Cocktail Garnishes



Most girls can relate to garnishes. They are the accessories of a cocktail like jewelry and a handbag are to an outfit. That extra special finishing touch will make a girl--of all ages—giddy inside. Don’t believe me? Next time you give them a drink watch where their eyes go first. Garnishes can be made of fruit, vegetables, spices, or anything thing else edible to embellish, compliment, or enhance a drink. Decorations are normally non-edible items such as paper parasols, frilly cocktail picks, sparklers, novelty straws, etc.

There are so many different types of bars, however if you laid all their garnishes and decorations side by side, you would be able to tell what type of bar they were. High-end bars will always have the freshest and largest selection with extra attention spent on upscale pics, straws, and other non-edibles and low-end bars will only have the top basic four garnishes. All the others fall in-between. Keep in mind that I speak for bars in America and also know some bars will vary because you will have more tropical garnishes in Florida then you would in Montana for example.

The Top 4 Bar Garnishes
Lime, lemon, cherry, and olive


Without a doubt, this garnish is at the top of the heap. It’s automatically used for a Gin & Tonic, Vodka Tonic, Rum & Tonic, Cape Codder, Seabreeze, Margarita, soda water, Perrier, and Cubre Libre. It can also be used for a Bloody Mary, shot of tequila, and muddled for a Mojito or Caipirinha. Limes, like most citrus fruits, are native to South Asia. With time they made their way around the world. The British Navy used the juice for scurvy.

The lime wedge is by far the preferred and most professional way to cut a lime. Lime wheels are usually used for aesthetic reasons and meant to stay on the rim. You’ll find them in high-end bars. Limes quarters are supposed to be for muddling, but some bars tend to use this as their normal cut for some reason. I don’t know why, because you can get the same number of pieces from this cut and a lime wedge cut. The most unprofessional way to cut a lime doesn’t even have a name, but can be found in the lowest of the low-end bars. It’s a stupid, unsanitary, messy, cheap cut that barely yields any juice.

Lime Wedge
Cut the lime lengthwise. You don’t have to cut the ends off first! To me, when you cut the ends off it makes it look like one of those dogs that get their tails cut off. When you don’t cut the ends, it allows the wedge to be held and squeezed without getting the meat all over you or your guest’s fingers, plus it just looks prettier because you kept the natural curve of the lime intact. Okay, so after cutting it into two pieces, hold one of the halves meat side towards you, cut a slit across the inside of the lime. This will create slits in your wedges so that you can slip one on the rim of a glass. Repeat with the other half. Now lay the two pieces flat and never cut the pieces the other way because you want a stable situation while having a knife in your hand. You will be making three cuts to get four wedges. There’s a couple of ways to do this. You can cut the halve directly in half then cut each of those pieces in half or go straight in at an angle making three cuts. With practice you’ll be doing the latter. Makes eight pieces.

Another way to stick a wedge on the rim of a glass is to omit the slit cut and simply separate the rind from the meat about 1/2 inch then place it straight up on the rim vertically. This is a very nice presentation.
Some bars like to get six pieces from their wedges, but if you sell Corona as well then you need the eight slimmer wedges so that the limes can be multi-purpose.


Lime Wheel
Cut a little more than just the ends off and then cut a slit lengthwise. Now cut the wheels. Depending on the size of the lime, you should get 3-4 wheels.

Lime Quarters
Cut a lime widthwise. Lay the halves flat then cross cut. Makes eight pieces. These are the cuts usually used for Mojitos and limes you muddle.
The Stupid Lime Cut
Cut the ends off of a lime then cut lengthwise, cut those pieces lengthwise then make many thin cuts widthwise. Makes about twenty stupid pieces.You'll find this cut in cheap bars and I see it a lot in country bars.

