Whether you call it Guest Bartending, a Bar Takeover or a Pop-Up, the consensus is that brands, bartenders and owners of the world’s top bars love the opportunity to travel and exchange ideas,philosophies, techniques and the occasional Lay-Back shot with friends. During the Fall/Winter Bar Show Season, I had the opportunity to talk with Industry leaders from Barcelona, Athens, London, Manchester and the US about the perks and pitfalls of Bar Takeovers. Although the goals may be the same, the Pop- Up is clearly not a One-Size-Fits-All situation. Here’s a bit of insight, from 5 different points of view, all with a common outcome… The Guest Shift is here to stay.
Keeping with Tradition
First a chat with Maxim Schulte, head bartender of The American Bar at The Savoy. The American Bar isthe only bar mentioned here that doesn’t host guest bartenders, and for good reason. Says Schulte, “To my knowledge we have never done it and to be honest, as so many requests have been declined in the past, opening the door now for guest shifts in the American Bar would be questionable. Also, most of our guests come to experience our menu. Drawing the attention toever changing menus and events would possibly have an impact on the guest experience.”Seeing the bar in action during London Cocktail Week this past October, I tend to agree. Watching the parade of visiting bartenders, owners and general American Bar fans come in and out of the bar over a two-hour period, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t make sense for themto offer anything but the traditional, white coat, sophisticated but approachable experience and cocktail menu that has always been the Savoy standard. Consistently offering one of the top bar experiences in the world, however, has not prompted the team to sit back and stop growing and learning. I asked Maxim what the team gets out of visiting other bars around the world. “We all are traveling because it is great fun and we love what we are doing. We arefortunate that bars around the world are welcoming us to come to their homes and make some drinks with them, possibly even sharing some of our philosophy. I love to travel to different countries and make drinks for the amazing people there. It gives me not just in insight into the market, but also gives the opportunity to meet so many different people and experience cultures, which I love. When you see one of us making drinks in a different bar, we are doing this on our days off or when we request holiday. I think this should make the teams love for the industry clear.”
The 5-Day Residency
For Naren Young and Dante New York, one day is never enough. Dante has worked out a system that gets themselves and the brand maximum exposure and after hearing more about it on the last night of the November residency at Odori Vermuteria in Athens, I’m surprised thatthis type of takeover isn’t more prevalent. “Our approach has always been to do longer pop- ups. I’ve never seen the point of doing a one-night event. I will still do these from time to time but only if it’s part of a bigger program. For instance, recently I spent 3 weeks in China visiting 4 cities where part of the contract with the brand sponsor was to do a short guest bartending shift on top of a masterclass in each city. For me this is okay and makes sense because of time constraints and added value for the brand. That said, we did finish with a 6-day pop up in Shanghai at my request, which was very successful. If you’re only in a city for one night, then there’s a very little window for people to come and see you. What if they’re busy at that time and you miss out on some key people/media/industry/influencers coming to visit? This is a marketing exercise at the end of the day, so you need those people to come and see it. By having a longer format, there’s more opportunity for more people to come and see you and you can even develop ‘regulars’ over the course of that week.” says Young. “Plus, we usually come in with a longer, more ambitious menu format than many other bars, so it gives people a reason to return a second or third time, so they can try all the drinks. This system is how we develop these regulars. We did 9 drinks in Athens and this Summer in London we took 24 drinks to one pop-up across 4 separate menus which is crazy and overly ambitious, but we pulled it off and people were very impressed.” When asked about the benefit of a US-based bar promotin gin Europe, Asia and beyond, Naren says “In terms of added value, it’s hard to quantify. Bringingthe Dante experience around the world has been very beneficial to us in terms of marketing and revenue, but it’s more about getting on people’s radar so if and when they come to NewYork, then hopefully they’ll come and see us and like what we do.”
For Joe and Dan Schofield, the guest shifts this year have been an excellent way to stay onpeople’s radar leading up to the much-anticipated Spring 2019 opening of their own bar,Schofield’s, in hometown Manchester, UK. Dan says “We’ve traveled a lot in the past fewmonths and we feel it’s a great way to build awareness of Schofield’s. We have done manyindividual events in the past, but this has given us the opportunity to do it united as The Schofield Brothers. Traveling is a great way to see what other markets are doing, what style of drinks their guests like, what ingredients are naturally grown in their climates and much more,which is great because we work in an industry where you can never know enough!” With thealready amazing background of these young brothers, one would think the options and invitations would be limitless. I asked Joe how they decide what guest shift is the best fit is fortheir vision and the brothers as a ‘brand’. “I think the activation always has to be mutuallybeneficial for all parties involved. We have created an ‘activation conditions’ document that wesend to all event inquiries. This is of course negotiable, but it may help open up some thought processes that may not have existed before, i.e., the importance of media and content. We are always open to looking at events, but currently we decline a large number to be able to focus on more projects back in the UK. It is always very humbling for us to be invited, so we always try to make them work.
…. (Coming soon the Second Part)