The diversification of the drinks business, particularly the continuing popularity of cocktails and rise in sales of wine and craft beer across the region has seen a corresponding increase in demand for a wider variety of glassware. James Stephen reports on what’s hot in the world of glass.

Running upscale restaurants and bars is an expensive and risky operation, even in a region where an exponentially expanding middle class makes the likelihood of business success higher than in the west.

Quality food products, professional staff and the excruciatingly high rents
often make F&B an area fraught with financial uncertainty.

On top of this, trend-conscious customers in Hong Kong, Singapore, India and elsewhere often expect to see restaurants offer ‘in’ colours and styles in their tableware and glassware. On the plus side, a plethora of manufacturers means glassware options are infinite, and this increased quantity keeps quality high and prices reasonable.

One of the largest tableware suppliers in the world, Libbey makes a range of products including beverageware, stemware, serveware, bakeware and home décor, sold through three lines of business: retail, foodservice, and B2B.

Herve Cotton, Libbey marketing and sales development manager Asia-Pacific, based in Singapore, believes something of an evolution is taking place on Asia’s HORECA scene, with the market transitioning from utilitarian to one that is more mature.

In glassware terms, this means an opportunity way to represent a brand or venue. “A decade ago, ceramic mugs or basic tumblers could be used for everything from coffee to wine in local restaurants.

“Consumers are now more inclined to favour restaurant and hotel brands with more personality. They don’t pay for meals or drinks, but for an experience. F&B outlets understand this and try to display their uniqueness in their décor, presentation and tableware.”

Cotton adds that global trends taking place in the spirits, craft beers and fine wines markets including “the right glass for the right beverage” can also be observed on the Asian F&B scene.

“Cocktail bars flourish in Tokyo, micro-breweries have appeared in Singapore and Taipei, while Hong Kong and China indulge in vintage wines. All of this calls for a diversification of the offer and the search for unique, character glasses to meet customer demands.”

Libbey is debuting several new lines of retail serveware in 2017, featuring multifunctional, mixed material ware. New lines of insight-driven dinnerware and drinkware will also be making their way to the foodservice industry this spring.

Cotton makes the point that glass has invaded other segments of the tabletop market, being used to serve not only drinks but also food.

“The presentation of dishes has become crucial to attract diners with the promise of a unique experience, and a transparent dish lets the customer appreciate the chef’s artistry better than chinaware.”

Mixing it up

Suresh Kanji, general manager at F&B supplier Town House in Hong Kong, agrees that the industry is evolving and one way this can be seen is in the number of bars with world-renowned mixologists.

“It’s great to see the demand and innovation happening in this part of the industry. In step with this are new ranges by Nachtmann [Riedel’s lifestyle division]. Nachtmann is on the forefront of producing high quality, reasonably priced barware for cocktails and signature drinks for bars and restaurants.”

Riedel’s investment in technology and research into new ranges and shapes to better enjoy the flavour of beverages made the company the first glassware producer to introduce varietal specific glasses. The range now includes glassware specifically for beverages such as whisky, sake, rum and even cola.

The other major development from a HORECA perspective was the company’s introduction of machine-made, restaurant-specific glasses. The range now includes 13 lines catering to hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs.

Passion for fashion

But while glassware manufacturers and suppliers must be trend-aware to remain competitive, ironically not all end-users are. “I am not too interested in fancy looking shapes and latest trends, as often what comes into fashion goes out as quickly!” suggests Maurizio Severgnini, group sommelier with Dining Concepts, which has several restaurants and bars in Hong Kong.

Severgnini says that he has a traditional approach to glassware, which must be great quality, with versatility and elegance a must. Most Dining Concepts outlets use Spiegelau, Riedel and Schott Zwiesel glassware, and the company specifically looks for traditional and versatile shapes to accommodate different styles and varietals.

“From a business point of view it does not really make sense to stock several shapes, as it is a lot harder to manage and creates confusion with staff,” he adds.

In a cocktail context, bar manager at Cé La Vi, Reeve Yip, says that while the last few years have seen bartenders using vintage and crystal glassware alongside unusually shaped ranges, he predicts that the next glassware trend will go back to simplicity – clean designs and service friendly glassware.

“In general, I prefer glassware that holds a simple design and preferably a long stem. This type of glassware is timeless.” Yips adds that the two types of glassware he uses most are a Collins glass for longer style drinks, normally those of a more refreshing variety that are easy to drink and come with an eye-catching garnish. The second is a coupe, for cocktails with bold flavours which he says he presents “in a chic and elegant way”.