All bars have their own policies. Some will want you to place the lime on the rim of the glass for sanitary reasons. After all, when you think about it, bartender’s hands are pretty nasty. You are touching so many things; money, dirty glasses, dirty bar towels, dirty hands when shaking, and ashtrays. If you set the fruit on the rim allowing the guest to decide if they want the lime squeezed, simply lay an extra cocktail napkin down for them. If you’re allowed to squeeze the fruit then cup your other hand around the drink to no one get squirted.




Lemons win for the most cuts. It’s automatically used for a Long Island Iced Tea, Long Beach Tea, Texas Tea, Chocolate Cake shot, Lynchburg Lemonade, and tomato juice. It can also be requested for a tequila shot, iced water, Vodka Soda, Scotch & Water, Scotch & Soda and anything else that the guests wants. Lemons in history were only affordable for the wealthy and were often given as royal gifts. Asian lemon-shaped earrings were worn in 2500 B.C.
The ways to cut a lemon is wedges, wheels, quarters, zests, twists, and spirals. Cut the wedges, wheels and quarters like the limes above.

Lemon Zests
Lemon zests are oval shaped slices of lemon rind and are used to flame. You hold a match in one hand and a zest in the other. Over the cocktail you squeeze the zest releasing the oils and this causes the flame of the match to flare up. Simply cut oval rind chunks from the rind. This is what Dale DeGroff is using on the cover os his book, The Craft of the Cocktail.




Lemon Twists
(Peel Off Twists)

There are a few ways to cut lemon twists. The most common is to make peel-off twists. Simply take a lemon (try to pick the longest one) and make incisions through the skin stopping at the meat all the way around the lemon. Now, some bartenders cut off both ends and then cut the incisions, but this just makes a juicy mess all over your hands. The size of the twists is up to you, but don’t make them too thin. After you’ve made the incisions then cut off one end. At this point the twist can be pulled off when needed. Some bartenders cut both ends off, but, that just makes a shorter twist and besides, it’s not necessary because the twist will rip right off.
Curly Twists
Another way to make twists is to remove the meat of the lemon from the skin of the lemon then roll up the skin and cut in pieces (like cinnamon rolls). It makes long curly twists. There are a few ways to get the whole skin off the lemon. One is to cut the ends off then make an incision half way through the lemon lengthwise. Using your fingers you can start to separate the rind from the meat. Another way is to omit the half way incision and use a spoon. You just stick it between the skin and the meat and run it around the lemon until it separates. You then can make one widthwise cut on the skin, roll, then cut into curly strips. Another way is to soak a couple lemons in hot water while cutting your other fruit. The heat loosens the skin from the meat, so when you remove the skin it slips off easily.

Lemon Spirals
To get long curly fancy spirals all you need is channel knife/zester. To make zest for flaming just take the lemon and begin to slice one inch ovals right off the skin with a sharp knife.
Horse’s Neck
You should know that there is a lemon garnish known as a horse’s neck. It’s a whole thick lemon peel cut in a spiral and inserted in a tall glass taking up the whole glass. Ice is added after placing it in the glass.


Maraschino Cherry (mare-uh-SKEE-noh)

Yes, maraschino cherries come from real cherries. They are named after the marasca cherry, which are used to make cherry liqueurs. The three basic steps taken to turn fresh-harvested cherry into a maraschino cherry are; soak, rinse, and bottle. The cherries soak in a solution of brine, sodium metabisulfite, calcium chloride, and citric acid. The sodium metabisulfite transforms into sodium dioxide, the calcium keeps the cherry firm, and the citric acid balances the pH of the solution. It’s similar to the same process of brining cucumbers into pickles. During this process the cherry loses it’s color. Next the cherries are sorted by size and pitted with a star shaped needle. The cherries are then rinsed and packed into jars with corn syrup, water, flavored syrup (usually almond), preservatives, and red food color #40. You’ll also see some upscale bars with green maraschino cherries that are peppermint flavored.

Drinks that get an automatic cherry are; Manhattan, Amaretto Sour, Whiskey Sour, Tom Collins, and Shirley Temple. Other drinks that might get a cherry are Piña Colada, Sour Apple-tini, tropical and exotic drinks, and whipped cream drinks.

