Sad news ... a great bar lost a great host - Philip Duff canceld ownership of DOOR 74.
He send me a great Text ... "Ladies and Gentleman, Mr. Philip Duff:"
(Visit him at http://www.liquidsolutions.org )
Seven Things Being A Bar Owner Taught Me
by Philip Duff
'I believe there are two ways of writing. One is mine, making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going right deep down into life and not caring a damn ... '
And who am I to argue with Plum? Until last week I was joint owner of a bar named door 74 in Amsterdam; before it opened, I started blogging about it for Germany’s esteemed Mixology magazine and blog (www.mixology.eu ), so why don’t we end it that way as well?
1. Some Guests Are Inexplicably Rude
Not all of them. Indeed, only a small percentage of them. Most guests are pleasant; some are a joy, reason enough to work in a bar. Yet a depressingly high percentage of otherwise attractive, successful professional people seem simply unable to be polite and charming, the curs. I am referring in this case to people who, in my opinion, should be polite. They are good-looking. Young. Apparently, in full health. Well-dressed: more than likely third- level educated and almost certainly holding down serious, professional jobs in large cities. With all that going for you, isn't simple courtesy almost guaranteed? Wouldn't you want to be polite for the sheer pleasure of it? Because it's what you do every day at work? Because it's how you were brought up? Yet, confronted with a situation where they could be polite or rude, far too many such people than I had ever expected were rude. I am referring, of course, to the nights when I worked as host, and had no room for guests who had not made a reservation. When it became apparent that I could not let them in right that very moment, rudeness ensued more often than I had expected it would. I am reminded of a quote regarding diplomacy I unearthed recently: the measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do nothing for him in return. Once it became apparent that I would not allow guests in immediately, any veneer of courtesy evaporated twice as fast and in three times as many cases as I might have expected.
We are herd animals and no-one likes to be excluded from the herd. I thought that accepting reservations was a huge plus point for door 74, guaranteeing anyone organized enough to make a reservation that they would have quiet, pleasant drinks even in the midst of a Saturday night. It is so, but a guest who does not have a reservation yet pops along (typically between 2200h and 0000h, Thursday-Saturday) does not see it that way. A guest who is not allowed in will find a million reasons to criticize you and your bar that have got absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they neglected to reserve, and have tipped up at rush-hour. They are embarrassed in front of the people they brought with them, and will direct their anger towards you instead of themselves, us humans valuing self-preservation above all. It did deliver some comical situations.....
ME: I’m awfully sorry, but we’re full right now. THEM: I know X (owner/employee/supplier), he asked me to come down. ME: I’m so sorry, but we only have forty seats and when they’re full..This would go one of three ways:
THEM: X (name other owner). ME: That’s great, but we really are full at the moment, so if I can just take your num..... THEM: No. That’s OK. We’re leaving (flounce off).
Way 2 (very common)
THEM: Er, the other guy, oh, what’s his name, er, er, big guy.... ME: (Polite and questioning look on my face) THEM: No. That’s OK. We’re leaving (flounce off).
Way 3 (happened at least six times)
THEM: Philip Duff. ME: I’m Philip Duff. THEM (without missing a beat): Well, can we come in then?
2. Staff Are Brilliant
Felix Dennis, in his super book How to Get Rich, describes identifying, recruiting and developing talent as being just about the most important thing to do to achieve business success. I couldn’t agree more. Time and again, Timo, Andrew, Remco, Rob, Wouter, Anthony, Florian, Shantih, Anna, Dani, Rain, Tess and everyone else went the extra mile for the bar and it’s guests. Good people are worth their weight in gold, and I was constantly, pleasantly surprised by the extent to which they contributed to door 74's success, and the quality of their contributions. There were only one or two staff members who were clearly bad for business, and to be honest they only got hired through our own excessive optimism. If you’re reading this, door 74 alumni: I love you. Thank you.
