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SB Voices: We must speak up for bartenders amid Brexit


In this week’s opinion column, Kristiane Sherry implores the industry to speak up for bartenders as the UK triggers Article 50 and prepares to leave the European Union.

The Spirits Business editor, Kristiane Sherry

As we put the April issue of The Spirits Business to press, UK prime minister Theresa May sent a very different document out into the public domain. By delivering her letter stating she will invoke Article 50, she kicked off the process of withdrawing the UK from the European Union.

While the UK was split near-fifty-fifty on the matter, the spirits industry was largely united in its call for the country to remain a part of the EU. And now, as the two-year withdrawal process begins, stakeholders are battening down the hatches to ride out the storm with as much stability as possible.

While the likes of The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) are standing up for the spirits under their respective jurisdictions, very little has been said on behalf of the UK’s bartending community. London – which staunchly voted remain in the referendum vote – is a multinational hub of drinks innovation, a melting pot of ideas and trends from all around the world. And the capital’s cocktail scene is vastly richer for it.

There’s no doubt in my mind that should EU citizens’ right to remain not be secured, the on-trade will suffer enormously. London bars regularly top global lists of excellence, and many of the trade’s rising and established stars climb through the ranks in this city. The growth of the cocktail, industry development, enhancing consumer education and appreciation – all these facets and more are dependent on and built around bartenders and their career progression, a group strongest when it is most diverse.

The knock-on effect of such an established route-to-market drying up will not just mean more boring bars. New brands rely on the on-trade – without good bartenders championing products, fewer will succeed. Bartenders are the great brand ambassadors for the industry – it is they, after all, who engage with consumers at the deepest level. They foster interest and forge passions between imbibers and up-and-coming categories. They make whisky fans of beer drinkers, and upsell the gin in that G&T. A great bartender is a brand’s best friend, feeding back detailed trends before they fully emerge as well as serving as an extension of the sales force.

It is essential then that as a sector we champion the EU bartender living and working in London and the rest of the UK. With immigration a key rhetoric at the forefront of the Leave campaign, it is vitally important that the trade engages with this discussion at every level. Should the UK government fail to guarantee EU citizens’ right to remain, introduce quotas or minimum earning thresholds, it’s the whole sector that will suffer – not just the hospitality arm.

As Tony Conigliaro told me earlier this year, “we were always taught not to talk about politics at the bar”. But if we don’t bring the bars into politics now and speak up vociferously in united voice over the next two years, the whole spirits industry will face unprecedented consequences.

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