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How suppliers can work with their bartenders; with Kyle Elwis

Photo for: How suppliers can work with their bartenders; with Kyle Elwis

22/07/2021 From building relationships to brand events, Kyle Elwis shares tips on how suppliers can work effectively with bartenders to increase sales.

Kyle Elwis, now Assistant Manager at The Lexington Rooftop Bar (Hull) has been behind the bar for just over six years now. Before he started mixing drinks full-time, Kyle was waiting tables. It was during this time that he made a trip to a speakeasy in Lincoln and found his love for bartending. 

“It was the charisma and knowledge of the head-bartender that made me want to deliver the same quality and level of service to other people. Here I am six years later hopefully doing my younger self proud,” says Kyle. 

Define your current role at The Lexington Rooftop Bar. What do you do on a daily basis?

I am currently an Assistant Bar Manager at the Lexington Rooftop Bar in Hull. My role is usually the day-to-day operation of the bar. 

As a member of the Lex team, my role isn't that dissimilar to anyone else's. Our day usually begins with setting up the venue and prep. We prepare all our juices and syrups from fresh ingredients in-house, so we usually form a type of production line squeezing limes or cooking syrups on our induction plates. This kind of prep can be very labour-intensive, but we believe that quality cocktails start with quality ingredients. 

During service, all of our drinks have a story: both the tale that inspired their creation, but also the journey each ingredient has taken before winding up into the glass in front of the guest. We make it part of our service to deliver the story so that the guest has a better understanding and bond with the drink in front of them.

Kyle Elwis making cocktail, Souce: Kyle Elwis

What are some of the most important skills for a bartender to have?

I think there's a handful of skills you need. The big one is adaptability. You need to be able to alter your service to suit the individual needs of guests, as well as the capacity to manage different scenarios/environments. Sometimes we have to deal with guests that are a little tipsy and they may not be as cooperative as we'd like. A soft hand and a little patience in these situations can go a long way. In the same vein, sometimes you need to be a little firmer and authoritative to deal with guests. It's all about being able to assess each situation and finding that balance to achieve the best solution. 

I think you also need to be creative both in your approach to creating drinks, but also in creating experiences for guests that can surprise and differ from the usual customer service "script". Engage your guests in slightly different ways from what they may traditionally expect to set yourself apart from other places.

Teamwork is the final piece of the puzzle. At the end of the day, we're all human and have our own tolerances, weaknesses, and bad days. I don't think it's possible to be the perfect bartender on your own, but if you find a team that can support your shortcomings and vice versa; together as a team, you'll achieve more than any individual could. 

Also if you have an extra two sets of hands, you'll also go very far in this industry.

What’s the most underrated cocktail ingredient or spirit?

I think that this is kind of a grey and subjective area. Anything can be underrated depending on your palate and understanding.

For example, we have a drink on our menu that includes beetroot as an ingredient. To the eyes of many, this is an immediate turn-off as beetroot is an unpopular (underrated) vegetable. However, to us, it offers a great earthy finish to the drink.

There are hundreds of ingredients that are traditionally 'unliked' that have the potential to be transformed into something incredible if treated correctly.

Kyle Elwis standing and smiling, Souce: Kyle Elwis

How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

Forming a close relationship with bars is definitely the way to go. It helps us as bar staff focus on a specific brand and possibly cocktail that otherwise you wouldn't sell as much, or guests wouldn't necessarily order it; preferring the cheaper option of a pint instead. 

An example would be that we are currently working closely with the folks at Remy Cointreau. They've provided our team with some brand training so that they can understand and appreciate the products within their brand, and then the team can go share their newfound knowledge and excitement with guests which helps drive the sales. As well as that; Remy Cointreau very kindly has provided us with some POS gear such as our Cointreau-themed terrace which has proved hugely popular these past couple of months.

Can you give us an example of a good bar/restaurant drinks menu?