3. Charm Works Wonders
I was aware that opening a bar that didn't shout about it's address, accepted reservations and had a locked door would make guests work a little more to find it and come in. Hopefully, after surmounting those minor hurdles, they would be more prepared to “get it”. But they got it quicker and better than we had dared hope. It was for a simple reason: we tried to be charming. We smiled at people, hung up their coats, chatted with them, never jam-packed the bar and as a result we could sell guests just about anything. This, I think, is why neo-speakeasies became a valid trend; not because of a dozen bottles of bitters or heavily moustached bartenders, but because the nature of a small, quiet, bar allows staff to serve guests well, to be charming, interesting and interested, to have communication. The drinks are secondary. Saying that, though, it warmed the cockles of my whiskey-drenched heart to see twentysomething ladies in A- line dresses sipping cognac Sazeracs, and while I seek no public recognition for my role in weaning gaggles of otherwise handsome and sophisticated thirtysomething gentlemen away from Porn Star Martinis and towards the simple pleasures of a good gin-and-tonic, I feel sure I will get my reward in the next life.
4. Everyone Goes Out Between 2200h and 0000h Friday & Saturday.
We initially opened 2000h – 0300h Tuesday-Saturday. What happens with these restricted opening hours is that far more mise-en-place must be done on the days you are open than if it were spread out over six or seven days per week. I do not understand city- center bars that are not open seven days, in truth, although all the countries I know
where fine city bars only open five or six days a week are countries with very high staff costs like Holland, Germany and Denmark. But even if sales per shift on a Sunday or Monday are only €500, you are covering your costs, being there for your guests, cleaning and prepping for the week, and you are the cool bar open when the others are closed. Copenhagen's excellent Ruby bar ploughed just this lonely furrow for a good year, and have since built up a healthy trade on Mondays and Tuesdays.
For the same reason, bars should open at 1700h or 1800h. People will have a drink after work or before dinner. Your “dead time”, comparatively, will be 2000h – 2200h.
From 2200h – 0000h on at least Friday and Saturday you will be able to fill your bar twice over, if it is popular. It is worth having a larger space than you need during the week for this reason alone. In door 74, we secretly hoped we'd tap into an unexplored motherlode of late-night drinkers by staying open until 0300h or 0400h, there being nowhere in Amsterdam open after 0200h that anyone other than a Wookie would like to visit. It was not to be. Nice people go home early.
5. Ride Your Winners.
Recently, I was having a drink with someone I can't recall closely in a city that may have been in Europe or perhaps not, probably because I had bumped into him (I'd have remembered if it was a lady) at some sort of drinks do. This chap wanted to know about opening bars, so from the vast cavern of my experience (bars opened: 1, or more accurately 0.5 as I had a partner) I opined a few points, one being to sell people what they want.
HIM: “But I want to teach people: about classic cocktails, bitters, balance........” ME: “Dude, teaching is a really badly-paid job.” Zing!
Naturally, I ignored my own advice. People like to have the same things. Best-selling drinks should stay on the menu, even if you get sick of them, even if it becomes as wearying to make yet another Basil Smash as it is to listen to yet one more joke about Tiger Woods. Our first hit, the Tequila por Mi Amante, was more or less a strawberry- tequila caipirinha variant. It had classic pedigree (step forward. Mr Charles Baker Jr.), was delicious, not stupidly slow to make and had roughly the same effect on our guests as if we had injected heroin directly into their carotid arteries. I could even defend it against the sternest cries of “You're a sell-out, Duff! Hand in your sleeve-gaiters and back to the Long Island Iced Tea Shoppe with you!” with the fact that I was getting all manner of people to drink a 100% agave tequila drink, where the tequila was why it was good. Of course I took it off the menu, appalled by it's success, and concentrated on creating “the next Amante” on each subsequent menu. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Oh well.
The new managing director of one of Holland's largest two or three liquor distributors confided to me shortly after scoring the top job that he despaired of the reps and brand ambassadors he had inherited, because they came in at 0900h and went home at 1700h. Our little bar, to be as breathtakingly arrogant for a moment as most people will tell you I am all the time, was the kind of bar that reps and ambassadors should have wanted to visit, out of professional curiosity if nothing else. It was the first of it's kind (neo-speakeasy)in Holland, the first bar from Holland to gain any international recognition in the world of liquor and mixology, and it sold more liquor per square meter than some liquor stores. I can recall just three reps or ambassadors who came in for a drink more than once every two months.
