HOW TO CREATE AN IMMERSIVE BAR EXPERIENCE
The past few years have had a dramatic impact on the industry, transforming the way bar venues operate. Jake Erder from Dead& Dive Bar and Paul Lougrat from A Bar With Shapes for a Name offer an insight into the immersive experiences they provide in their venues that you can replicate in yours.
EMBRACING THE CHANGE IN BAR CULTURE - DRINKS TO GO AT DEAD & DIVE BAR, HONG KONG
Today’s grab and go takeaway culture demands new ways of thinking, particularly in a city like Hong Kong that has a thriving bar culture and where drinking on the streets is permitted. In recent times, convenience stores have become a major competitor for all venues as guests increasingly opt to grab RTDs at a store, only to then gather outside bars and clubs with friends, enjoying the vibe and music but not actually spending any money in the bar.
IDENTIFYING YOUR COMPETITION: TAP INTO OPPORTUNITIES
Jake Erder, Bar Manager at Dead& Dive Bar, tells how they quickly identified this emerging competitor known as ‘Club 7-11’ and responded:
We restructured the business to be a high-volume bar with the option for easy grab and go drinks. Being located right next to an amphitheatre in one of the city’s key entertainment districts, Lan Kwai Fong, we were able to capitalise on that and target an audience who would have previously purchased drinks from the nearest convenience store.
HOW TO KEEP UP WITH INDUSTRY DEMAND: FINDING A UNIQUE SELLING POINT
To keep up with demand and relieve the busy bar station, our venue installed two vending machines offering canned and bottled drinks from local bars including beers, classic cocktails, and hard seltzers. The vending machines draw a lot of interest among guests and are strategically positioned to be seen from the street helping to draw in passers-by too.
As well as improving the flow of service from the bar, the vending machines act as an extra fridge and help with easy restocking in the main bar – they also allow the bar to generate extra revenue after last call while staff clean up and lingering guests purchase their final drinks.
The machines are easy to operate with very clear instructions, you can see how the machines work in the video below.
HOW TO DECIDE WHAT’S RIGHT FOR YOUR BAR?
A vending machine won’t be right for every bar, and to determine if it’s right for your venue, you need to ask yourself:
- Does this fit in with the theme of my bar?
- Do we operate in a culture where batched and ready-to-drink cocktails are in demand?
- Is there a growing appetite for canned and bottled drinks nearby?
If you decide to implement vending machines, you should consider:
- Choosing a vendor – do your research and decide if you would prefer to lease or buy the machine. Find out what support and training options are available, which models offer card or cash payment and ease of use - this will ultimately help you select the best option for your venue.
- Positioning in your venue – in bigger clubs, a vending machine located near the toilet could ease guests seamlessly back onto the dance floor to avoid the lines at the bar. In small venues, positioning in a prominent place, visible from the street can increase sales, take pressure off the bar team and make service more efficient.
- Stocktaking and preparation – the machines generally run themselves, but it’s still up to your team to keep on top of stock, so remember to prep these ahead of service and ensure there is sufficient stock to meet demand.
CREATING A CONCEPT FOR YOUR BAR: SOMETHING YOU BELIEVE IN
Having worked in several bars where menus were central to the venue experience, it was after an evening spent at Café Tacobar in Mexico City that Paul Lougrat’s perceptions of what made for an immersive bar experience completely changed. He recalls the owner joking that he wanted to have a bar that was as simple as its name – a simplicity that carried through every element of the bar - in the service, drinks, and atmosphere. The venue itself wasn’t unique, but the owner was doing something he believed in, and it was that authenticity that made it stand out as an experience not to be forgotten.
When opening his latest venue, A Bar with Shapes for a Name, alongside his partner, Remy Savage, the duo drew on three key elements to create a new and exciting venue in the UK. Through the walls, the smell, furniture, and layout they sought to heighten guests’ senses and offer an all-encompassing experience based on an iconic art movement.
