The “assembly-line” bar

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What is a more efficient system – a bar with several designated cocktail stations or a bar with one improved mixing station assisted by bar stations with rather basic functions?

The answer should be a no-brainer! 80% off all people would say, that designated bar-stations is the way to go. But not so fast…

Please take one step back now and compare it with two automobile factories [both smaller scale]. One has complete workstations in which a full car is built from scratch – the other would have designated stations, where only parts of the car would be completed. Reality proofs, that the second model works better. Why – because there are very few true 100% experts, who know everything.

In a bar, it is not as obvious – but lets be honest: how many bartenders are really top notch in your team? In my experience, it takes a long time and a lot of dedication and training, until you developed one specific bartender to be quality driven, well trained and knowledgeable. Only one [or maximum two] bartender in a team would consistently meet and exceed expectations. The rest… lets not talk about it.

But if this is true, you answer yourself, how consistent your mixed beverages are…

I got to know the concept of this “kinda assembly line” bar in my home country Germany. I was working in the American bar & restaurant “Louisiana” and just due to the space and controlling restraints, they had only 1 main mixing station [behind a quite big pillar]. There were two mirrored bar stations on both sides of the mixing station, which just draught beer, offered bottled beverages and soft drinks, poured spirits… the most elaborate thing they did was preparing highballs like gin & tonics. Work however wan’t dull – as you could take care and focus on the guests in front of the  bar and had also to “serve” the waiters their drinks.

Now the “organic” grown system was, that when you newly joined the bar team, you started as bartender on “the sides”. You got used to the stress of busy service periods, could adjust to the “rhythm” of the bar.

If you were more ambitious, you could learn the full recipes of the cocktails and come in, on your day off [or after your shift] to help the “cocktail mixer” of the day. When you have proofed yourself, you could get a shift as mixer on a lower business period – and when you mastered all of it, you would have the chance to get the weekend shifts and all. It was not about consistency and quality but about efficiency, routine and quantity – but this system would apply also for a quality bar.

If you focus on the staff, you might apply the 80-20 rule – 20% of your staff [bartender, hostess, good waiters] are responsible for 80% of your success…

There are two components, we can learn out of it – to focus on only a few employees in your bar, could increase your efficiency and quality dramatically. And the way to go is a “one mixing station” system.

Not only efficiency and quality are factors, which support this concept.
The drink mixer is focussed on the cocktails – and from the perspective of the guest, it becomes a focal point – there is always somebody who makes cocktails – not several points, where bartenders are entertaining guests, serving beer, serving wine, using the POS system, polishing glassware etc.

And – there is one more factor: motivation! I remember, that almost everyone, who set his/her foot into the door of the bar & restaurant and worked behind the bar, wanted to be the man [or woman] behind the shakers.

Obviously there has to be also a number two [in busy nights at least]- who supported the No.1 – arranging glasses, filling up mixers, spirits, carrying the drinks to their respective service side etc. And we didn’t exactly considered this job as bar back – as this person was doing the drinks, when the No.1 had a break, or left earlier etc. And obviously: the No.2 on busy business periods, was usually the No.1 on slower periods.

I am starting now, to get back to this method. Even with continuous, tedious as well as expensive [e.g. training systems like lobsterink.com] proofed, that again only 20% exceeded – however still the 80% didn’t. Hence to focus on your top guys, not only rewards and develops them and not only retain them, but also let your bar business flourish!

The future of the quality bar in Dubai & Abu Dhabi

There are several components which are usually “wrong” in bars in the UAE:

  • out of fashioned drink selections
  • bad value for money
  • average quality of drinks
  • wrong clientele
  • wrong planing of the bar

First: Out of fashioned drink selections:
In the UAE, bartender and guests alike still think, that the Bullfrog [the UAE’s spurious version of the Long Island Iced Tea with blue curaçao and Red Bull], Flaming Lamborghini’s and Sex on the Beaches are still the latest in mixology. Own creations here have usually the same style.
Some fancier bars often also sports an usually unsuccessful attempt to molecular mixology.

If you understand this business, you see now, that everything mentioned is a thing of the past [to be precise from the 1980’s to the early 2000’s].

