The bartender’s Bible
Andy Pearson is devising a bartending manual to cover every outlet in the fast-expanding Glorious group. He tells Robyn Lewis that he simply wants the best of everything
For some itâ€™s the glamour, for others the drink. Occasionally itâ€™s the ladies, though never the hours, but for Andy Pearson, bar operations manager for Glorious, the Iqbal Wahab-owned restaurant company, currently riding high with the opening of Roast, itâ€™s people that keep him in the job.
â€œI used to work part time in a bar when I was at university in Leeds and I really enjoyed it. I was doing business management and when I left I wanted something that would allow me to work with the public, but also something that would legitimately allow me to keep my business management CV alive.â€ So he decided to manage bars. â€œDoing what we do you have to have a passion. I knew straight away that this is what I wanted to do. Every single day when we open those doors I donâ€™t know who is going to come through â€“ weâ€™ve even had Charles and Camilla â€“ but more often than not it is just ordinary people and I have a chance to make their day.â€
Following a usual approach of applying to several large and well-known companies, Pearson landed a job at MKT, as it was at the time, which then owned the Henry J Beanâ€™s chain and Chicago Rib Shack, among others. Thus at 21 Pearson found himself managing a Â£3.2 million turnover Henry J Beanâ€™s branch on the Kingâ€™s Road, London. It was, he admits, a steep learning curve.
â€œIt was a great place to cut your teeth, though,â€ he says with relish at the memory. â€œThe training with the company was absolutely superb; literally everything was nailed in place and I know that thereâ€™s at least 10 of us from those days, still in London, still on the scene â€“ and that goes to show the longevity of their training.â€ However, after a few years Pearson, afraid of being â€œtypecastâ€, decided to have a go at a more classical style of bartending. He moved on to some independent bars in London and eventually opened a private members club in Soho, before being offered a chance to work in Delhi with the Taj Hotel group, which he jumped at. (India is still his second favourite place in the world, Brazil taking the number-one spot.)
The significance of his big chain experience is the influence it has brought to Pearsonâ€™s approach to training in particular. After years working abroad and in independent operations, as well as some serious travelling (more of which later), the return to a larger company in the form of Glorious was a welcome one.
â€œI first spoke to Iqbal in November 2004 and the idea was that I would be in charge of bar operations as the company expanded, which was very exciting,â€ says Pearson. â€œI hadnâ€™t worked in a company since MKT that had such a structured approach to training and my feeling â€“ which Iqbal shares â€“ is that I want to encourage our staff, develop their skills and give them a home.â€
As a result Glorious is looking to start a training academy with a government-recognised training system, which the company is lobbying for right now. â€œI hope that we will get to a point where staff will be applying to join the company because they know it is somewhere where they are going to be able to learn and get recognition for it, inside and outside the industry,â€ explains Pearson. â€œThe other side of this is that a customer will be able to come into any of the bars and know what they are going to get, in the same way that when people go into a Gordon Ramsay restaurant they know what to expect. They donâ€™t expect Gordon to be in the kitchen cooking their food, but they do expect, and get, a certain standard. That is very much what I aim for.â€
The training programme Pearson has devised is a six-month practical course covering everything from bar set-up to product knowledge. â€œIt breaks down everything we do in the bar,â€ he explains.
â€œSo, there is, for example, a section on cutting fruit, not how you feel it should be done on any particular morning or how you used to do it, but how we do it.â€ Staff are tested on these basic skills and when they have passed they are put to work with a bar trainer for a couple of weeks. â€After that is the product knowledge section, which takes longer,â€ says Pearson.
Translating this big-chain approach to the top-end level is surely full of potential pitfalls, however. How, for example, I ask, can staff remain motivated and feeling as if they have genuine input and make a difference?
â€œIt is full of difficulties,â€ he admits. â€œI think what Iâ€™ve discovered is that when you work in boutique bars people can do it their way and be individual and thatâ€™s great. However, the problem with that is they have to be there the whole time and if they ever leave it is a disaster. You have to start again from scratch and people start doing things their own way.â€ But he doesnâ€™t want things to be totally inflexible. â€œThe idea is that the bar manuals and recipes and so on will be â€˜read onlyâ€™ documents for each site, meaning they canâ€™t change them but I can. So if someone comes up with an idea for a different way of doing something or a different ingredient then they can approach me and I can change it, making the change across all the venues, so that everyone is still doing the same thing. It just has to be the best way of doing something, not doing it just because it is cool or different or merely quicker â€“ it has to be the best way of doing it.â€
The reason that maintaining standards across several sites has become a concern for Pearson is that Glorious is planning to open several new ventures in the near future. All different but linked by their high standards and devotion to the authenticity of whatever they are doing.
