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Well Drinks To Include On Your Bar Menu

Well Drinks To Include On Your Bar Menu

Well drinks are alcoholic drinks that rarely show up on drink menus but are still ordered every day in bars and restaurants across the country. Made with just a few simple ingredients, their familiar names are classics for a reason.

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What are well drinks?

Well drinks are simple mixed drinks, sometimes known as rail drinks, that are a combination of one or two liquors and a soft drink. They are made with alcohol from “the well,” a long bin that resembles a well or trough within easy reach of the bartender, generally the bar’s least expensive and most frequently used alcohols.

Well drinks are the opposite of call drinks, which are typically made from mid-tier or premium liquors. Many bars and restaurants will have three pricing tiers for alcohol: 

  • well or “bottom shelf” liquor (least expensive)
  • call or “middle shelf” liquor (mid-tier)
  • premium or “top shelf” liquor (most expensive)

Naturally, the more expensive the liquor is for the bar to buy, the more the customer needs to pay in order for the bar to make a profit on it. 

Here’s a typical example of these liquor pricing tiers using gin:

Example of gin pricing tiers
Well Beefeater or Gordon’s 
Call Tanqueray, Bombay 
Premium Hendrick’s, Tanqueray 10, The Botanist

Each bar should have their well stocked with an inexpensive brand of vodka, rum, gin, whiskey/rye and tequila—along with a variety of sodas, juices, fruit garnishes and mixes to accompany them.

At the bar, unless a guest asks for a specific brand of alcohol when they order something like a rum and coke, the bartender will generally assume they want a rum and coke from the well. However, if the guest asks for a Tanqueray and tonic, the bartender will use the higher-end brand of gin knowing that the guest is ready and willing to pay more for premium liquor.

Well drinks list: what to add to your bar menu

Below are lists of the most-ordered well drinks split by alcohol type. Every good bartender should be able to make these drinks with an accurately measured pour in the blink of an eye. 

Vodka well drinks

Vodka Soda: Served with a lime wedge.

Vodka Cranberry: Served with a lime wedge. Also known as a “Cape Codder” in the Northeast. 

Screwdriver: Vodka and orange juice.

Gin well drinks

Gin and Tonic: Served with a lime wedge.

Gimlet: Gin, lime juice and simple syrup.

Tom Collins: Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and soda water. It can also be made with vodka on request, called a “Vodka Collins.”

Rum well drinks

Cuba Libre: Cola, rum and a lime wedge. Also ordered as “Rum and Coke.”

Lime daiquiri: Rum, lime juice and simple syrup.

Whiskey/Rye well drinks

Whiskey Sour: Whiskey with sour mix or, less commonly, lemonade.

Rye and Coke: This is more likely to be ordered with premium alcohol as a “Jack and Coke.”

Whiskey Highball: Whiskey with ginger ale or soda water, garnished with a lemon twist.

Tequila well drinks

Margarita: Tequila, Triple Sec and margarita mix. There are various versions of margarita mix but the most basic is lime juice and simple syrup.

Tequila Sunrise: Tequila, grenadine and orange juice. The ingredients should be poured in that order to achieve the “sunrise” effect in the glass.

Is a screwdriver considered a well drink?

The line between a well drink and a cocktail can be a blurry one, so the TLDR is “it depends”. Some bars and restaurants will consider (and price) well drinks to be exclusively well liquor plus an inexpensive mixer like a soft drink or soda. (Fresh fruit juices are generally more expensive—sometimes a lot more expensive—than soda pop.)

Others will let a Cape Cod (vodka + cranberry juice) or Screwdriver (vodka + orange juice) slide into the well drink category, but draw the line at anything that needs to be mixed or muddled. Whatever your definition of well drink, make sure you apply it consistently or risk the ire of your customers. 

Why should you offer well drinks?

Bottom shelf alcohol brands and simple ingredients are cheaper to buy and can be offered at an accessible price point for guests. Plus, well drinks are faster and easier for your bartender to prepare, freeing up their time to serve more drinks and speed up turnover at the bar.

Pricing for well drinks 

Pricing your well drinks involves more than calculating profit margins. It starts with understanding all the costs that go into making them and takes into account what your closest competitors are doing. 

Get out your itemized receipts

Begin by calculating the precise cost of each well drink, including all ingredients and garnishes. Your calculation should account for the cost per ounce of liquor, mixers, garnishes and probably a buffer for things like ice, straws and napkins. 

Something to consider when you’re calculating your costs for well drinks is whether those “extras” like garnishes and straws are actually necessary. For example, if a guest has ordered a simple rum and coke, do they actually need that slice of lime? 

Perhaps your well drinks shouldn’t come with garnishes by default, and guests can ask for them if they want them. Or servers could be trained to ask at the time of order, so you don’t end up wasting money on things your guests don’t need or want anyway. 

Pricing for profit

Aim for a pour cost percentage (the cost of the drink ingredients divided by the selling price) of 18-20% for well drinks. This allows room for profit while keeping prices accessible to customers.

Pricing to stay competitive

Research local competitors’ pricing to ensure your well drinks are competitively priced. You probably don’t want to be the cheapest place in town—your prices should reflect the value of the experience you offer—but you’ll want to price your well drinks comparably to similar bars in your area. 

