Martini, Anyone? A Classic Cocktail Goes Fashion-Forward

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Given today’s wall-to-wall marketing, it will come as no surprise to planners that June 19 was National Martini Day. It’s not clear which association or trade group, if any, sponsors this annual recognition, but the event apparently has been celebrated on that day for years.

The classic cocktail, made of gin, vermouth and bitters with an olive or lemon, actually dates back to 1911, when New York City bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia supposedly first served one in—yes—a specially shaped glass that’s come to be known as a martini glass. With a nod to James Bond, the cocktail over the years has come to be associated with sophistication and glamour.

For veteran planners, National Martini Day is also a reminder of how pervasive cocktail culture has become, not only in their business, but in society as a whole. Receptions today feature special stations offering custom made vodkas, Manhattans or Cosmopolitans in addition to martinis.

Hotels offer their own signature versions, which sometimes change seasonally. Hotel mixologists hold court, explaining ingredients and historical anecdotes in detail. As part of the larger F&B program, the hotel’s director of catering (in conjunction with the mixologist and probably the sommelier) will even be happy to create a signature cocktail specifically for the event.

Traditional ingredients are dispensable. Benchmark Hotels & Resorts’ Turtle Bay Resort, for example, features its signature 21 North martini, named for its location on the north shore of Oahu. Forget the gin, vermouth and bitters, Mr. Bond. This tropical version calls for vanilla vodka infused with fresh pineapple and coconut flakes (infused for at least 48 hours), shaken and stirred into the requisite martini glass and garnished with a pineapple slice.

NationalMartiniDayWillows2016[1]-copyOn the upside, young attendees in particular like to experiment with artisanal cocktails. As a group, these Millennial travelers have been shown to be eager to embrace new experiences of all kinds, including what’s fashionable at the bar. They’re also said to be very social and custom cocktails plays into that characteristic as well, drinks being a good conversation icebreaker at event receptions and dinners.

Yet planners also have cause to be wary when it comes to leaning a bit too heavily of the “Martini of the Day, Week or Month.” Consider:

  • All the usual concerns about promoting alcohol at events, including the liability factor. It’s one thing if attendees are sleeping on property that night, just upstairs from the reception, quite another if it’s a final night reception and people are getting in their cars and driving home.
  • Keeping an eye on the clock. If it’s a pre-dinner reception scheduled for an hour, make sure the bar shuts down promptly at the appointed hour. Wine may be on the menu during dinner, which can cause another set of concerns.
  • All it takes is one attendee—of any age—having too much to drink and loudly acting out in an embarrassing or shameless way and it can put a damper on the entire event.
  • Many artisanal cocktails contain a sweetener, which in part makes them so popular, but doesn’t mean the alcohol content is any less potent.  Check with the mixologist to make sure the sweetness of the recipe of the signature item isn’t unintentionally causing overdrinking.

Another appeal is that each cocktail is handmade, which, given the number of ingredient and steps of preparation, can make the ordering process time consuming. Consequently, be sure the director of catering has provided adequate staffing. The last thing you want is a long line of impatient attendees waiting to be served. What appears to be a positive for the evening can quickly turn into a negative.

Artisanal cocktails’ popularity among the Millennial crowd notwithstanding, be sure there are alternatives being offered for the gin-and-tonic traditionalists in the room. Infused pineapple and coconut flakes, novel though they be, may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen is a veteran travel writer, based in New Jersey, who has written extensively on meetings management and hotel operations. Most recently, he was executive editor at Hotel Business.

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