Are bartender residencies worthwhile?

13th September, 2017 by Annie Hayes

Are guest residencies in bars a great way of attracting consumers or do they simply dilute the original venue’s offering? Two industry insiders give their opinions.

Joe Schofield, Tippling Club

Joe Schofield, head bartender, Tippling Club, Singapore

Tippling Club has hosted a series of monthly drinks-­led events called Once Upon a Time for more than two years. The concept is a continually changing theme reflecting a specific cuisine. In 2017, we decided to take the series to the next level and bring in top bartenders from reputable cocktail bars around the world to showcase their offerings. We’ve done this with the American Bar at The Savoy and Bar Termini.

There is always quite a bit of work and organisation that goes behind it but the end result is always worth it. While the cocktails are often signature serves from the guest bartender’s bar, the dishes come from our kitchen, which requires a lot of research and development, as well as tastings with the chef. It’s a real team effort but always a lot of fun for all involved.

We have built a solid base of regulars at Tippling Club. They are very interested in cocktails, so when there is the opportunity for them to experience drinks from a world­-class bar, they are quick to leap at the opportunity.

For Once Upon a Time, we emulate the guest bar’s atmosphere and service style. For other pop­-up events in our private lounge, BIN38, we have also played on sensory elements such as lights, sounds, smells and installations to deliver a unique multi­sensory experience.

Our Tippling Club bar team also takes part in monthly activations at top bars around the world, allowing them to introduce our unique Sensorium Menu there.

One of the biggest challenges of hosting Once Upon A Time is sourcing the right ingredients for the drinks the guest bartenders intend to bring from their bars, as the ingredients and flavours used in one country often varies considerably with those used in Singapore.

The most enjoyable aspect is the opportunity for our team to work with the top bartenders, and being able to share new flavour profiles and techniques that might not have yet been discovered here. I would recommend bartenders to do as many guest shifts as possible. It’s great exposure for your bars and, ultimately, a win-­win situation for all.

Julie Szekely, freelance

Julie Szekely, freelance bartender, London

Guest bartending and bar pop­-ups give consumers the opportunity to try cocktails from bars outside their city and grant bartenders the chance to do something different, reach new audiences, and collaborate with talents from the cities they visit.

What I’ve seen from various bar residencies is that you can’t take your whole team with you. Your bar team are like cogs in a machine – each completes the overall bar experience.

The key to doing a good bar stint in another bar is to make a good impression rather than to make money off it. I’ve noticed that a good number of people that have used them have seen them as money­-making opportunities. It is, of course, good marketing for a bar. But I think it requires a lot more thought and planning than most bars have time for, and that’s evident in a lot of these experiences. It’s very hard to do it successfully.

You also have to consider the efforts of recreating and staging the guest bar in your bar, because it can take up a lot of time. Bartenders in high-­volume bars are often too busy, and so would find it difficult to spare the time.

The main challenges of a pop-­up are bringing all of your products, glassware and tools over. You also might find it difficult to find certain ingredients for your drinks in another country. It can be hard to recreate the same drink in the same way that you do in your own bar.

You have to understand that you’re walking into something different but the quality of the drinks and the seamlessness of the service around it should be consistent. Also, expectations can be hard to manage because as you become better known, expectations are high.

Another important factor about most of these bar residencies is that they give bartenders a chance to learn from someone and somewhere new. They have the potential to be really fun and give consumers the chance to try something different.

I do think the trend is losing its lustre; we see a lot of amazing bartenders and bars doing pop-­ups, such as The American Bar at The Savoy and New York City’s BlackTail. It’s not a new thing anymore with so many bars doing it, so it’s no longer special.

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