Cocktail with spray

Bar Buzz: Creating Experiences

Leave a lasting impression on your guests with inspiration from two of the UK’s leading bar professionals.

Authors: Emanuele Mensah, Diageo World Class GB 2023 Finalist and Max Hayward from Cardiff’s Lab 22, voted No.1 in the Top 50 Cocktail Bars List 2022.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

More than 30% of customers say they would be happy to pay a bit more for a better experience. So how do you give guests great value for money, a memorable visit, and somewhere they’ll be raving about to their friends?

We caught up with award-winning bar professionals, Emanuele Mensah, who has worked at Eau de Vie in Sydney and London’s The Connaught Bar and cocktail innovator Max Hayward from the top-ranking Lab 22 in Cardiff.

Let’s dive in as they share their top tips for transforming your guest’s experience from mundane to magnificent!

1. GET A GUEST'S-EYE VIEW

“All bars have different vibes and clientele, and knowing how to read the room is so important” explains Max, adding “Something I like to do is leave the venue, then re-enter as if I’m a guest entering for the first time. Seeing your bar from this perspective can really help you notice small details, which can make all the difference in creating your bar’s perfect atmosphere.”

Thinking about how you want people to see your bar is vital. Emanuele says “It’s about the identity you want to communicate, so you need to choose accordingly. Every element of a bar is important. They all need to work together to create the right atmosphere. A wrong playlist will, for example, create the wrong vibe.”

Emanuele adds “Creating an atmosphere is like balancing a cocktail. Lights not too bright, music lively, but not too loud. For my pop-ups, I usually play African old school high life tracks which I think are perfect for creating good vibes in a venue.”

2. DARE TO DEVIATE

Your inspiration is a great way to get your guests hyped about being in your bar. Max explains, “For me, inspiration for creating serves that wow guests comes from the people around me - my team and my guests! The serve for our Critical Mass cocktail, for example, is a decorative jar from IKEA, which we walked past one day and said, "A cocktail would fit in that!". All drinks on our current menu are inspired by different areas of science – from climate change and time travel, to areas like Venomics which is the study of venom.

“Inspiration can come from everything. In my case, I take inspiration from my travels and my roots. This all comes through in my menu and aesthetics of the bar for my guests to soak up and feel a part of it.", says Emanuele.

Emanuele adds “Each time I make a cocktail, I always start from something familiar. One example is my ‘Bese Saka’ which I created for the World Class GB 2023. I played around with ingredients of the places dearest to me: UK with its tea, Italy with ricotta, and cola nuts typically used in Ghana.”

3. TELL YOUR STORY

Storytelling about your products, your serves, and the inspiration behind them gives your guest something genuine to get excited about and share with others.

Max explains “People genuinely love to know what they’re drinking and how it’s made. In Lab 22, for example, we love talking about some of the local producers whose ingredients we use. Our honey comes from urban beehives in Cardiff, and we can tell the guests all about how it’s made, where it’s from, and why we use it.

We get our coffee from a local independent roastery called Uncommon Ground. They have a café just round the corner from us in central Cardiff, and a roastery just outside the city. They get the beans in raw and roast them all there themselves."

"Passion is infectious. If you get excited about small details of your drink, then the guests will too!"

Max Hayward

4. CELEBRATE THE SENSES

“Consider all senses in your serves”, says Max, whose award-winning Lab 22 has turned sensory cocktails into a science. Max adds, “Taste and appearance are the senses most associated with cocktails, but don’t underestimate the impact that smell, touch, and sound can have on the experience of your guests.

“I love interactive serves, where the guest feels involved and can ‘complete’ the serve themselves – it makes people feel like they’re part of creating the moment rather than just being there for the moment. For example: vessels for smoking drinks are great for this – lifting the lid on a smoking jar gives a sound, a feeling, and the smell of smoke. From our ‘Heavy Elements’ menu, our popular Alchemists Garden cocktails are served under glass domes filled with smoke and always create a lot of excitement with our guests! 

Even small things like a scented atomiser spray can make a world of difference and change your guest’s experience from a tasty drink to something evocative and memorable.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Try and get a new customer’s perspective of your bar to help see things you may be missing day to day.
  • Give your storytelling game a boost by knowing your menu and products inside out.
  • Serenade your guest’s senses with sounds and smells to accompany the look and taste of your cocktails.
  • Focus on presentation and creativity to get customers snapping your serves and sharing socially.