Zoom In

The dos and don’ts of the virtual experience.

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Biju Thomas in front of the camera for Mixn Match.

While the mere idea of a Zoom cocktail class would have elicited eye rolls seven months ago, live-streaming has become the de facto gathering method. Done right, these sessions can connect and create community. Done wrong, they simply fall flat. Wading into the virtual universe? Here’s a primer on what works and what doesn’t from those who have boldly gone before you.

Room for Milly in Denver’s Riverfront neighborhood was just three weeks old when the shutdown hit. The team, headed up by bar manager Emily McKenna, quickly rolled out a number of virtual cocktail classes.

What Works

• McKenna and crew build kits with premeasured spirits, syrups, and garnishes, plus bar snacks like hummus. “Mise en place makes it harder to make mistakes,” she says.

• Bring in reinforcements. Room for Milly engages two bartenders, each making one drink, and another staffer who monitors the tech and chat.

• The bar asks participants to turn off video for the first half of the class. Rather than fighting the obvious distractions of the camera, guests are encouraged to listen and concentrate on building their cocktails while asking questions in chat. Video is added in the second part of the session, which is an informal Q&A and happy hour. “The ice is broken and people feel like they’re meeting the strangers that you would normally meet at the bar,” McKenna says.

• Room for Milly has found a lot of demand around offering private bookings and customizable classes—they even created a zero-proof event for one group.

What Doesn’t

  • Stick with what works. “We tried to switch up the platform once—we usually use Zoom—and that was a mistake,” McKenna says. 

At The Rose in Edwards, chef-owner Bryan Redniss created cocktail subscriptions that people can sign up for with weekly or monthly pickup or delivery. The ingredient kits come with QR codes linking to quick videos.

What Works

  • Offer customized subscriptions where guests can have a choice of cocktails. “With one of our higher-end subscriptions, you get a cocktail book where you add a new page each time,” Redniss says. 

• Add value. “We give tips on how to shake and stir, which glass to choose and why, and how to garnish. There are little bits about our syrups and how to make them,” Redniss explains.

• Upsell. If a guest swings by for a kit, offer them the option of picking up cocktail ice, too.

What Doesn’t

  • Less is more. “We used to explain that cocktails could be made this way or that way, and served in these kinds of glasses, and shaken this way or that way,” Redniss explains. “Now we have narrowed it down to just the exact way we make our cocktails—Rose-style only, no other options or opinions.” 

Stuart Jensen, co-owner of Curio Bar and Brass Tacks in Denver and Roger’s Liquid Oasis in Edgewater, took a slightly different tack. He created how-to cocktail videos—ranging from whiskey sours to Aviations—that live on Curio’s website. Anyone can watch the clips and make drinks from their home bar, or pick up corresponding cocktail kits. 

What Works

  • Teach the craft. “We want to show people the branches of the cocktail tree,” Jensen says.
  • Offer substitutions. Not everyone wants to buy ancho chile liqueur.
  • Put it on the schedule. “At first bartenders were hesitant, so we said ‘You’re scheduled a couple days as a shift to make these videos. You’re getting paid for it,’” Jensen says.

What Doesn’t

  • Don’t put a whole lot of rules in place—allow your staff to wear what they want to wear and play the music they want to play.

Zoom In on the Culinary Side: The Cooking Show

Biju Thomas of the late Biju’s Little Curry Shop (RIP) and Reed Rowley have launched Mixn Match, a private event and virtual cooking class company designed to connect industry pros with the hungry masses.

At first Thomas was teaching the classes (both virtually and in person), but then he began reaching out to chef friends who might also want to make some extra cash. That’s when the company really took shape. “What we’re doing is a hybrid of making these chefs that have status accessible to people who want to engage with them for private events. Then the other side is doing interactive experiences that feature high-end chefs,” says Rowley. Thus far, chefs including Lon Symensma, James Mazzio, Seamus Mullen, Nicholas Kayser, whiskey sommelier Tanya Rivkina, and author Adrian Miller have signed on.

Pro Tip: Coming from the perspective of a virtual event company, Rowley offers this advice to those considering video experiences: “It’s really challenging for one person to do everything. We’ve found that having a host makes things a lot easier and smoother. The host can pace things and it allows you to accommodate different skill levels and to ensure everyone is having fun.”

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