Service first, sustainability and storytelling – the way forward for the bar sector?

19 February, 2019 by Tam Allenby

The World’s 50 Best Bars celebrated its 10th anniversary in New York City last week with a #50BestTalks event, bringing together a line-up of legendary bartenders and bar owners compiled from the list’s No.1 ranked bars over the last decade.

Six individual talks from top names such as Alex Kratena, Ryan Chetiyawardana, and Jillian Vose were followed by a panel discussion – diving deep into bar trends over the past decade, and what’s to come in the next 10 years.

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Discussions highlighted everything from the importance of education and empowerment in the workplace, the impact of sustainability and low- to no-waste operations, the significance of gender equality and diversity, and dedication to good service and “bringing fun” back to the bar.

Here’s some of the bar world’s leading lights with their insights into what they believe will drive the sector forward.

“Leadership and empowerment” – Jillian Vose, The Dead Rabbit and Jim Meehan, Please Don’t Tell (NYC)

Jillian Vose of The Dead Rabbit (World’s Best Bar 2016) said “the balance in the bar makes or breaks the experience as a whole”. This includes a commitment to inclusivity and culture within the workplace, and having a system in place that trains and incentivizes each employee’s loyalty and ability to grow with the bar.

Jim Meehan of Please Don’t Tell (World’s Best Bar 2011) commented on a leader’s role in stepping away, and removing oneself at times to allow your team’s autonomy and creativity to grow.

The oft-mentioned importance of balance was also referenced again – and not only when it comes to creating a great cocktail – but also when it comes to fostering a healthy working culture, with an appropriate work/life balance.

“Creative sustainability” – Ryan Chetiyawardana, Dandelyan (London)

The owner of The World’s Best Bar from last year spoke about creative sustainability and how “innovation is crucial; we don’t need to lose the wonderful things we [already] have, they can coexist”.

Chetiyawardana advocates an approach that doesn’t start with restrictions or “what you should not do”, and instead suggests reconsidering why a bar operates the way it does and how that can be made more sustainable.

Whether in the seasonality of produce used or operation elements that go into building a beverage programme, Chetiyawardana implored the industry to think about how they can use the tools available to them to innovate and challenge current practices.

“The ‘why’” – Alex Kratena, former head bartender at Artesian (London)

“Education is at the center of a great bar,” said Kratena, who led Artesian to its back to back success as The World’s Best Bar from 2012-2015.

Kratena spoke to the ‘why’, saying that many of the issues faced when creating and operating a bar stem from not being able to understand why things are done.

He also made the point that great staff come from managers offering their team the tools to think about the ‘whys’ and make decisions for themselves – and to find new ways to create unique experiences for each and every guest.

“Storytelling at the bar” – Declan McGurk, American Bar at The Savoy (London)

“Storytelling is a part of the very start of a human’s appreciation of enjoyment,” said McGurk, also pointing to escapism as one of the most passionate human instincts.

“You are not selling drinks, you are selling service,” he added, defining drinks as a product but service as an experience.

“Service first” – Jonathan Downey, Milk & Honey (London)

For Downey (World’s Best Bar 2009 and 2010), the most important thing about a great bar is “the people that work there and the people that go there”, adding that his bars “specialize in pleasure and looking after each other”.

Downey created Milk & Honey in London out of love for Sasha Petraske’s original speakeasy of the same name in New York, and his own admiration for the US bar scene.

He also said that “locality” has been a strong agent for good service, with the rise of the neighborhood bars in unheralded areas of a major city offering service that reflects the specific location.