Modern mixology would include: the utilization of ancestor recipes and interpretations; local / regional produce; simplistic concoctions with a raised attention on detail; avant-garde influences there, where it really make sense
[curiously nowadays everything seems to be about smoke- a trend I don’t want to follow].
Homemade ingredients like bitters, liqueurs and essences are even more substantial than only to be called a trend.

Second: No value for money:
My believe is, that a bad mixed drink is not worth the money – meaningless how less you charge for it! But there are also bars in superior locations, which are just charging 30% to 100% more than any other competitive bar. They might be occasionally better by a margin – but don’t bother about the differences; it is just a rip off – and most guests think the same.

Third: Average quality of drinks:
It starts with the recipe – nobody seems to have the interest in offering drinks in a classical [and good quality] way.
There is a tendency, that bartender, outlet manager, F&B manager are in bondage to the ideas of guests, how to make drinks. Sorry – I love my guests, but they should not tell me, how to make a classic drink; pst – that is why I am a professional and they are in this case just amateurs.
[I am not sure, if customers are also giving directions to doctors, dentists, mechanics, baker, bankers etc how to make their job properly].
But it is not only about the recipe – usually the drinks are not appropriately prepared. A drink has to be shaken for at least 20 seconds to reach the correct temperature and dilution. Watch any bartender in Dubai – and you might see, that he is shaking 5 seconds the most.
And then there are the products; like already mentioned in my previous post, externally  procured fresh juice is the standard here [from a company called Barakat]. Orange juice is anytime great; grapefruit juice still most of the time good [however it degrades much faster as it should], pineapple juice – I would say, less than 40% of the delivered product is adequate… but lemon juice is never good.
Craft bartender would now indicate on the article of Dave Arnolds [of the CIA – Culinary Institute of America], in which he made a series of tests, which proved, that the taste of lemon and lime juice is severely degrading after 10 hours.
Not to speak about low quality liqueurs, even worse tequilas and grappe etc. which is commonly used here in bars [yes, even the good ones].

Fourth: Wrong clientele
This is now a topic, which is a little bit… delicate.
Everybody who visited the UAE [especially Dubai and Abu Dhabi] and went to a swanky bar or nightclub realized, that there are certain ladies, lurking for prey.
And places, which have obviously enough “variety of these guests”, attracting men with specific ambitions. Other guests, especially women are feeling more than annoyed by this – and usually don’t bother to visit those bars again.
While I do understand, that diverse guests have different perceptions about a venue; the main reasons should be the beverages, the food, the courtesy of the colleagues, and later the ambiance and entertainment.
However it is not only this kind of “wrong” clientele: too loud music usually attracts very young guests, who won’t be very loyal to a bar, neither will they spend enough and would detract more mature guests, who might want to socialize [including talking to each other].

Fifth: Wrong planing of the bar:
This is a far more complex problem. Most bars don’t have the budget to be replanned in a reasonable timeframe. That means one time wrong always wrong. Also planning of a bar includes so many facets- which are simply a topic for several more posts – or even a book.
The most obvious one, some bars accidentally are doing right: The focal point.
The most successful and renowned bars have one focal point. This is a feature like a sculpture, a big and complex painting… sometimes a tree in front of a central window; anything which is complex enough, that one can loose him- or herself in it. It is beneficial if it is one point – as vistas can meet, or while talking, people can let their eyes wander…
One de-central focal point can be a nice view; and several bars in Dubai are [accidentally] utilizing this. Other bars sans view, are missing this focal point; trust me – there are a variety of venues with amazing designs – however without a focal point, people are missing “something”.
Another point of wrong planning includes the bar infrastructure. If a bar can attract at the beginning guests, people would be annoyed to wait very long for their drinks. A clever planning could prevent this: this includes the size of the bar [should not be much bigger than 70 seats], the layout of the bar [refrain from island bars], the location of the kitchen, the back of house] and so on.

One of the most important points: Bars are not planned as bars!

A restaurant is planned to serve food and wine – even better: usually it is planned for the requirements of a specific cuisine. The kitchen itself is even [nowadays] better planned to produce food.
However bars are commonly developed by designers with no sense for the necessities of beverage production, beverage service nor for the need of the bar guest.
Again – while a restaurant features a specific cuisine – a bar features a design concept [and maybe an entertainment concept] – and usually doesn’t focus on mixology [except of tikki bars] – this is plainly wrong.

