While beer gardens are in full swing and restaurants set to reopen next week, cocktail bars are taking things a little slower to perfect their intimate offerings.
Hundreds of businesses across Scotland have opened their doors throughout the past few days to welcome customers to their new and improved beer gardens.
But for owners of smaller venues like cocktail bars, the task of keeping customers safe while capturing that intimate service style will be nothing short of an art form.
Offering bespoke menus and high-quality service is what they pride themselves on, and what sets them apart.
The mystery and flair of effortlessly shaking up a concoction which is sure to tantalise the taste buds is very much based on the theatrics – something one cocktail bar is very much looking forward to upping the ante on soon.
Martin Farmer, operations director for Monkey Bars Limited – the firm behind cocktail bars Orchid and 99 Bar & Kitchen in Aberdeen – wants to welcome guests back to the venue, but is unsure when exactly that will be.
He said: “We’ll look to level up the drama and theatre of cocktails in both bars. Now that we’ll have less people at the bar, we’re going to be able to spend more time making it more theatrical and entertaining. Looking to London, Hong Kong, New York, we’ve never been able to do that style, so we’ll have more time to play with drinks.
“Orchid is set up well for table service; it’s all about the service from the floor tender and the knowledge they have about the menu. I guess what would be different would be if people are ordering from apps, customers will be looking at their phone while they talk to [the server] from a distance which is going to take a while to get used to. If people are ordering through apps, there’s less work for staff to do, but it’s going to speed up service by like 25-50%. If it’s all table service our focus will be to have more people on the floor getting drinks out.”
But while the reduction of distancing in bars and restaurants from two metres to one metre is helpful, there are still challenges for small cocktail venues.
“We really have to wait and see what the Government guidelines are. We can’t really do one-way systems so I’m not entirely sure what that will look like. The bar isn’t systematic like a shop, but ideally we’ll set up a system for people to follow.
“We’re very much looking to China and Italy and how they are dealing with things. People might not even drink the same. I think most covers for us will be bookings with the ability of taking walk-ins if they are free. There will be someone on the door monitoring this. At two metres we couldn’t really open. You can’t sit in a booth and be two metres apart. It goes from halving at one metre to quartering capacity at two.”
Cocktail delivery to your door
Launching a cocktail delivery service, Martin is keen to see it continue, with more than 2,000 orders placed via the lockdown addition to date. The service, which was initially only available locally, will soon be UK-wide.
He added: “It will carry on in the future and be another arm to the business. I don’t see a reason to stop it. I think a lot of people will still be looking to order drinks for themselves and family, and will order high-quality takeaways that we can pair drinks to, like Ross Cochrane’s Rocca Dining. We’ll also be offering postal cocktails too, so we’ll be able to send across Scotland as well as deliver locally.”
Adrian Gomes, owner of The Tippling House in Aberdeen is also taking his time in reopening his speakeasy, looking to relaunch in August with the venue’s popular Champagne brunch event.
But Adrian says there will be one contributing factor at play for those holding off reopening, and that is the furlough scheme.
He said: “I think the main deciding factor for businesses will be the furlough scheme ending. It goes to part-time after July. The furlough scheme has allowed us to trim hours but not the wages and we have kept all of our staff on and topped up their 80% with holiday pay, and everyone was earning what they were.
“We’re taking bookings from August 1 so we’ll reopen then and run our Champagne brunch event then, too. The public opinion is split down the middle. I think the appetite is more geared towards beer gardens and outdoor spaces where people feel a little safer than closed internal spaces. We’re happy to wait – and I think our customers are, too. Our staff are raring to go though.”
Cutting capacity to adhere to current Government advice, The Tippling House will also use online bookings, and is considering ordering apps.
“The booths now seat four instead of six, all of the bar stools have been taken out and the tables in the raised section have been put to two metres for the moment. The online bookings will help us gauge how many people are coming. We can also look into adding screens between the booths and we can put a screen along the bar and we can put up a perspex screen on the way to the toilets, too.
“I’ve been speaking to people who run ordering apps but they haven’t said it is compulsory. We might use them to a certain degree, but we’re not quite sure with regards to menus yet.
“The bulk of our sales are cocktails in the bar. But of those sales, only 50% are on-menu sales, with the bartenders speaking with guests and making drinks which are suited to them. Without that interaction, we do lose a bit of our soul. We’re still going to need to speak to people and explain how the drinks work, and that’s what’s preventing me from just putting everything online.”