On whipped cream drinks, some bartenders like to add a cherry on top by diving the stem into the whip. It’s pretty, but ends up a little messy for the guest. When serving children, some bartenders will stick the cherry stem about 1/4 inch into the straw and let it dangle. They seem to like it. And of course if you have your knife handy, then you can make a slice and set it on the rim.

You can also use a cherry in place of a spoon to layer a shot.



From what we know, the olive tree was grown on the island of crete in 3500 B.C. and is the oldest tree in continuous cultivation. Olive branches were a symbol of peace for the Greeks. Olives are used in the classic Martini and sometimes Bloody Mary’s. Some high-end bars stuff them with blue cheese, anchovies, and almonds. For a classic Martini one un-speared olive or two speared olives through the side of the olive is proper. Just so you know, the pimento is a pickled pepper.

Other Garnishes


Cocktail Onions
Cocktail onions are pickled pearl onions. They are small white mild flavored onions. Few bars stock cocktail onions because they are only used to make a Gibson (classic Martini with onions instead of olives). High end bars will stock them. For the Gibson, one un-speared cocktail onion or two speared cocktail onions is proper.
Note: Know that if a guest asks for more olives and onions that they should always get what they request.



For some reason oranges remained an Asian treat for a long time because they didn’t make it to Europe until the 1200’s. Today California produces the most eating oranges and Florida producers the most juicing oranges.

Oranges can be found in most medium-end to high-end bars. The most popular use for them as a garnish is to make flags. A flag is a cherry speared on an orange slice with a cocktail pick. The original flag was made to resemble a flag on a pole by bowing up half an orange slice and running a pick through (in between you insert a cherry as you piece it together). Today a flag just means a cherry speared orange. The cherry can be speared from the side or on top. You’ll find flags garnishing a Tom Collins, Whiskey Sour, Amaretto Sour, and some tropical drinks. You’ll also find an orange slice muddled with sugar and bitters to make an Old Fashioned.

There are a couple of ways to cut oranges. To me the typical half wheel orange is too much of a garnish. I like to cut them one more time to have a quarter orange. Afterall, we’re just enhancing the drink, not feeding the guest.

Orange half and quarter wheels

There are a couple of ways to cut oranges. To me the typical half wheel orange is too much of a garnish. I like to cut them one more time to have a quarter orange. Afterall, we’re just enhancing the drink, not feeding the guest.




The pineapple got its name from Columbus in 1493 when he thought it looked like a pinecone. In 1901 a man named James Dole moved to Hawaii and started the Hawaiian Pineapple Company. As for pineapples in bars, well you really only find it in sunny locations. It’s considered very exotic and is somewhat expensive. The most famous cocktail it garnishes is the Piña Colada.

Pineapple Wedge

Just like the orange, I think that you don’t need such a large slice, so I like to cut them in quartered sizes too. Make a pineapple flag by spearing a cherry on it.

Having worked the bulk of my bartending career in the Caribbean and in Florida, I’ve had the luscious experience of using pineapple as a garnish. When pressed for time I simply pic a cherry on top, but when I have an extra five to ten minutes, I will peel off the pineapple leaves, wash them then cut them where they are about two inches in length. Next you can simply spear them with a cherry and then spear the side of a pineapple slice (near the rind) with the leaf point side up. Or the fancy version is to cut a slit into the rind part of a slice and stick two leaves into the slit so they are standing on top the rind point side up.




Celery is used in a Bloody Mary. There are quite a few ways to present them. As a bunch, you cut off the bottom end them rinse all the stalks because they will still have soil on them. I like to cut the end off at an angle so they have interesting pointed ends (like the way you cut flowers). Now, some people hack off the tops, but I think that it looks nice to keep on the leaves. One whole stalk is really too much, so slice the stalk lengthwise to make two pieces from one. You can skewer many items to the celery stalk like a scallion, olive, cherry tomato, peppers, peel-n-eat-shrimp, etc.