1. DESIGNING A BAR – BE INSPIRED BY ART
Paul and Remy based the bars' concept on the school of Bauhaus – a key influencer of industrial design in the early 20th century.
They spent months working with an architectural designer to create the most functional and minimalist space they could. Every detail was carefully planned to complement the work of the Bauhaus students — Marcel Breuer inspired chairs, Wagenfeld lamps - so that these artists could impact the guests' minds and senses.
Experience is central to everything in the venue with every element designed to evolve as the night progresses – for example, the tables can fold up and attach to the walls to create standing or dancing room, and the bar extends to enable more exchange between the bar staff and customers. The venue is small, so making everything multi-functional gives greater control over the space and guests' experience. The team even decided against a back bar so that guests are not distracted by products and can fully immerse themselves in the venue’s atmosphere.
2. GOOD SERVICE TECHNIQUES AND SKILLS
A good technique removes any nuisance during service and is learned through experience and training. In keeping with the Bauhaus mindset, the drinks offering here is minimal and functional, but every step of the drinks process is studied to understand what brings the best final product to the table from the way it’s created, to the style and the service. Having a precise system to receive guests, present the menu, serve water, and take their order allows the team to work flawlessly and allow guests to relax.
At the bar, everything should feel and appear effortless so the team works on muscle memory, mechanisms and systems to ensure they are well versed in technical aspects and can free their mind to focus on bringing their natural personality and flow to service.
3. PERSONALITY-LED SERVICE MAKES FOR THE BEST EXPERIENCE
Paul is a firm believer that the personality of the staff is what creates the atmosphere in the venue, “Having emotional intelligence to be able to read the room, the customer's mood and needs is important. These elements are harder to learn, but not impossible, and are certainly worthwhile investing time and effort in”.
In order to offer guests the best experience possible, they include philosophical questions and emotional intelligence theory into staff training to help everyone open their minds to the impact they have on the guest’s experience.
Emotional intelligence training is a favourite of Lougrat’s – essentially it involved having an open and honest conversation with the team on the different aspects that define emotions. In these conversations, they discuss how to empathise, how to express yourself, how to evaluate yourself and how to become more self-aware which creates a great platform for exchange and development with the team. Other training at the venue is based on three main themes:
- NAILING YOUR BAR CONCEPT – the team are trained on Art Nouveau and Bauhaus to ensure they understand where the concepts are coming from. If you’re introducing a concept in your venue invest in training the team in the meaning and thought behind it to really get their buy-in.
- BLIND TASTING TO INDUCE CREATIVITY – through various exercises the team are challenged to use all of their senses to explore the difference between flavour and taste. You can do a blind tasting with your team to challenge their flavour perception and remove any bias from their minds. This will encourage their creativity too.
- TRAINING YOUR STAFF ON SERVICE TECHNIQUE – as mentioned the team are trained on exactly how to greet and serve guests, serve drinks and manage the in-house systems for flawless, hassle-free delivery. Understand what perfect service is for your venue and set a standard that all the team must adhere to – investing time here and training the team to this level further delivers on your venue's experience.
WHAT’S THE RIGHT CONCEPT FOR YOUR VENUE?
If you’re considering using a concept to differentiate your offering from the competition, it’s important that you fully understand that concept. Be prepared to run it through every aspect of your venue. Guest experience can be influenced by many elements; interior design, service, your offer, music, materials used for the coasters, staff uniform, so you must consider anything that will impact the senses of a guest as well as their overall perception of the venue.
The design of your space is very important. It’s the most immediate way to present your message to your customer so take time to review this and draw on professional help if you need it.
Train your team for a flawless technique and ensure they are delivering a service and conducting themselves in line with the vibe you want for your venue.
- Be aware of changing guest behaviour and the competitive landscape before implementing new ways of working in your bar.
- Identify your unique selling point and capitalise on that.
- Draw inspiration from other bars and restaurant experiences.
- When implementing a concept in your venue ensure that you run it across all aspects of design, service and presentation.
- Invest in team training to ensure the team can deliver on the experience you aim to offer.
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