The Internet, as well as delivering unlimited naked ladies and a steady stream of offers to enlarge or reduce various bodily parts right to your very screen, has democratized information. You can work as a beer-pouring wench in Kamchatka, and not even be the best beer-pouring wench in Kamchatka, yet through the marvels of the electric interweb, still know about the liquor selection at the Pourhouse in Vancouver or the cool new POS developed by Inspirit Brands in the UK or the cocktail menu at the Bayswater Brasserie in Sydney. National drinks firms have not kept up.
I was chatting to a sales-team manager from a large Dutch brewery, also the landlord for door 74. He was frankly disappointed we were not selling more beer, but also that we were not ordering more liquor from them. I pointed out that cocktails and liquor were 94% of our sales, and that there were literally no bottles on our back-bar that we could order from his firm, his firm distributing only the very most mainstream brands imaginable and door 74's guests not being overly enamoured of Bacardi Mojito Mix or Smirnoff Red Label, fine products thought they may be. I cleverly pointed out that his company's chief executive had just announced plans to produce and market a range of branded liquors, and that beer consumption had been declining at a consistent rate, year-on-year, for more than a decade now. Our bar, I pointed out with a winning smile, was part of the future, and it would just take Holland a year or two to catch up with us. We would, I went on, be delighted to serve as a best-practice example. Perhaps I should even drop by HQ to give a little talk?
He, of course, on hearing my well-reasoned and logical argument, immediately fell at my feet, weeping and begging forgiveness, imploring me to unlock the treasure-trove of my vast knowledge and experience that the once-mighty firm for which he toiled so ceaselessly might yet be saved from complete and utter ruination, sparing him the humiliation of having to dance in the street for pennies from passers-by in order to feed his destitute family.
Well, not exactly.
A large part of my work with my firm Liquid Solutions is training drinks firms' sales and marketing departments. It is an irony of colossal proportions that it is reps in the most advanced markets who receive the most, and best on-trade expertise training – your London and New York, your Sydney and San Francisco – while the reps in the least advanced drinks cultures get the least training, when it is they who need it most. Global brand ambassadors, the good ones anyway, try to pick up the slack by developing personal relationships with key bars and bartenders in countries where the local distributor and reps are, let's say, not exactly cooking with gas. But this is at best a temporary bandage, and often a band-aid over a large, festering, gangrenous wound. Instead of investing more in training their reps and widening their horizons, drinks firms are increasingly trying to outsource that expertise to brand ambassadors, in-house mixologists, or third-party bartender agencies. But there is no substitute for a rep who knows what's going on in the on-trade, both nationally and internationally.
7. It Is Cool To Be A Waiter
I have defined myself as a bartender for twenty years.I am perhaps the world's worst waiter, and would have to be serving alongside Stevie Wonder to be come anywhere but last in a Waiting League Table. In my athletic and carefree youth, I recoiled from the idea of waitering with as much shock and horror as a Pope would when, unwrapping his Christmas presents in front of the prelates, it turns out that prankster Richard Dawkins has sent him a dual-speed Sybian machine and a tub of Vaseline. I was, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of a fundamentalist. “Once a waiter, never a bartender!” we used to snigger back in the day. But in the course of hosting and waitering in my bar, I learned to love it. It is a different set-up to bartending: as a bartender, you just stand there and guests come to you. It fascinated me to be able to welcome people, seat them, serve them and look after them. It was so much easier to make them happy, I discovered. I still suck mightily at the technique of waitering, you understand – mere mention of my tray skills is enough to give the remaining door 74 staff the haunted look of Vietnam veterans hearing the whop-whop-whop of helicopter rotors – but I love taking care of people in a way that goes beyond drinks.
And so I drain my final glass of door 74 and replace it on the bar; it will be picked up and refilled by my old partner and the noble ladies and gentlemen who continue to serve in that fine little bar on the Reguliersdwarsstraat. My immediate adventures include the usual wearying carousel ride of jet-set globe-trotting in fine hotels with exquisite drinks and beautiful ladies, but I would be lying if I said that the bar bug has not roused itself from it's hibernation in my bloodstream and bitten me deeply, like a recurring attack of malaria but with more bitters and ice machines involved, although just as much sweating and trembling. I hope that you go by door 74 for a drink when you visit that canal-infested city – which nobody ever confuses with Venice – and I hope that you open your own bar, sooner rather than later. Cheers!
philip (@) liquidsolutions.org
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