I once worked at a bar where our Bloody Mary garnishes were a celery stalk, scallion (green onion, and a cherry tomato. We cut the top of the scallion lengthwise (the green part) a few times to make lots of green strips and set them in water packed with ice. Within 10 minutes the strips curled making very attractive scallions. We then skewered a cherry tomato to the scallion then both of those onto the celery stalk. It was pretty.




Strawberries are a high-ticket item especially when they aren’t in season, but usually high-end warm climate tourist bars will stock them.
They can be used to garnish a Strawberry Daiquiri, glass of Champagne, Mimosa, or muddled to make a Strawberry Mojito. As a rimmed garnish, no cutting is necessary, just stick on.




You will find bananas tropical in locations. They are used to make Banana Daiquiris. Lots of bartenders will cut off the 1/4 top of the banana (skin and meat), make a slit in the bottom then set it on the rim of the glass. The rest of the banana is used to make the drink.



A spig of mint means about 3 leaves. Mint leaves are used for Mint Juleps and Mojitos.



Other Garnishes

Kiwi, star fruit (I love this one!), sugar, pepper, kosher salt, coconut flakes, chocolate syrup, chocolate shaving, cocoa powder, chili powder, raw horseradish, scallions, cherry tomato, cocktail shrimp, pickled okra, pickled green beans, pickled asparagus, peppers, nutmeg, whipped cream, cookies, rock candy swizzle sticks, and coffee beans.
Modern mixologists have created cocktails using, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, rose petals, flowers, basil, sugared ginger, cucumber, cinnamon sticks, edible pearl dust, and oysters on the half shell.

If you shake a clear drink with the edible pearl dust it will give it a beautiful shimmering luster. There’s also vodka from Canada called Pearl, so you could design a cocktail with a pearl theme and maybe add a rim of edible gold flake. Just look on the Internet for the edible pearl dust and gold flake.


Flower Garnishes

Here are some nontoxic flowers that you can use as a garnish: Angelica, anise hyssop, apple blossoms, arugula blossoms, banana blossoms, basil blossoms, bee balm blossoms, borage, marigolds, carnations, chrysanthemum, chamomile, citrus blossoms, dandelion, elderberry, fuchsia, hibiscus, honeysuckle, hyacinth, jasmine, lavender, sage blossoms, roses, petunia, primrose, and sunflower petals.
Some toxic flowers include: Daffodil, lily, sunflower, azalea, mistletoe, morning glory, periwinkle, wisteria, wild cherry blossoms, narcissus, poinsettia, peony, and rhododendron African violet, and baby’s breath.


Drink rims can be rimmed with; sugar of all types and colors, salt of all types, cocoa powder, hot chocolate powder, shaved chocolate, coconut flakes, Pop Rocks, sprinkles, edible gold flake, Cajun spices, crushed Oreo cookies, crushed graham crackers, and anything your imagination can conjure up.

I know you’ve seen Chocolate Martinis rimmed with cocoa powder, but I like to use hot chocolate powder because the cocoa powder is very bitter. They look the same, so why not?

Decorations are unlimited as well. For private holiday parties I always buy bags of holiday bows, candy canes, etc. and decorate drinks. If you go to it will inspire you with lots of fun party ideas to decorate your drinks.


Garnish Tips

Garnishes are put into a fruit tray. It’s ideal for a bartender to set the fruit tray behind the bar so guests aren’t constantly sticking in their nasty fingers thinking that it’s a free buffet (a bartender pet peeve).

Some bartenders put ice underneath the containers of the tray to keep fruit cool. When the fruit tray is on the bar top try to keep the olives near you because they’re the #1 thing most guests zoom in on. I’m a freak at having my fruit tray stocked and ready to go. People look at it with a mesmerizing stare and mutter, it’s so pretty! Basically, all I do is prep everything because I’m a prep freak bartender (hey, I just want to make as many drinks as I can without slowing down, because the more drinks I make the more money I make). I spear the olives and set then upright in olive juice, cherries are placed in with all the stems up ready to grab, my orange and pineapple flags are ready to go and my limes overflow blending into the lemons. All the fruit is piled high because I always have expectations of a big busy night.

