Matching orders: 10 bartenders attend a Match training retreat in the Alps

Drinks: Uncategorized
Other: Business

Whether you want to start a new business, or boost your existing sales, there are a wealth of tips and tricks to learn if you ask the experts. Alice Lascelles tracked some down at a Match training retreat in the Alps…

If you took 10 bartenders and turned them loose in the Milk & Honey Clubhouse in Chamonix, France, for four days, you’d expect there to be a fair bit of mayhem, right?

Well, you’d actually be wrong. I know, it amazed me too, but when I joined Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands (BBFB) and the Match Group for a training retreat, I witnessed a group of bartenders embark on an Apprentice-style mission that would have Alan Sugar breaking out in a sweat. The brief: to spend one and a half days learning about all aspects of starting a successful bar business from scratch, from choosing your site, to securing a loan, to selecting your menu and expanding your brand. After that, both teams of five had another 36 hours to develop a business plan for a fictional bar launch in either London or Manchester and then pitch it to a panel including Match founder Jonathan Downey and top bods from Bacardi and the business world.

Things were so serious, they were even fined £50,000 if they failed to make it to breakfast. (Well, it was subtracted from their team’s fictional budget of £250,000). So, no getting hammered then.

As we went to press, the prize for the winning team was still being firmed up, but there was talk of Downey giving them control of one of his London bars for one night a week plus a share of the profits. Why on earth would he do a thing like that? ‘I decided to do this because I felt that while we’ve been mass-producing great bartenders for over a decade, not enough were going on to open their own bars,’ says Downey, ‘and I’m looking for people to partner with in future projects.’ Entrepreneurs take note.

While some aspects of this training retreat were exclusive to the Match group, many parts were drawn from the BBFB Mix Matters Roadshows, which will be touring the country early next year. ‘If I had applied some of the business principles that we’re discussing on this course over the last 10 years I’d be £2 milion richer – easily,’ said Downey.


Also on hand to dispense advice were Bacardi’s Alex Turner (see section below) and Richard Lago, founder of consultants Carat Associates. He got our bartenders to focus on how they could capitalise on the personalities in their team. Bear in mind that this man owns six yachts.

‘It’s very important to treat people as individuals – to find out what skills people have and what motivates them,’ he says. ‘People think money is the main motivator for people but numerous studies have shown that number one is actually job satisfaction. Number two is working with a boss who inspires you. Number three is circumstance – does it work with your lifestyle? Money is only number four.’

So which team got it right? It was close, but the Manchester team came out on top with their proposal for a bar called Spear Street Asylum. Housed in a former swimming pool, the split-level venue switched from a bar/café for workers by day to a more high-energy music and DJ venue by night. The target audience, 20- to 35-year-old professionals and hipsters, salary £16-30,000, was also

well-defined. Ambitions were high – they aimed to have a second site by year two – but Downey thought it might just work.

‘This course taught me a lot about how to get access to the right information – starting a bar is easier than I thought,’ commented Ian Dawes, head bartender at Match EC1. ‘No-one really goes into bartending planning to start a bar,’ agreed Stuart Langley, Match Group’s operations manager. ‘The initial attraction is the lifestyle – but then the dream starts to catch on…’


As many as three quarters of people never actually make it to the bar, meaning they never get to interact with the bartender, so your menu is very influential.

  • Put the high GP drinks at the top of the list. Drink no.1 should be your strongest seller with the best GP. It should be quick to make and a crowd pleaser, as it will be chosen a lot due to its location on the menu. A good example is the Mojito (quick to make if a bar is adequately prepared).
  • Drink no.4 should be the luxury choice eg. Champagne Cocktail, Mojito Royale. Think of boxing it off, or highlighting it in some way to justify its slightly higher price.
  • Drinks 6, 7 and 8 need to have great names or killer descriptions to catch the eye. Love it or hate it, the Porn Star Martini is a great example.
  • For cocktails that contain very expensive ingredients, or are very time-consuming make, think about having a ‘mixology corner’ on your menu – one-off drinks that, say, cost £50.
  • The ‘problem children’, drinks that you really want to put on but might be more obscure vanity projects, need to be managed very carefully.
  • Give each drink a maximum of two lines of description.
  • Know your market – ensure you offer something different or better than your competitors, and price competitively.


  • ‘Write down everything you need to do at the beginning. I mean everything. I’m still making that mistake now – just one week before we opened The East Room we realised we had forgotten to get gas to the kitchen, which was a nightmare and a lot more expensive because it was done last-minute.’
  • ‘People often forget to budget for pre-opening costs for things like the launch party, printing menus, flyers – they can be enormous.’
  • ‘You need a business partner with skills to compliment yours. A lot of bartenders are very good at front-of-house and they need someone who’s good at the other side of things.’
  • ‘Be creative about where you get your funding.’ (He points out that only one of the two teams on this particular training exercise approached co-host Bacardi for sponsorship/funding.)
  • ‘A lot of bars around at the moment are running insane deals which to me scream desperate – two for one, 50% discounts, that kind of thing. They should be being more creative, running things like quiz nights and networking dinners to drive business.’
  • ‘There are certain top bars that have the naivety to say: “Well my bar’s full so I must be doing well.” Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, I say.’

Want to sharpen up your business skills? < /td>

There are lots more business tips and tools on BBFB’s website, or you can sign up for one of the following BBFB Mix Matters Roadshows by calling 01962 762311:

Edinburgh: 12 and 13 January 2010

Leeds: 26 and 27 January 2010

London: 8, 9 and 10 February 2010

Brighton: 23 and 24 February 2010 

Some recommended reading from the course trainers also included:

Buyology by Martin Lindstrom

A revealing study of what influences people’s buying habits, useful for designing menus and bar layout.

Strengths Finder by Tom Rath

A very popular book among managerial types, it helps you to identify your team’s skills and capitalise on them.

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – November / December 2009

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