and mango paint.

Bar Planet’s weekly Scorpino is always a hit and a highly anticipated announcement on the venue’s Instagram account. “The Scorpino is our inauthentic take on a Sgroppino with sorbet and sparkling,” explains Blackmore. “Each week we make a new sorbet in-house and pair it with a spirit.”

Both venues have been running weekly specials since opening, but Blackmore says the process has become more of a collaborative effort in recent times. “The process has evolved a bit from the early days of Cantina OK! when we would see what we could find at the market that day and work from there. Now, we talk with the team and decide the general direction, then it is the responsibility of our amazing managers
to get them over the line.”

Blackmore visits each venue on Monday and Tuesday to oversee the specials and make any changes before they are photographed and posted online.

Nikki To.

Similarly to Stroeve, Blackmore sees the weekly cocktails as a chance for his team to experiment and explore elements and flavours. “We love specials as they give us a fantastic chance to flex our muscles,” explains the creative director. “We can try new techniques and also iron out any kinks in our service.”

It’s also an opportunity for Blackmore and the team to try new ingredients and bar techniques. “Specials are one of the best ways to learn — not just about what tastes good but also what your guests love, what your team can achieve, and what looks beautiful.”

Equally, the frequency allows for regular customers to find something different each
time they come for a drink. “It is a chance for them to try something new and also take part in something that won’t happen again,” says Blackmore. “We don’t repeat any specials, so when the week is finished, that is the last time you will be able to get the drink.”

Since opening The Waratah, Stroeve says the Public Bar’s weekly cocktail list has been a hit. “It’s by far our highest-selling category downstairs, beating out wine and beer,” he says. Similarly, at both Cantina OK! and Bar Planet, the team has seen a lot of interest in limited drinks. “The weekly special has become an absolutely integral part of what we do at Cantina OK! — it wouldn’t feel the same without it,” says Blackmore.

For any venues looking to implement a revolving cocktail offering, Blackmore suggests bartenders remain true to the overall ethos of an establishment. “Like anything, you need to temper any complexity with simplicity,” he says. “While we change one cocktail a week, we only change the menu every six months. We try to keep our menus short and remember what we do best.”

For Stroeve, it’s about finding balance between organisation but also letting your team have a bit of fun with it. “Set rules and boundaries and have a structured guide for staff to follow,” he says. “Be organised in your recipe keeping and allow staff to take it from there.” Blackmore agrees that specials are a chance for staff to have a go. “Just jump in. Specials are all about learning,” says the creative director. “They can be imperfect and ephemeral, that is part of what makes them great.”