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Meet The Star Behind The Best Bar In The World: Giorgio Bargiani

Giorgio Bargiani is the Head Mixologist at The Connaught Bar, voted The World’s Best Bar for two consecutive years

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you begin your career and how did you progress into this role?

I always say that with my family name I was destined to this job. My hospitality journey started way before my studies and working age, in fact my family has a traditional restaurant in the heart of my hometown, Pisa in Italy. I started working in bars and clubs during and after my University studies. I’ve always had a strong drive to progress and achieve the best I could.

So, I continued to join the Splendido, a Belmond Hotel in Portofino and from there moved to Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford, before I had the chance to apply for a backbar role at The Connaught Bar in 2014. Since then, I have made the most of every day spent under the mentorship of Ago Perrone to reach the position of Head Mixologist at the beginning of 2019.

Giorgio Bargiani, Head Mixologist at The Connaught

Define your role and the tasks involved in your role.

As Head Mixologist, I am responsible for the bar drinks programme, cocktail creation as well as mentoring of the bartending team. My role also involves stock take and more importantly drinks cost, which I always stress as something a bartender needs to keep top of their mind. In fact, creativity in mixology needs to result in a financially sustainable cocktail, which is a great tasting drink that still delivers good margin – if this is not the case, make sure you make profitability through other parts of the menu. 

What questions would you ask the bar owner before you plan your sales growth strategy?

Who do you want your customer base to be? Do you want to be a local bar or a destination? Do you want your bar to be an ever-changing creative concept or to establish your masterpieces?

How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

By working with us on creating projects that go beyond simple product inclusion on shelves or on our menu. This can be a special, seasonal cocktail list that we proactively promote or, even better, training programmes with incentives for the team and engaging activities outside the bar to drive education, advocacy and bartender recommendation.

Give us an example of a profitable bar menu program with examples of names and why you have them.

On top of our masterpieces and our signature cocktail list, we often propose a special menu that we call ‘Of the Moment’. This changes seasonally and on the basis of special activities and collaborations. Because of the special focus, we promote this proactively and guests are very receptive to it. An example of a successful ‘Of the Moment’ creation has been this year’s Omega cocktail.

A complex, yet apparently approachable, take on a favourite cocktail such as the Margarita, Omega stood out for its catchy name - let’s never forget that guests are primarily attracted to a cocktail by its name – and garnish (a red disc of salted water). For this cocktail, we introduced our own orange liqueur that added an element of craft to a strong storytelling around the recipe as well as engaging social media assets and a ready to drink cocktail kit linked to a charitable activity. It was a success on many fronts.

What do you look for items that qualify for house pour

Quality first, some elements of uniqueness and solid or existing reputation to sell it. 

What are the four main things you focus on daily in your role?

Preparation, attention to detail, care for our guests to anticipate their needs and motivation, for myself and for the team.

5 ways to upsell drinks at the bar

Guest relation is key in understanding their mood and cater our offering. Create a name that intrigues, an appealing aesthetic and a story that the guests can relate to, ideally with options to be personalised. Drink rituals are always a way to catch the attention around the bar, excite drinkers and make them feel part of a special experience. 

Tips on training new bartenders

Let their personality arise while guiding them to be respectful of the place, its identity, service, and guests.

What are the drinks trending in your country? cocktails, brand names, categories?

Drinks trends tend to spread globally, although on a different scale. The UK is always quite on track when it comes to launching or embracing trends, and, in this specific context, the past few years have seen a burgeoning cocktail scene.

I would say that outstanding mixology is the best way to summarise the status of the industry. Whether focusing on low or no ABV creations, on the super-fast-growing agave spirits category or on traditional products that have seen a comeback such as fortified wines and liqueurs, the willingness to be knowledgeable and push the boundaries of creativity is the factor that most sets the drinks industry apart.

What's customer service to you

We don’t talk about customer service; we talk about a great guest experience. 

Define a good bartender

A good bartender is like a good cocktail: a balance of different ingredients and technical skills, a story and inspiration behind, and a great taste.

How do you manage non-performing brands

Use them in welcome drinks and any other complimentary offering that doesn’t involve margin.
How can you increase your beverage sales with the selection you already have.
By creating great storytelling around cocktail creations that feature brands with bigger margin.

How according to you has the role of the Bartender evolved, especially now during Covid times?

Our role has gained relevance as now guests are after experiences more than ever before. They enjoy the interaction with us and their knowledge and curiosity for the world of drinks has increased during lockdowns. More generally, they look to treat themselves, therefore our way of communicating with them, through digital platforms and in person, is more in the spotlight. 

What else do you look for in a brand before saying yes apart from quality, value, and package?

We’re always after unique, rare products or bespoke editions for our bar, so that we can create bespoke drinks and stories, in line with our ethos and our identity.

Give us an example of a common problem in bar business and how you handle it.

Keeping the motivation and team spirit high in your team is not always easy. To overcome this, you need to work on training, team building sessions, and more generally on  constant communication with the team, through regular catch ups and activities in and outside the bar, to social and professional experiences together.

Your favorite places to enjoy drinks

I am a big fan of hotel bars as I am always after great experiences rather than just drinks.

What's the best and worst part of your job?

Interaction. I love the constant exchange of experiences, ideas, backgrounds, and stories, but sometimes it’s not easy to accommodate every request or to understand someone’s needs. Despite this, we always need to keep in mind that hospitality is a business made of a great sense of sharing and understanding. To strive, we can and must find a way to always overcome barriers.

Interviewed by Prithvi Nagpal, Editor & Sommelier, Beverage Trade Network

International and Domestic Submission deadline is February 22. If you are looking to grow your brand in 2024, looking for product feedback, or looking to get in front of real trade buyers. It's time to enter your brands in the London Competitions. Here's how to enter, costs and benefits.

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