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10 April 2024


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Travel, Learn, Bartend.

Maddalena Sommo, Bartender at Claridge’s has perfected her craft by travelling and exploring different cultures and advises new bartenders to get out there too.

Where do you work?

Davies and Brook restaurant in the Claridge's hotel.

Tell us something about yourself

I arrived in London 6 years ago with one clear vision, learning and developing myself in the extensive world of food & beverage. Coming from a family who always worked in hospitality I grew up learning how to from my parents and working in our seaside restaurant & boutique hotel.

I then enrolled in a couple of bartending courses in Italy but I felt London would truly have so much more to offer. I also love travelling, which I always enjoy also because I learn about cultures, food, ingredients, cooking methods, or different ingredients I could use in bartending.

Maddalena Sommo, Bartender at Claridge's

What inspired you to get into bartending?

Being an adventurous teenager, I have tried finding my own path - went to study economics in school but I ended up not enjoying it. I love working with people so I also tried nursing but being an empathic person I felt it was too challenging for me. I then understood the fulfilment I have felt when working in our restaurant and decided to embrace the path I already had my roots in.

My parents were my main inspiration, they own and run this little restaurant for 17 years and counting. The passion and fulfilment you feel when embracing such a varied operation is amazing - and you always have to improve and challenge yourself in order to strive. 

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

One major change is evolving businesses and individuals like chefs, bartenders, and suppliers becoming sustainable. I believe with the current challenges it is just a minimum we can do to help our future. Bartending became sustainable and it is beautiful. Using the whole product is essential, working alongside the kitchen team is crucial to reduce waste. Also working with suppliers who have a sustainable product origin is important.

Being able to adapt to a full lockdown by creating a Michelin star meal and drink which is usually created in a restaurant only, in the comfort of our guests home was a major challenge when we operated home deliveries. But we've adapted and delivered - very well. Thinking of how we could personalise their experience when we can physically not be there. It is truly fascinating how these unprecedented times have evolved hospitality.

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

In my opinion bartending skills can be taught but the most important thing a bartender or any hospitality employee should have is emotional skills. Danny Meyer puts this perfectly in words. In setting the table - having the optimistic warmth, that genuine kindness, self awareness and integrity, empathy, work ethic and an insatiable curiosity to learn are all emotional skills that can not be taught but with which one is blessed to behold. 

What do you look for when you plan to buy spirits for your bar?

Sustainable suppliers, the story behind that particular spirit, and the design of the bottle are all good selling points. Also important is a good pricing package and availability of that spirit.

What support programs work best for you from suppliers?

Staff training, competitions, distillery visits.

What cocktails and drinks trends do you see in 2022?

Low ABV cocktails are definitely a trend, ready made cocktails are growing trends especially after the lockdown. Online masterclasses offered by bartenders for cocktail lovers who would want to know how to make a perfect gin martini for example.

Maddalena Sommo behind the bar in action.

What's the best part of your job?

Being a sociable and curious person the best part of my job is meeting diverse people through my work - be that a guest at the bar or an individual from the industry. Also, the constant learning about bartending is the best part of my job. R&D (research and development) is a fun part of the job as you get to play with different ingredients and preparation methods until you manage to extract the particular flavour and consistency from it.

What are your favorite TV shows right now? Or your favorite movie?

Friends, I have seen it a couple of times already and it's a never-ending favourite. 

If you had to pick one spirit as your personal best, which would it be and why?

Rum. I have an emotional attachment to Cuban culture, I love salsa and Latin American dances. I fell in love with Cuba on my visit there. The diversity of this spirit, it can be herbaceous and spicy, tropical, etc. It is a versatile spirit many times forgotten how valuable it can be.

How are you marketing your bar to drive foot traffic during covid-19?

We have recently launched Claridge's Cocktail book. I always visit industry colleagues and invite them to our bar. Word of mouth is the most precious marketing tool you can have. We also put a lot of value in making sure word of mouth recommendation is done by our guests as well. Social media is encouraged with guests and many times we are happy posing whilst shaking those cocktails.

Any tips for new bartenders?

Travel, see the world, study. There is always something to learn, look for inspiration everywhere you go, be humble, and have fun! Our job is fun. 

What’s the most underrated cocktail ingredient or spirit?

The new non alcoholic products being launched on the market. There is a huge community who we can cater for and besides always offering the same boring non alcoholic drinks, we can actually create totally new flavour profiles or recreate some of the classics with no alcohol. It is also a social factor-inclusion- which we have been ignoring until now - like vegan choices, they were so limited until not much time ago. 

What is an experience or a customer story you thought was funny and that you remember?

During the European football finals at the England - Italy match, we were working for a private event for a VIP guest and they were so kind to invite us to join them to watch the football match. And we actually won!

What are the 4-5 challenges you face in your business and how do you overcome them?

Building a stable team. Overcoming by bonding with the team - outings, interactive training, team play. Keeping consistency in service and training especially if you have high turnover staff. Try keeping your core staff by looking after them. Training should be well established and consistent for each team member. Finding availability of the products - replace with alternatives or better stock management. 

What's your career goal? Where do you want to be and how are you working towards it?

My goal Is to become a food and beverage director in a hotel. I have recently finished my master's degree in food and beverage management. 

Tips for brands looking to pitch to bars? What should they cover in their pitch? What you do not need to know? Give us the best elevator pitch brands can make to you.

Know where you are pitching - who is the guest, what is the trend, what food do they serve, what is the atmosphere, what drinks/ cocktails are selling, what have failed in impressing. The brand has to have some kind of similarity to the bar they pitch in or they should be able to mould to it.

Define a good Bartender according to you.

it should achieve at least 80% GP, which is becoming challenging with the current situation of prices rising. it should include each type of spirit - vodka, gin, tequila, rum, whiskey etc, lower end and higher end brands, sustainable unique finds - small produce distilleries but well established ones as well. It should include a signature cocktail list but classics need to be available upon request. A seasonal list is always welcome which would change regularly.

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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