Friday 20-02-2015 - 14:06
30 per cent of Chester Students' Union’s bar trade now comes from the sale of cocktails. Bar Manager Jez Gilmour explains how CH1’s cocktail offer has increased and evolved over the years while remaining kind to their students’ bank balances.
Tell us about your role as Bar Manager at Chester Students’ Union’s CH1 Bar.
My role at CH1 Bar is varied. I look after the general running of the bar, from stock control & ordering, budgeting and pricing, right through to overseeing and helping to develop new events and activities, along with my management team.
Chester Students’ Union won the annual NUS/Bols cocktail making competition at last year’s Strategic Conversation and won a trip to the Bols factory in Amsterdam along with it. What did your team learn from the visit?
Strategic Conversation was very well received. It was the first NUS event that I was able to attend and I gained some insights into cocktail making that I personally was not fully aware of from my years in the industry, as cocktails are a new area in which I have come into from a more traditional pub route, where cocktails were not really a focus. The cocktail course was informative and fun and really got us thinking about structure, presentation and most of all taste of the cocktail you are making, ensuring that it is balanced.
Since being at CH1, we have seen many cocktails come and go, with an already impressive cocktail list, when I arrived. When we decided to enter our Eddie Stobart into the competition, we were hopeful that it would make the grade, and fortunately it was. As a result we won three slots to Amsterdam to visit the Bols cocktail museum and take part in cocktail classes with Bols. My two assistant managers and the inventor of the cocktail went on the trip and found it to be most interesting, fun and enjoyable and I think they took a lot back with them, with regards to cocktail knowledge, to help them develop their skills further.
Who is Eddie Stobart and what is a ‘Bazzalad’?
Eddie Stobart is actually, a mixture of the legend that is the logistics company Eddie Stobart and that of the name of the bar tender who invented the cocktail, his name is Liam Stobart. When he conceived the cocktail, he thought about the promotion of it using the famous name and a nice gimmick was invented for having one made, which was to pull your horn cord to signal to the barman.
A ‘Bazzalad’, is a cocktail that has encapsulated the Chester student for a number of years and was a creation made not only to give customers a great taste sensation but also to be nice to a student’s bank balance.
It comes served in a pint glass, with plenty of ice, with Smirnoff red vodka, cherry Sourz and lemonade and is sure to give your customers a refreshing and satisfying drink. The Bazzalad has evolved since its creation, with other variations of the drink now being made, such as ‘the bantalad’, ‘the beaverlad’, ‘the jonolad’, and ‘the fantalad’.
When did you decide to venture into the cocktail-making market, how much investment was needed at the beginning and what are the operational costs involved?
The bar started making a small amount of cocktails initially, which was around four/five years ago. There was little investment required at the time as it was on a small basis, involving ingredients already stocked, and we were able to use normal measurers and cocktail stirrers to mix the ingredients up. As the years have passed, our cocktail menu has increased. With the involvement and enthusiasm of the bar staff wanting to create some new tastes at cost effective prices for the student market, we have put together a comprehensive mix of cocktails both traditional and new. We are continuing to move our cocktail making further, with more training planned by both Bols and Diagio and a constantly developing bar area.
How do you price these beverages and how much of CH1s takings is now made from the sale of cocktails?
When pricing the cocktails, we look at the cost price of the products involved and try and make the price of the product as cost effective as possible, whilst still achieving enough profit to fund what we do as a students' union. Over the past three years, our cocktails have been price frozen, and have only just increased by 10p - 15p, with costs, finally making it impossible to keep our prices as low as we had been.
Cocktails now take up 30 per cent of our trade, so it's definitely an important area and one which we are continually striving to evolve - pricing factors heavily within that.
What have been the biggest challenges along the way?
The biggest challenges we are facing, is ensuring that our menu is comprehensive enough that customers still engage with what is on offer. As cocktails become more and more a part of people's choice, we feel that you can get lost in the endless list of cocktails that can be on offer at times and as a result miss out on some great tasting cocktails. As ever costs of the products are always a factor in a challenging market, however this is always considered, as it is an ongoing thing that will never change.
In contrast to pulling pints, there is an element of ‘theatre’ involved with cocktail making. How do you train your bar staff to offer this experience to students?
Training is all handled in house currently, however we are always looking at things to improve our skills. We have spoken to Bols recently and we will hopefully be booking in there cocktail team in for some training with the staff. We have also secured some external training from Diagio, who will be coming in to do some cocktail training in house with the team within the coming month.
What work is Chester Students’ Union doing publically and/or behind the scenes to promote alcohol awareness and responsible drinking
Chester Students' Union actively promotes drink awareness through the advertising of drinking responsibly on all advertising, through bar awareness and serving policies. We also work with the local bars and clubs to promote this heavily throughout, although they are very aware of this anyway.
Drink aware campaigns are run throughout the year, so there is a constant message being promoted throughout. We are also here to offer any advice regarding any issues that become apparent as a result of drinking, through our welfare area.
CH1 is located in the centre of student accommodation. Does this proximity contribute to the atmosphere and community within the bar itself?
There is definitely a community feel within the bar as it is at the heart of the student living area. Not only are we in the centre of the main campus, where there is a heavy amount of first year accommodation but we are also in the heart of student living in the area with the surrounding houses being 80 per cent students.
As with your local pubs, we get our regulars who pop by for soft drinks during the day and out on a night time. Some pop by just to say hello, on their way to their next lecture, so there is defiantly a community aspect to the bar for students studying here.
Are there any characteristics of students’ union bars which the high street cannot offer or vice versa?
The main characteristic that sets us apart from the bars in town, is that we are membership bar and only cater for students and occasionally some of their guests who are signed in. This gives students the safety of drinking in an area, where they do not have to feel intimidated by other members of the public, which can sometimes be the case, as students' that have just moved to the city and have only being able to drink legally for a few months as it also offers a safer environment to drink in comparison to local bars, as we are more involved in ensuring their wellbeing and safety.
What advice would you give fellow Bar Managers or Commercial Directors looking to explore trends in the sector in order to stay ahead of the curve?
Always keep a check on the competition, see what they are doing. Are they doing it well? What works for them? Case study successful bars in your area. What works for some, may not work for you but by looking at migration of your students' and the success of the bars, will help you develop your bars to be more competitive in an area, where things are constantly being strained.
All bar managers and commercial activity managers, will already be doing well within their areas but by having the conferences such as NUS’ Strategic Conversation, we are able to exchange ideas and help each other and I think that is something important in ensuring that you are getting things right for all students' involved.
You can find out more about Chester Students' Union by visiting their website at www.chestersu.com or by following them on Twitter at @ChesterSU.