The secret is in the details
With the rise of the foodie consumer, is the drink industry the next target for the savvy customer? Bar owner and 2014 World Class winner James Fowler believes you need to know your products and going the extra mile can pay off, helping you to make better recommendations, improve your customer experience and maximize your bar’s uplift. We caught up with James to find out more.
KNOW YOUR INGREDIENTS
Previously, while working in a professional kitchen with a head chef named Paul Reed, I pretty much got forced into knowing all the ingredients and components of the dishes. Every shift I had to check every ingredient and organize them for service. This was one of the biggest lessons I’ve ever learned—know your stuff! The research shows that staff who improve their knowledge will improve their confidence too, helping to create a better overall customer experience.
Applying this lesson to the bar I soon realized that the bartender represents everything behind him on the back bar. For this reason I sensibly downsized my back bar and kept only of spirits where I had already met the distiller, been to the distillery or read a lot of information about the product.
Ingredients, be they food or drink related (or both), are our most important unique selling points. Knowing your ingredients and using them well creates such a diverse experience for the consumer.
THE RISE OF THE SAVVY CUSTOMER
The rise of the foodie has made consumers so much more knowledgeable on food, and now drinks. With this in mind, consumer are looking for more knowledge, advice and recommendations when it comes to ordering drinks. Knowing your ingredients and components of drinks increases your opportunity to recommend to your guests and with 9 out of 10 consumers sticking to their first drink for the rest of the evening, it pays off with profit too!
I hear more about new products, such as Gins, from my customers than I do from my suppliers. The customer is looking out for a new drink experience these days and we as bartenders need to know our details to nurture them into our offerings/menu. Yes, they might want to try “this new incredible Gin” (that you haven’t got) but they haven’t tried your whole range yet. Why not? Maybe because you haven’t sold them a passionate story about what you have.
NEVER STOP LEARNING
Drink knowledge and history is huge—I know more about world history from reading about drink then I ever learned at school. The wide range of spirits combined with new innovations means a bartender’s education is never done. It’s no mundane spreadsheet or stale showroom—new products are arriving every week, each with a great story to tell and sell.
The more you tell the better your chances are to sell, and by sell I mean upsell. Improving your knowledge means you improve your confidence to upsell. Encourage customers that they should try a cocktail rather than Wine or Beer as you can confidently outline the ingredients and flavors they will sample in your mixed drink! Upselling pays off, more expensive drinks means more money for your venue and more money in tips.
GET OUT THERE
Traveling within this industry is a must for me! As my premises are located in the UK and with routes across Europe so accessible and cheap for me, I developed the bar and restaurant to focus strongly on European food and drink traditions. One of the first trips I took my team away on was a few day excursions to Jerez in Spain—the home of Sherry! I now regularly visit wineries, breweries and distilleries across Europe to get a personal association with the makers and the product. I also apply this to my kitchen. In fact, as I’m typing this I’m sitting onboard a flight to Catalonia to pick a special variety of onion (calcot) for a special Spanish night that I’m hosting in the restaurant.
I encourage my team to travel to places I’ve been and to explore the food and drink we sell. Even if I’ve not been there, I love extra knowledge to enter the business. We host showcase nights at the restaurant which effectively is us ticking a box or signing off the fact that we have learned and researched a new food or drink category. These customer events can include theatrics, very special guest distillers and carefully paired menus, to give the customer the closest experience of that category without actually visiting the product at the source. Most recently I flooded my restaurant, putting in a pond to depict a Japanese water garden for customers to walk across as they entered the Japanese dining room as part of a world of Whisky night.
I’m not perfect and I don’t have all the knowledge—a long way away in fact. However, I respect and push myself for this idea.
Creative learning is always ongoing and there is never a dull moment with bars and kitchens!
Try one of James’s favorite recipes…
- 1.5 oz. KETEL ONE® Family-Made Vodka
- 2 dashes Absinthe (preferably a Verte Absinthe)
- .75 oz. Spanish Liqueur, made from crushed and fermented sloes
- .75 oz. Spanish Oloroso Brandy
In a chilled mixing glass filled with ice, add all the ingredients and stir to chill.
Garnish with a flamed orange zest.
(*One standard drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol)
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