Promotions and specials

Happy hours

If you’re going to run a happy hour at your bar or restaurant—assuming you’ve confirmed you can legally do so in your region—offering discounts on well drinks can be a cost effective way to bring in customers during off times. With any luck, those customers will spend money on food, keep ordering drinks at full price after happy hour is over, and come back again and again. 

If you’re going to run a happy hour, it’s a good idea to decide and clearly communicate to your front of house (FOH) staff what constitutes a well drink. As we’ve already covered above, some bars and restaurants exclude basic cocktails that contain any more than a splash of juice, because juice tends to be a lot more expensive than soda. 

If you plan to exclude juice-based cocktails from your well drink specials, make sure your servers know that and can communicate it to customers. You’ll also want to make sure your POS is properly set up with your happy hour specials, ideally in a way that will only enable the discounted price to be applied during happy hour. 

In Lightspeed Restaurant, for example, you can do this by linking a price list to an account profile with a defined time period. Learn more about linking account profiles to price lists

If you can’t make it so that specials disappear after happy hour, make sure your staff are switching back to regular prices after happy hour is over. 

Loyalty programs 

Loyalty programs that give regulars a discount on well drinks and other non-premium drinks like draft beer or house wine can be a great way to encourage repeat business. Of course, make sure you’re not breaking any applicable laws or regulations beforehand.

Using a restaurant POS like Lightspeed, there are a few different ways to offer discounts, free gifts or “buy x get x free” promos to reward customers for their support and encourage them to return. 

For example, with Lightspeed’s VIP cards, you can automatically add a discount to a customer’s order when scanned at the POS. Or, to run a “buy x get x free” well drink promo, you could configure punch cards to offer a free well drink after a customer has purchased a certain number of them.

Here’s what that looks like in the Lightspeed Restaurant backend:

Want to see this process in action? Check out this video our in-house support team made

Freebies or comp tabs 

Another way to do this is with comp tabs. For example, let’s say your bartenders have up to $50 per shift they can put on a comp tab so they can give a few lucky customers a free drink or an app on the house. The occasional freebie now and then is a great way to build relationships with customers and show them your appreciation. 

The goal is to use it to add something to their visit, not to comp a sale that was already going to happen. So if a customer orders a beer, for example, your bartender could throw in a shot. Or if they’re on the fence about ordering another drink, your bartender could offer their last one on the house. 

Inventory and cost management for well drinks

Effective cost control is essential across all your operations, but especially when it comes to alcohol. 

For whatever reason—ok, we have a few guesses—portion control tends to go out the window faster behind the bar than in the kitchen. (Maybe because guests aren’t poking their heads in the kitchen to ask for a bigger portion of salmon or a more generous pour of peppercorn sauce.) 

However, alcohol is expensive and has better margins than food most of the time, so inventory management behind the bar is imperative for your bottom line. Not only will it help you ensure you’re not running out of your most popular items—e.g. running out of well vodka on a busy Saturday night—but it will also help you identify issues that are eating into your profits. 

For example, if you know you only sold 20 shots of well tequila but you can see in your bar/restaurant POS that you’re 40-50 shots down in inventory, you know you’ve got a problem you need to address. More often than not, the issue is overpouring which you can help alleviate with training on proper pouring and measuring techniques. Modern POS technology can also help you make more informed decisions about well drink pricing, promotions and trends. 

You could start using automatic dispensers on your liquor bottles for consistent pours, but keep in mind that automatic dispensers can slow your bartenders down. It’s also not uncommon for them to malfunction, which can create unnecessary stress and even suspicion where there’s no need. Standard bar jiggers, used consistently, are often just as or even more effective.

Now that we have our well drinks sorted, how well is your bar doing? Talk to one of our experts today and find out how we can help you raise the bar for, well, your bar.


What is considered a well drink?

A well drink, often referred to as a house drink, is a type of alcoholic beverage made with the most cost-effective and basic liquors available at a bar. These liquors are typically stored in the “well” of the bar for easy access, as they are frequently used in a variety of common mixed drinks and cocktails. Well drinks are distinguished from premium or top-shelf drinks, which are made with higher-priced, brand-name spirits. Well drinks usually include simple mixers like soda, tonic water or soft drinks.

Why is it called a well drink?

The term “well drink” comes from the “well,” which is a space within a bar where the most commonly used and inexpensive liquors are kept for quick access. These are the default liquors used in mixed drinks unless a customer specifies a particular brand-name spirit (which would then be a “call” drink). The well is physically located in the bartender’s working area, making it easy to reach and efficiently serve customers, hence the name “well drink” for the beverages made using these spirits.

How many ounces is a well drink?

The total volume of a well drink can vary depending on the type of drink being made and the establishment’s serving practices. However, a standard well drink typically contains about 1 to 2 ounces of liquor, which is the standard serving size for a shot of spirits in the United States. The rest of the drink is made up of mixers, such as soda, tonic, juice, or other non-alcoholic beverages.

How many ounces of alcohol are in a well drink?

The amount of alcohol in a well drink is generally about 1 to 2 ounces. This measurement can vary slightly by country or establishment but serves as a general guideline for the industry. The focus on using a standard measure of alcohol helps bars maintain consistency in their drinks, manage inventory effectively and comply with regulations regarding alcohol service.

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More of this topic: Menu Engineering