My favourite menus are the fun ones. One of my favourite things about lockdown is that it has pushed some really creative ideas out of this industry. A bar in Lincoln called The Strait and Narrow created a menu that was like an old-fashioned retail catalogue shop; in which you'd look through and then write down the "product number" on a slip of paper and your server would take it away to the bar to be made. As well as being incredibly creative and fun, it was also a great way to tackle the issues surrounding Covid-19 guidelines, etc.

As a bartender, how do you increase footfall at your bar?

As a bartender and as part of the team, we are always looking for ways to increase footfall. Different people have different points of interest and attraction, and we look for the where/how of the common ground that will attract the vast majority. We look into all aspects and see what will make the difference for us, whether that be service, produce offers, events, cocktail listing, guest recognition etc, and whilst that's great, I think it’s also important to focus on creating regular footfall. 

It's great to create an event that has a thousand people through your door one week, but I think it's even better to consistently have 200 people through your door every day. We maintain our regulars by trying to really connect and create a rapport with each of our guests so that next time they'd like a drink they choose our venue over others because that emotional connection is made. Regulars keep your business afloat, whereas passing trade will support the profit and increase volume.

Kyle Elwis sitting on a table, Souce: Kyle Elwis

What do you look for when selecting a spirit for the bar?

We look for something whose brand aligns nicely with the values of our own. We want them to complement our vision, as well as our philosophy behind our approach to drinks creation. We want them not only to satisfy the needs and demands of our guests but also to be able to deliver the "wow factor" when we educate them on something new in a friendly manner, allowing them to engage and embrace new flavour patterns and profiles, textures, densities, etc. 

What has been your most bizarre client request?

The strangest request I've ever had off a guest is if I can take a snake off their hands. Basically, they had found a small corn snake slithering around outside the venue and they brought it in. It curled up around my shoulder for around half an hour whilst I finished closing down the bar. Luckily I actually knew someone who cared for reptiles, so I rang them and they came along to take and eventually rehome the snake. 

How has your journey as a bartender evolved through social media in the past year?

I think all hospitality staff can agree that this past year has been a weird one. In terms of social media, this past year I've been using it more to participate in competitions, but also played a more vital role in delivering my brand both personally as a bartender and as part of a team. 

Social media has become such an essential key factor not only for our business but for life in general. It's become an escape route from the insanity of the pandemic. I think one of the biggest changes that has happened through social media is that part of my job this past year has been providing the public with a reminder of that sense of normality of before the pandemic.

It’s kind of like a reassurance that we'll still be here once lockdown ends. As people have been more glued to their phones than ever, it's provided a great opportunity to educate people more on their consumption choices as well as how much work goes in behind the scenes in bars as well as generating excitement for new drinks menus. Social media has helped us widen our voices across the globe.

Kyle Elwis, Souce: Kyle Elwis

What are some upcoming drinks trends to look out for?

In general, I'm finding more and more people are requesting spirits made from local or regional distilleries. This to me shows that people are starting to take more of an interest in their consumption choices and where it comes from; much like their choices when it comes to food. 

Bars are becoming more like your local restaurants in the sense that you're not just drinking to get drunk, but more so to experience new flavors and textures. There's also a search for new, different, and creative ideas and experiences within venues that before may have been a little unthinkable for people.

That includes a search for drinks that embrace a more moderate approach to alcohol and many are exploring and experimenting with flavors and spirits that are in fact 0% abv in an attempt to be more inclusive for those who aren't as keen on alcohol and give those people a place that they can be catered for.

What are you drinking right now?

Right this second? A cup of tea. 

I had my birthday celebrations a couple of weeks ago and haven't been able to shake the hangover like I could when I was younger. so I'm trying to be good for now. 

I was drinking a lot of rums that night. Some of my all-time favourites are from the 'Plantation' range. I've also been lucky enough recently to try a Santa Teresa Bicentenario, which was an incredible rum, but unfortunately, it is really difficult to get a bottle of, so I'm not sure if I'll be able to have that one again.

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