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Booze-free cocktails among trends on display at Bar & Restaurant Expo

Updated March 24, 2022 - 1:13 pm

The Bar & Restaurant Expo returned to Las Vegas March 21-23 for its 36th run. For 35 years, the event was known as the Nightclub & Bar Show.

The name might have changed but the game hasn’t. The Expo remains a leading gathering for bar and restaurant professionals (with inaugural inclusion of the restaurant side of the ledger) to browse, sample and kibitz about the latest industry products, trends and developments.

A new name also occasioned a new opening attraction, with Las Vegas native Brendan Gaughan, a retired NASCAR driver and the co-founder of local City Lights Shine distillery, cutting the ribbon Tuesday. Then it was off to the Expo. Here are five highlights from the floor.

Rockless Table

Wobbly tables annoy customers, frustrate staff, and threaten honest cocktails that want to stay upright and blameless dishes that want to go unspilled. Rockless Tables, in bar and dining heights, feature a table base that adjusts to uneven surfaces.

“It’s engineering,” said Nick James, CEO of the company. The sexiest thing in food and drink? No, but still essential. And like many great ideas, the table seems almost self-evident once you watch it work.

The Captain drink caps

Unattended drinks invite trouble — from tampering at the worst to bar detritus falling into the beverage to simply going off temperature. These disposable 4½-inch foil caps are pressed into shape to cover the mouth of the glass, protecting the drink. What’s wrong with a napkin or paper coaster, the old standbys?

“They can get wet or have germs,” said Robyn Gutierrez, a sales assistant for Ten of Twelve LLC, maker of the caps. And the Captain is handy: “These come out of the box like tissues.”

Junipre non-alcoholic spirit

Alcohol-free spirits are hot; non-imbibers are tired of having to order a soda (sugary or club). Junipre (pronounced like juniper) is fashioned from various botanical extracts and modeled after the gin made by its creator, a top distiller. Junipre, with 0 percent alcohol and sugar, tastes a bit citrusy, a little spritzy and resembles a G&T, too.

“We’ve been looking for something non-alcoholic,” said Amber Hunt, a bar manager from Henderson, Texas, at the Junipre booth. “People come in and don’t want to drink but want to have the bar experience.”

iCashout

The Expo overflowed with exhibitors offering digital tools for bars and restaurants, like inventory trackers, ID scanners with facial recognition (for that dash of surveillance state), and a host of apps to enable contactless menus, ordering, paying and tipping. (Such tools were among the top three trends to emerge from the Expo.)

iCashout stood out in the digital thicket because of its one-stop shopping selection of products: a mobile app, online ordering, tableside ordering and payment, tableside promotions and self-checkout kiosks. And businesses won’t be disrupted by adopting iCashout.

“It integrates into 34 current point-of-sale systems and overlays on top of existing hardware,” said Venkat Chathalavada, a founder of the company.

Blackbird craft frozen cocktail mixes

Packaged cocktails and cocktail mixes used to be abominable. They should have come with warning labels. This category has significantly improved in recent years, bringing craft inspiration to prepared products.

Blackbird Specialty Beverage makes concentrated cocktail syrups (including au courant flavors like bitters or frosé) specifically designed for mixologists to use in frozen cocktails (another flourishing market segment). At the Expo, people were three-deep at the booth waiting for an icy buzz.

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ItsJLW on Twitter.

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