The future of the bar in the ME!
The future of the bar need to focus on more on seriousness!
Either the specific style of mixology or the maitre d’bar, bar manager, head bartender has to be featured and has to be the mainstay of the venue. The blueprint of the bar itself has to make this possible.

Focus on quality is another point, nobody can deny! And a contemporary style. Even classic bars cannot refrain from the latest techniques as barrel aged cocktails, cocktail pairings and home-tinkered ingredients.

investments: contemporary mixology needs reasonable investments – e.g. into a carbonation system, smoking guns, quality bar equipment, quality glassware, whiskey barrels for barrel aged cocktails, specialty spirits / ingredients […] and in the worst [most expensive] case – a rotary evaporator.

Overall it is all about trust. If the bar operator found the right bar personality, this personality has to be trusted and has to able to lead the bar into the future.

The future of beverage outlets in Dubai & the future of bars

This is a grand topic. But it is also very regional related. And like always on this pages, I try to be not too emotional and opinionated but just see the facts.

When Sarah, my better half and me came to Dubai in 2005, a lot of things were very different. I was appointed to be the new bar manager in Vu’s Bar, which was almost everyday really crowded. Guests really liked bling bars, bling products; the more luxurious the better.
Since my first time working for Hyatt, there was one concept, which became one with my professional alter ego: value for money. Hence I’ve offered really expensive spirits, cocktails and wines – however there was always the quality to back up the prices – and I tried to keep a few good but less expensive options for my guests.

The time, when luxurious bars were the most popular spots and were always crowded is over now. You can go to any previously crowded bars – some were more successful to retain guests, some less; however non of the previous bling bars are as successful as before. We could even say, that non of rather classic bars are as successful as before. The exceptions might be night clubs [which also had losses, which are nowadays no more that substantial] and bars which try to mimic night clubs. And then there are very casual places…

Ask me to recommend a bar concept, which is “self-filling” – I would suggest to open a casual place [just don’t call it bar].

The downfall of bars and the raise of pubs has several reasons. One can argue, that guests don’t have anymore that much expendable income.
The curious thing however is, that while some places are really cheap to retain their guests [which are often quite young], others are just on par with prices of the average bar; in these cases there are obvious psychological dynamics, which help these places to succeed. It is similar with the dynamics you could see in 5 star and 4 star hotels in Europe in the crisis: Guests rather stayed in 4 star hotels – despite the fact, that most 5 star hotels lowered their prices to the same level than 4 star hotels to cushion the effect of the economic downturn.

It is not only not “fashionable” nowadays to “do luxury” – it is also that people don’t analyze and compare prices – they “feel” the prices of products.

If you would own or operate a luxurious bar – you could even lower the prices to those of other competitors with more casual places [and a lot of F&B directors did] – and you still won’t gain any more volume [of guests] – you just loose profit!

Arguably another reason, why upscale bars are not as successful is, that they usually don’t offer a better quality.
Yes- you can pay for your Mojito AED 40, or AED 75 – the quality [there might be some rare exceptions] is the same. Basic rum, popular [but not necessary appropriate] recipe, the ubiquitous Barakat “fresh” lemon juice [instead of directly fresh squeezed lime] and usually quite sad “fresh” mint – often it is then sweetened with sugar syrup – sometimes with brown sugar. The guest shall be right: why should he pay 50% more?

So what is the future of beverage outlets and the future of the bar for Dubai now?

Casual pubs and joints don’t need to sport a questionable quality! There are countless ways to work around “budget restraints” – and if the whole team wants to contribute to offer a better product, there is no doubt to succeed. New concept should be a bit more creative [please don’t copy paste other “successful” places]. I will give some examples in one of the following posts, what possibilities there are to create a promising, creative and unique concept. Off course bar operators could contact me to get a much more in depth consultancy!

I still believe, that there is an opportunity to run a successful contemporary bar.
This I will discuss in the directly following post!

Welcome to dominikschachtsiek.wordpress.com

It is a great honor, to welcome you on this webpages. Different than my other page, opinionated-alchemist.com this pages won’t be very controversial – they will reflect my believes, my skills and my knowledge and I hope, that they will become a resource, for any bartender and beverage interested person.

And after all, this web domain should be also a great resource for potential employers, and I hope, they will better understand, what I could achieve for their venue.

I am looking forward to have some conversations and read some comments of you!