London prices are often the butt of many a joke across the UK, in particular the cost of a drink, or – shall we say – the cost to get drunk. And it’s true, going out to paint the town red is going to set your bank account back a few paces. In fact towards the end of the month the undercoat of a feature wall is about all that’s manageable, forget the entirety of London town.
Going out is pricey. Good meals and drinks cost money and increasingly we’re being told that actually the restaurant industry is under pricing itself, causing an impending explosion of the restaurant bubble. Businesses are closing because we won’t pay more for our experiences, enabling owners to raise wages and keep on great staff. But living in London isn’t really worth the crowded commutes, terrible weather and unaffordable rents if you don’t go out and revel in the joy of the world’s best chefs and bartenders, the pop-ups, residencies and festivals. Except that we’re all broke and unable to fund all these new places, cuisines and cocktails. Catch Cocktail 22.
So what is the price of a London cocktail? What goes into it and just how lucrative is the business of selling Martinis? And importantly what should you truly be paying for one?
From Bethnal Green Road, as far south as East Dulwich, stretching up to Stoke Newington High Street and across to Portobello Road a cocktail can cost you anywhere between £7.50 and £22 and that’s not including luxurious upgrades such as WhistlePig in your Old Fashioned or vintage drinks made with spirits from the 1940s. Any less than £7 and you really want to be questioning what’s in your drink, what illegal wage your bartender is on or what else this venue is doing to turn a profit. True story, some friends recently took over a cocktail bar which previously had seriously cheap drinks. How they remained in business for so long remained a mystery until old regulars started coming in expecting the usual deal of a cocktail and bag of coke on the side.
In smaller, owner operated bars you have a general mark up of 75%. So a drink that costs you £9 costs the bar in ingredients £2.25. Outrageous? Not at all. What is it you think you’re sitting on – certainly not the cold concrete floor. I’m presuming that cocktail didn’t shake itself either. Loving the candlelit ambience? The fact that the ceiling is stopping the rain from pouring in? The toilet paper and hand soap up to scratch? Your drink has to in some small way contribute to rent, wages, electricity and water bills and all those other bits and pieces that pull a bar together right down to the napkins and straws. (Don't get me started on straws).
Smart bartenders and managers will have a few drinks that soar up into the 80% profit, meaning they can have one or two on the menu that might be less cost effective – pulling in esoteric ingredients or spirits that verge into the premium category.
Five star hotel bars operate slightly differently. They need to make even more money from your drink and their margins aim to be around 81% - so if they’re charging £18 a drink you’re paying £3.42 worth of ingredients. But then you’re meant to be experiencing five star service and usually free nibbles. Seriously, cash in on the free nibbles - because actually, you’re paying for them.
If you care about the quality of your drinks (and we know that you do) then you can’t expect happy hour prices. Value today in one of London’s top bars is four drinks for less than £40 – which is the equivalent for eight standard drinks and possibly time to go home. If you’re used to paying for a pub’s house white then four Manhattans for £34 at Satan’s Whiskers may seem expensive. Trust us, that’s about as cheap as you’ll get for seriously good booze mixed by great bartenders and delivered to you by an exemplary server. Down the road at Happiness Forgets it’s one pound more per drink and they’re in the heart of Shoreditch. Drinking at Swift on Soho’s OId Compton Street will again raise the price by another pound or two.
Four drinks for £40 may well be the butt of a joke in Derby but then there’s nowhere else you’ll get these style drinks made with such care and attention. Drink less but drink better would be sage advice if London prices make your wallet ache. Pick up some cheap red on the way home if you must, but always eat the nibbles.