In Inverness the same outlook is shared by Scott Murray, managing director of CRU Holdings, which boasts a portfolio of seven pubs, bars and restaurants including; Angel’s Share, Bar One, Dow’s Bar & Bistro, Prime Steak & Seafood, Scotch & Rye, The Classroom and The Keg.
He said: “Is the consumer confidence there? We’ve always provided a table service concept – so our service style won’t be affected much. The thing is figuring out how we get people to order, through menus or online? Is going online the right thing for a pub? Will people order a pint online when they are so used to ordering over a bar?
“Hospitality is an experience that you shouldn’t be able to get at home. So when some of the guidance coming out says no salt and pepper, no cutlery on the table, no live music, one way systems, the whole thing feels very clinical to me and goes against everything hospitality is trying to achieve. From that point of view we’re still at the drawing board on how to provide that experience they are looking for.
“If we are going to have to be more clinical, what does that mean for the industry as a whole? I 100% get the safety aspect of it, my question is, is the time right? If we can’t give them the experience they are looking for in an environment they are comfortable and feel safe, should we be reopening? Or are we reopening because of political pressure and the Government not being able to support it? There’s a lot of questions still to be answered. Not forgetting the furlough scheme, because during it we’re accruing national insurance payments, pension contributions and, even at 25% capacity, it’s a huge potential cash flow issue.
“If you are running a late night venue, there’s always security issues and how do you manage that? It’s very hard to break up a fight while distancing. It is a risk so how do you go around that?”
With Inverness a hot spot for tourists enjoying the Speyside whisky trails, and Loch Ness one of Scotland’s most visited attractions, what does the lack of tourism this summer mean for businesses? To help mitigate against this loss, Scott and his team also launched MiX’d, a cocktail delivery service
“A lack of tourism will have an effect on businesses in generating money to see them through the winter,” said Scott.
Posted by Mixd on Tuesday, 2 June 2020
“We have Mix’d our cocktail delivery service. We’re going to go UK-wide so we’ve had to quickly pull together a production line and get the logistics sorted out. We’ll be able to do both at the same time and with things the way they are it gave us the opportunity.
“We will be ready to open, but it is just dependent on whether the guidelines will suit our model.”
In Dundee, Chris Symonds and Dan Caddell, operators of cocktail bars 3 Session Street and Toms, have as clear an idea as possible on how to reopen their venues, ensuring they are following Government guidelines but also adhering to the business’ ethos and values in offering personalised high-quality service to customers.
Chris said: “While individual aspects of table service might change slightly – visors/face masks etc – we feel that now more than ever an intimate experience with the guest is crucial. This doesn’t mean being right on top of them constantly, it means putting them at ease, helping them relax and feel comfortable in their surroundings, and most crucially ensuring everyone feels safe post lockdown.
“All procedures to ensure safety of guests and staff will be put in place and strictly enforced – our brand is as much embodied by our workers as our venues and looking after them is always paramount. We’re lucky to have a great team who have always returned our support tenfold and we’re excited to welcome them back to work, along with some amazing returning customers we have in the bars.
“PPE for the team is a must of course. For us, we like to make sure that our guests feel looked after, however, the start of the customer journey will be a little different when visiting 3 Session Street. We will take everyone’s temperature on entry, all bookings are traceable via our booking app and any walk-ins will be asked for details. Hand sanitiser will be readily available on key entry and exit points and on every table and we are looking to have a digital menu for the guests to use on their mobiles, cutting out the one use menus and keeping us a bit more green.”
Gearing up to reopen 3 Session Street on July 15, Chris and the team are still in talks on how to reopen the smaller, more intimate venue, Toms, and are firing on all cylinders to get cocktails out on delivery via local delivery firm Zippy D.
@zippyddundee will be smashing the £5 cocktails to your door from friday!!..Why do to a beer garden when you can chill in your garden and get these down ya! x
“We are currently looking at the situation as a whole and like the phased road map, we have a staggered plan for both venues. We have plans to open 3 Session Street on July 15 for reservations on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to begin with, and offer our Scottish Tapas menu and cocktail list. We are looking at creative ideas to reopen Toms. Currently we are offering cocktails at home via Zippy D and will continue to do that as we’ve had phenomenal response to it, but we are looking at outside seating options to give us extra space.
“We’re super excited to get the doors open again to be honest. Our ethos as a company is heavily focused on customer service and their visits, rather than massaging our own egos as cocktail bartenders. We are the type of place that you can swing on by for a cocktail or two, but also grab a pint or a bottle of Hooch. We don’t take ourselves too seriously but we make some seriously good cocktails and food.”