Is the Rs1,000 Cocktail Here To Stay?
At Mumbai’s fine dining restaurants and upscale bars, it’s becoming increasingly common for people to drop a thousand bucks on a decent cocktail. Wink, at Vivanta by Taj, has been serving Rs800 martinis for years, and the price does not include taxes and tips. At the recently-opened Ellipsis in Colaba, menu prices for cocktails start at Rs700, but many of the drinks, such as the spiced Bourbon-based The Nightcall, are priced at Rs1,200. The drinks menu is designed by David Kaplan, the owner of Death & Co in New York City. But even at that celebrated New York City temple of mixology, all cocktails are priced at $13 (approximately Rs720), unless they contain champagne, in which case they are $15. At Dublin at the ITC Grand Central, drinks start at Rs750, and their most expensive “Luxury Martini” is for Rs1,200. Blue Frog’s menu lists 13 cocktails at Rs1,000. It is not uncommon for NRIs to complain that Mumbai’s fine dining and drinking scene is now more expensive than that of New York, Paris or London.
According to industry folk, there are many factors that contribute to the pricing of premium cocktails in Mumbai. They include Maharashtra’s high duties and taxes on alcohol, the cost of importing expensive perishable ingredients such as fruits, purees and juices, and of course, the old bugbear of high rent. “A great cocktail in America will cost $18 but with the approximately 160 per cent duty we pay in India for those spirits the cost automatically shoots up,” said Rohan Talwar, partner at Ellipsis, where the limes and lemons for the drinks are imported, and drinks contain ingredients like apple-infused Cognac and spiced Bourbon. Not all expensive ingredients sound fancy. “If we’re using fresh juice for a pomegranate martini, then the cost of the drink can go up because of the expensive fruit, and the yield depending on the season,” said Somnath Bhattacharya, general manager at Indigo in Colaba.
The math behind the pricing of a cocktail is pretty simple—base alcohol plus other ingredients plus overheads plus profit margin. Most good bars in the city get incentives from alcohol companies—if they buy a crate of 12 bottles of a particular brand, chances are that they get a couple of bottles free. Bartenders say that a 750ml bottle of booze will yield 12 to 13 pegs of 60ml (“large” pegs) or 25 pegs of 30ml (“small” pegs), using standard pours. If there is a tie-up with a brand for exclusivity, then the liquor companies will often pay the restaurant/bar/party spot for the collaboration in cash. During a promotional festival, booze brands often give the property free alcohol. Not many restaurateurs will admit it, but it’s pretty obvious that despite the cost of putting them together, most cocktails are (like all alcohol) very profitable. Or at the least, because they involve minimal processing and labour in comparison, they are marked up much more than food. “Often the cost of a very expensive cocktail can be only eight to 10 per cent of the menu price,” said Jeetesh Kaprani, vice president of operations at KA Hospitality, the company that owns Hakkasan and Yauatcha in Mumbai. “They are charging you for the rent and the atmosphere.” At Hakkasan, cocktails are all Rs650 before tax, unless a diner upgrades their drink with super-premium alcohol. At the restaurant’s London outpost, they are £10 or approximately Rs850.
But for a certain (growing) clientele, outrageous prices are no deterrent. And perhaps it is this bunch that is fuelling the trend. “The days of Smirnoff are gone,” said Harmukh Singh Sandhu, beverage manager at the ITC Grand Central. “Nothing less than Absolut will do.” While what was once considered exorbitant seems to now be acceptable, the pricing is unlikely to get higher. Everyone we spoke with for this story said that these current prices have leveled out and will remain the same for at least the next couple of years.
Sandhu said that the only way he sees prices going up is if the government increases excise and import duties, or taxes. Meanwhile, through the use of flair bartenders (at Wink) and flowery menu descriptions (“artisanal”, “handmade”, “signature”), bars are trying to increase the perception of value of their super-pricey drinks. The drama possibly reaches its peak at Dublin at ITC. When a customer orders a Rs1,200 Luxury Martini, the bar turns off its signature retro music. “There is a ritual involved,” said Sandhu. “It makes people in the whole bar stop and look.” The bartender lays down a mat studded with crystals in front of the customer, and places a salver on it. He then places the cocktail, served in an Arcoroc martini glass, on the salver and announces, “Sir, here is your Luxury Martini.” Dublin sells about 350 drinks on a weeknight and up to 1,200 drinks on weekends. On average, only one Luxury Martini is ordered per week. Clearly, the cocktail is making enough of a profit for them to still keep it on the menu.Tags: bars, Cocktails, Drinks, Dublin, Ellipsis, Hakkasan, Indigo, Jeetesh Kaprani, Nightlife, Restaurants, Rohan Talwar, Somnath Bhattacharya