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‘Michelin star’ system a ‘shot in the foot’ for bars

Introducing a Michelin star system for bars would be a “danger” to the industry as they risk making bars “homogenous and dull”, renowned bar owner Ryan Chetiyawardana has said at a P(our) panel discussion.

Alex Kratena speaking at the London panel discussion

Speaking at a P(our) collective event held yesterday [23 January] at The Town Hall Hotel in East London, Chetiyawardana expressed concerns that implementing an equivalent within the bar industry would be counterproductive.

“Frankly, what’s nice is that we have a range of bars and people are attracted to this industry from lots of different backgrounds because its not the boring same old thing,” said Chetiyawardana. “If we then develop a guide, are we then just not going to make a load of bars that none of us actually want to go and drink in?” He continued: “I worry that if we had a guide that was like Michelin we’d shoot ourselves in the foot.”

The discussion was part of a wider debate on whether too much emphasis is placed on awards, the involvement of spirits brands in competitions, and whether bars would benefit from the introduction of objective criteria – such as a Michelin Guide.

Joining Chetiyawardana on the panel was Zdenek Kastanek, general manager of Proof & Company, Singapore; Jake Burger, founder of Portobello Road Gin and The Ginstitute; Simon Ford, co-founder of 86 Company and chairman of The Spirited Awards; William Drew, group editor of World’s 50 Best Restaurants, World’s 50 Best Bars and Restaurant Magazine. The discussion was moderated by Jim Meehan, author of The PDT Cocktail Book and a member of the P(our) collective.

In contrast to Chetiyawardana’s views, Ford saw value in introducing a similar ratings system. “I talked about it a lot with Henry Besant back in the day,” he said. “It was something we really wanted to do ,and it was a gigantic monumental task to find different people in different places… Our industry is new [and] I think we were thinking too big when we [considered] it.

“Just like Michelin does, you could start with one city and [expand] one at a time. I would love to see it, and if I wasn’t trying to build a small business, I would love to do it. One day I hope to get to it if no one has done it first.”

“As the industry grows I think we’re getting to a place where that could happen and I think it would be great,” Meehan added.

Kastanek agreed, adding that bringing objectivity is a “number one” priority for the sector, which does not even have a ‘basic’ awards criteria to follow.

“It will bring lots of parity to everyone,” he explained. “Having a book like Michelin Guide works for consumers, so they can just look through and decide where they’re going to go for a drink when they’re travelling around the world.

Backing Chetiawardana, Drew argued that awards should be a “by-product” of running a great bar.

“The flip side of so-called transparency is that you have set criteria,” he said. “If you have set criteria, people chase that criteria. And if people chase that criteria, they’re effectively chasing awards – or in restaurant cases, a Michelin star. That’s not necessarily a healthy thing.”

Summing up, Mehan said: “Part of P(our) is to try and take these controversial subjects that tend to rub people the wrong way and stick our fingers in them – kinda get our hands dirty – and try to hopefully come up with not just problems, but to come up with solutions.

“One of the things I love the most about our industry – and one of the reasons why I think bartending is such an amazing job – is that bartending is all about problem solving. Every single interaction, moment in your life has the potential to be fraught with conflict, and your job as a bartender is to smooth that over.”

The P(our) concept was founded by Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale in April 2016 as a “bartender collective” that seeks to “build a holistic community for the global drinks industry”.

It held its first symposium in Paris in June 2016, which was attended by professionals from the drinks industry and beyond.

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