Happy hour helpers: Suburban restaurants sell cocktail kits to-go
When the coronavirus quarantine hit, Melanie Pasillas of Schaumburg and five of her friends agreed to regularly meet online over Zoom for a Margarita Friday happy hour.
As a senior sales manager for Le Méridien Hotel in Oak Brook, it made sense for Pasillas to do curbside pickup after work at the nearby Perry's Steakhouse & Grille for a meal and a cocktail kit.
"I had never had the Smoky Rita before," Pasillas said. "It was absolutely delicious. The only thing that I had to do on my end was to put the habanero sugar-salt around the rim, which was a game changer."
The Smoky Rita, which sells for $45 and serves about six, is one of five cocktail kits on the Perry's Steakhouse takeout menu. They can't be sold separately -- only in tandem with a meal.
Perry's and other restaurants began offering cocktail kits after the coronavirus pandemic forced restaurants to quickly adapt.
"I have to keep on top of liquor laws in each state that we do business," said Suzi Zivanovic, the Texas-based corporate beverage director of Perry's Restaurants.
"It is legal to sell these types of kits," Zivanovic said. "The stipulation is that the nonalcoholic ingredients have to be in a separate container and the bottles of alcohol that you give to guests need to be in the sealed container from the manufacturer."
Not only did the restaurants have to source the smaller bottles, they had to work on packaging. They also had to configure the kits with instructions so the drinks weren't too difficult to make.
"One of the things we started talking about doing was how we take this opportunity to make something fun," said divisional bar training manager Thomas Moore for the Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You restaurants.
"We were trying to figure out how we continue to create restaurant experiences in a home environment," Moore said. "I loved the idea of remotely teaching a guest about our product."
Discovering which cocktail kits would be worthwhile sellers was another matter. For instance, the Oak Brook-based restaurant Antico Posto offered and then discontinued an Italian spritzer cocktail kit. But the four takeout cocktail kits -- retailing for $40 to $50 and yielding 12 to 20 drinks -- proved to be very popular at its fellow Lettuce Entertain You restaurant L. Woods Tap and Pine Lodge in Lincolnwood.
"We naturally started with a Wisconsin Old Fashioned because it's so tied into the identity of the restaurant," Moore said. "And the instructions reflect what we give to our bartenders."
As for Pasillas, she convinced some friends to order restaurant cocktail kits, too.
"It was the perfect way to kick off this new norm of staying home and social distancing, while still trying to maintain some sort of connection with family and friends," said Pasillas, thinking back to the first time she ordered a cocktail kit. "Being a part of our Zoom call was amazing."