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WHETHER IT'S THE newest flavored martini or an update of classic hot chocolate, hotel and catering beverage experts rely on specialty drinks to raise spirits at special events.


There's no doubt about it: In the world of cocktails, the allure of the martini remains strong. “I'm waiting for martinis to fall off the map, but they certainly haven't done so yet,” notes Michele Polci, CPCE, senior catering manager at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. However, it's flavored martinis, rather than the olive-garnished gin and vodka versions, that are getting top billing on her drink menus. “People want to have fun with their drinks,” Polci says. “They're being more adventurous and wanting to try different infusions of flavors, and to pair the drinks with ice bars and luges.”

Flavored cocktails such as apple and watermelon martinis also continue to sell well at Thomas Preti Caterers in New York, says Lori Slater, sales and event planner. Margaritas in vivid hues are another top request, and can enhance the event theme or the season, she adds. During the summer, blue margaritas garnished with slices of star fruit are a hot-weather treat; for fall, the caterer serves vibrant red pomegranate-flavored margaritas, which are “refreshing and very popular,” Slater notes.


Colorful cocktails are an easy way to make events sparkle, especially during the holidays. “Color themes are big news for holiday events, and red drinks remain the most popular,” Polci says. “We often serve drinks that contain cinnamon schnapps or are made with cranberry juice. And while the drinks may be made from established recipes, we change the name to match a theme or call it a company's signature drink, and people love it.”

Great garnishes are also a must for today's dressed-up drinks. “Everyone gets tired of seeing the same old thing, so we're doing a lot more with colored sugars and nutmeg, or using fresh fruit such as berries that are the same color as the drink being served,” Polci explains. The glasses drinks are served in are another way to bring color to the table. “There are a lot of great plastic glasses around now that have colorful light-up stems, which people just love,” she says.

While red drinks shine during the holiday season, traditional beverages haven't lost their luster. Thomas Preti Caterers updates eggnog, the quintessential holiday drink, by garnishing it with whipped cream, ground nutmeg and chocolate shavings and serving it in stylish shot glasses. “People love the presentation, and it's great for passing around on trays,” Slater adds.


Comfort drinks are also big news at the RitzCarlton, Philadelphia. During the holiday season, the property offers hotel and event guests the services of hot chocolate sommelier Caesar Bradley, who helps guests create a personalized cup of hot chocolate. “People often ask me what the typical hot chocolate is, and there's no such thing as typical hot chocolate here — each one is made specifically for a person according to his or her taste,” Bradley explains. The custom concoction, which is served in an oversized mug, “is very rich — we don't use water, we use milk and half-and-half,” he adds.

The beverage is available in milk, dark or white chocolate versions, which are then topped with a selection of gourmet condiments such as pecans and hazelnuts, fresh fruit, chocolate shavings and candy sprinkles. Also offered are flavored marshmallows made by the hotel's pastry chef. “We have strawberry, raspberry and mint flavors — it depends on the chef's choice for that day,” Bradley notes. And to make the drink even more decadent, he can lace the hot chocolate with a liqueur, such as the rich Cointreau and dark chocolate combination or milk chocolate with a splash of raspberry vodka. The resulting drinks taste “delicious — like a melted truffle,” he says.

As for why the beverages are so popular, “Hot chocolate is the ultimate comfort drink,” Bradley explains. “It gives you the feeling of warm nights at home. It's always a big hit.”


Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, 702/777-7777; Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia, 215/523-8000; Thomas Preti Caterers, 212/764-3188

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