When cutting fruit at the bar, it will help to set up an assembly-line-type system that works for you.

Cutting boards that are used to cut meat should never be used to cut garnishes.

You will always need more limes than lemons in your fruit tray.

Some bars may require you to wear a cut resistant glove with a rubber glove. Just a rubber glove on one hand is nice too because it keeps your fingers from being stained from the cherries and keeps the burning citrus off.

In a commercial setting you can’t wash citrus before cutting because farmer’s spray wax on to keep them bright and pretty The wax will begin to flake and look really bad. You can rinse them though, but, I will tell you that not one bar has ever required me to do so. You can wash organic citrus. Try to practice good sanitary habits when cutting garnishes by washing your hands before starting. Don’t wipe your nose or any part of your body then resume cutting. C’mon this is common sense stuff.

In most bars, you’ll have to cut back up fruit in case you run out.

Try to pre-assemble or prep any garnishes so that it does not slow you down throughout your shift.

Know that like anything else, garnishes and decorations are limitless to your imagination, so try to present them a new way by spearing them differently, setting them on the glass differently, or anything else your pretty little head comes up with.

Once when working for a Doubletree Hotel I took one of their famous cookies and made a drink based on the ingredients on the cookie package and called it a Frozen Cookie. (Doubletree is known for giving warm cookies to their guests upon checking arrival.) I garnished it by setting one of the cookies horizontal on the top of the glass, squirt some whipped cream on top and stuck a straw through the whipped cream and the cookie straight into the drink. It was a big hit. Well, at least until the chef wanted to know why they were going through so many cookies all of a sudden so I was ordered to stop. That’s a great example of working for a corporation. All they had to do was look at it as a money-making opportunity, but ya can’t tell the big boys that because they want to be the ones coming up with all the ideas, don’t cha know.

Garnish Drink Matching


Lime: Tonics (Gin & Tonic, Vodka Tonic, Rum & Tonic, etc.), Cape Codder, Seabreeze, Margarita, soda water, Perrier, Corona, and Cubre Libre. It can also be used for a Bloody Mary, shot of tequila, and muddled for a Mojito or Caipirinha.

Lemon: Teas (Long Island Iced Tea, Long Beach Tea, Texas Tea, etc.), Chocolate Cake shot, Lemonades (Lynchburg Lemonade, Electric Lemonade, etc.), and tomato juice. It can also be requested for a tequila shot, iced water, Vodka Soda, Scotch & Water, Scotch & Soda and anything else that the guests wants in whatever form they want, but it's usually a wedge or twist. You might also hear a requested twist for classic Martini.

NOTE: When a guest orders, let's say, a soda water with a twist, 99.9 times out of 10 they mean a lime wedge. It's just something our culture has picked up from the movies. But when they order a twist with a Vodka Soda, Scotch & Water, Scotch & Soda, etc. they mean lemon twist.

Also, some establishments will use a lime or a lemon for their Cosmos. You just have to garnish accordingly.


Oranges & Cherries: In most cases these two go together as a flag. Orange flags are used for Sours (Tom Collins, Whiskey Sour, Amaretto Sour, etc.), and some tropical drinks. You’ll also find an orange slice muddled with sugar and bitters to make an Old Fashioned.


NOTE: If an establishment doesn't use oranges for garnishes, then a cherry is used at the very minimum.

Traditionally, a Tequila Sunrise, Madras, Screwdriver, and other orange juice based drinks don't get a garnish. However, if you work somewhere where they don't mind, why not add one? It's a girl thing.


Olive: Classic Martini and sometimes a Bloody Mary.

Cocktail (Pearl) Onion: Gibson and sometimes a Bloody Mary.


Well, if you made it this far down the page then you deserve a free gift. Click or right click on the pages to download the fruit cutting artwork for a closer view.