â€œWith the roll-out we are very much going to be site-specific. There isnâ€™t going to be another Roast. We are looking at five, two of which will be an inversion of each other. One of these is going to be two-thirds Indian food and a third up-scale American; the other will be two-thirds up-scale America and a third Indian. Thatâ€™s because the sites are different and that dictates what we do.â€
One of these new sites is in Londonâ€™s Trafalgar Square and the other is in Discovery Docks in Canary Wharf. But Pearson explains, â€œWe are also looking at a place in Chelsea and one in Monte Carlo, believe it or not, and they will all be different concepts. All new everything, so that does put a lot of pressure on us all because weâ€™ve got to redefine the standards in the manual in each site. It isnâ€™t like a Pizza Express where you just order more of this and less of that for each site, itâ€™s all different. Itâ€™s quite exiting in that sense because everything has to be 100% authentic, so you really have to dive in and learn about that, whatever it is, and look at it all in the smallest detail â€“ the cutlery, the plates, the wine, the glasses and so on. Itâ€™s reasonably challenging and very interesting.â€
As you may have noticed, the link between the Glorious restaurants is the authenticity which underpins each of the different venues. In this sense, Pearson is an inspired choice for a bar operations manager, as he continually refers to the classic or authentic, an obsession which seems to stem from his extensive travelling.
â€œI do quite a lot of research by visiting different places for the bar and the training. So, I go to Cognac or Scotland and visit distilleries for product knowledge,â€ he says.
For Pearson the main thing is recipes and ingredients. â€œA lot of â€˜classicâ€™ cocktails havenâ€™t come out of New York or London; a lot of what we now consider to be classics â€“ the Mohito, the Caipirinha and so on â€“ are cultural drinks. They are just what people in a particular part of the world are drinking,â€ he explains. â€œTake a Caipirinha â€“ which literally translated, means â€˜peasantâ€™s drinkâ€™. It is made from lime, sugar, cachaÃ§a â€“ ingredients that were to hand and made a nice refreshing, long drink. Itâ€™s the same with a Daiquiri or Pisco Sour.â€ he says. â€œAuthenticity is important,â€ he continues. â€œIâ€™ve always been of the opinion that you canâ€™t make something new, something better, if you donâ€™t understand the building blocks, the mechanics of a drink.â€
At Roast this preference for authenticity has translated into a cocktail menu that uses only British ingredients in season and a spirits list with an entirely British pedigree. This means gin, of course, and Scotch. But what about rum or Cognac? â€œWe use Hennessey Cognac because originally that was an Irish family,â€ explains Pearson. â€œAnd we list Gosling Rum, because James Gosling was originally a London spirit merchant who ended up in Bermuda producing rum.â€ Very clever.
Pearson continues: â€œIn terms of the actual ingredients, using only seasonal British produce forces us to be creative and to change the menu often; once a fortnight, in fact, because if you run out of British strawberries you canâ€™t just bring in Spanish ones.â€
Food for thought
The drinks at Roast are clearly an important part of the offering, with cocktails of the week advertised on boards outside the restaurant and on the menu itself. This is set to develop even further, according to Pearson.
â€œWe are about to change the format of the menu so that it mimics a food menu.â€ For example, heâ€™ll have a cocktail of the day instead of a dish of the day and have cocktails listed under appetisers â€“ not aperitifs. â€œMain course cocktails are ones you can drink at any time and thereâ€™s also a set menu, so that you could have three cocktails for Â£20 or whatever.â€ Pearson wants customers to drink cocktails throughout a meal and is going to use the tasting menu to push that. â€œSo now on the tasting menu you have the matching wines listed with the dish and we are going to put cocktails on there too.â€
Perhaps another idea Pearson has picked up on his travels? Either way it will be interesting to watch his big company approach translate across several sites, all of which are developed with a different authenticity in mind. If it works it may well become a benchmark for the ever improving bar scene in the UK.
Â© db July 2006