Cocktail Garnishes – Essential For Effective Presentation

This is another area that I really don’t want you to spend too much time on. Know the basic garnishes – and always keep sanitation at the forefront.

Rookie Mistakes: Spoiled fruit and not rotating their fruit/garnish supply properly. Allowing customers to feed from the “garnish tray trough.” We don’t need our bar customers (or bartenders), getting sick.

Many bars will have lemons, limes, cherries, olives, and maybe pineapple and strawberries. That’s it. Don’t over-complicate this! It all depends on what the bar specializes in.

Learning how to cut fruit will in the next lesson. Bars may have different little variations or techniques in how they cut their fruit – but it’s all easy.

First things first. I have to talk a little bit about sanitation, food quality, and food-borne illness here. As I mentioned above, cutting fruit is in the upcoming section, but there’s other things you need to be aware of. We’ll go into more detail on sanitation a little later.


Simply means first in – first out. In other words, rotate your garnish supplies. The kitchen may be doing this for you, but many bars keep their fresh garnishes in the beer keg cooler or one of the back bar coolers.

Side Note: Bar sanitation is so important. We will be discussing sanitation in an upcoming lesson, but if you want some in-depth detail about this topic, check this out.

Washing Bar Fruit and Garnishes

A no brainer here. Wash each individual fruit item thoroughly. Please – NOT IN THE 3-SINK GLASS WASHING TUBS!

Left-over garnishes

Never return fruit/garnishes in the garnish tray back to their original container. A big no-no. Unfortunately, you’re going to see a lot of this sort of nonsense.

Garnishes are used simply to flavor or make the drink more attractive. It’s all about aesthetics and presentation here. Besides fruit, garnishes also include nuts, plants – even bamboo umbrellas are considered a “garnish.”

The Most Common Garnishes You’ll Find At A Bar


Daquiris, Manhattan’s, Sours, Old-fashioned, Collins, Apple ‘tinis, Shirley Temples and other virgin drinks. Pretty much any fruity drink. Customers will ask for cherries all the time – even when it doesn’t go with the drink recipe. Go ahead and comply – it’s just a cherry, right? Follow House Policy. Usually bought by the gallon – in glass jars. Refrigerate after opening!


Martinis. Besides cherries, the fruit your customers will most likely be grabbing out of the garnish trays with their dirty fingers. And, yes, olives are labeled as “fruits.” Like cherries, refrigerate after opening. Never put in a fruit martini!


Not used very often these days. Usually pickled. Gibsons (A martini with an onion instead of an olive).


Martinis, Long Islands, Lemon Drops, lemonades, sodas, and just plain ‘ol water. Customers will ask for lemon in all kinds of drinks. Just to be cool. Twists and squeezes. Sometimes wheels and spirals – all depends on how much the bar owner has in his fruit/garnish budget. For drinks requiring twists, rub the rind around the edge of the glass after “twisting” the oil into the drink.

Fresh Lemons and Limes For Cocktail Garnishes

Side Note: Many customers will order a “Gin and Tonic with a twist, my man!” So, are they asking for a twist of lime? A twist of lemon? No, what they really mean (99% of the time), is a “squeeze” of lime – the most popular garnish for anything with tonic. Ask, and give them what they want! Martini’s will get a “twist” of lemon – not a “squeeze!”


Gin/Vodka tonic, Margaritas, Collins, Sours. Limes go well with plain soda, tonics, and sweet ‘n sour. About 8 wedges per lime, but it all depends on the size. Many bars cut the 8 wedges/slices into 16. Some bars have lime slices (wheels) and wedges.


Usually slices, but sometimes wedges. Many bars get very fancy with orange, lime, and lemon garnishes. Collins, Fuzzy Navel, many different kinds of specialty fruit drinks. And, grated for “zest.”

Side Note: Many bars have some really cool juicers. They may “fresh squeeze” many of their fruits.


Expensive. Margaritas, daquiris, anything fruity and special. Most bars will buy their sliced strawberry’s in gallon cans. Some will use only fresh fruit. Watch for spoilage.

Fresh Strawberries For Garnishes
Fresh ripe strawberry in glass bowl on wood

Fresh Pineapple

Again, expensive. Usually triangular wedges, but some bars have spears. Mai-Tais, Pina Coladas, Specialty Drinks – anything fruity.


Bloody Mary’s. One of your customer’s favorite snack foods.

Whipped Cream

Yes, this is a garnish. For hot drinks like Kalua Coffee and Hot Toddies. Also used in a lot of frozen or fruity/cream drinks. I’ve had customers ask for whipped cream on top of their regular coffee – just because they knew we had it.


Fruit drinks. Daquiri’s, Banana Banshee, Banana Cream Pie. Anything you’re using banana liqueur in – and more. Cut to order – these things spoil fast.

Fresh Bananas For Cocktail Garnishes
Fresh fruits on white background. Healthy food concept


Usually sliced, but some fancy places will spiral the peels. Must be cut to order, as they brown quickly.


Mint juleps and Mojitos. Only use the fresh stuff.

Assorted Berries

Whatever is in season. Most bars do not carry these. Raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries. Fruity “foo-foo” drinks.

Rare Additional Cocktail Garnishes

Coffee beans, nuts, chocolate.

There you have it – garnishes. Just give this a quick read a time or two and you’ll be good to go. Every bar is different, and most will carry about half of the garnishes I listed above.

If you’re following along in the Basic Bartending Course:

Next Lesson: Cutting Fruit

Previous Lesson: Mixers

Back to the Course Start Page: Basic Bartending Course