If you’re establishing and investing in a drinks brand, there’s a good chance that you’ll be spending long periods conducting research. It could well be that you are developing a beer targeting 18 – 25 year olds so you decide to bring in a panel of tasters from that age group to evaluate their feedback. Or you might be looking to create a spirit for a particular country, so you put together a market questionnaire that could assist you in what the name should be.

This is all time well spent of course. It’s vital that you fully understand who you’re selling to and what the appeal for your product should be. But there is one group of people that you have to ensure not only like your product from the get go, but continually endorse it throughout their careers. They are commonly known as bartenders and they are the lifeblood and beating heart of the drinks industry.

In previous years, the drinks slingers were only ever regarded as that. Bartending was not deemed to be a serious, long term profession and the only country where they could earn a really good wage was the USA where the tipping culture safeguarded attractive take home pay. In today’s day and age, that has thankfully changed for the better.

Modern hospitality has higher demands of all their staff and well trained bartenders need to comfortably navigate wine, spirit and beer menus, mix classic cocktails and understand how to handle guests with the utmost courtesy and charm. Brands have recognised this evolution too and are now constantly courting the keepers of the bar in order to win them over. It’s become commonly regarded that you need to have bartenders on your side so that they can wax lyrical about your product to the customers, but after years of consulting within the trade, I can safely say that it goes a lot deeper than that.

So without any further ado, allow me please to present to you:

Four Reasons Why Brands Really, Really Need Bartenders

1. Exposure

It’s a cliché at this stage, but it’s still true. If you want your brand to do well in the off trade, its gotta be seen in the on trade. How do you get your bottle on the back bar or better still, pouring in a key account? The bartender who does the ordering has to like it. Educate and woo them first and you might get your product listed in that cool craft beer/cocktail bar.

2. Relationship building

I’ve had so many sales reps over the years come into me and kiss my ass because I was a manager or an owner, only to ignore a bartender who happened to be working with me at that time. Not only would I deem that as bad manners and therefore make me think less of that rep, but that bartender is going to tell all the crew how uncool that person is and by extension, the brand is. Six months later the same rep could walk in looking for a manager and that bartender he/she dissed is now in charge. If someone from a brand isn’t super nice to every bartender they meet, I question how good they are.

3. The Competition

Both macro and micro brands have had great commercial success in their bartender advocacy programs. Everybody’s at it now. All kinds of brands are chasing the same crew of bartenders to enter their cocktail competitions, take them on far flung distillery trips or brilliant local days out. Lagging behind will cost you as another company will snap them up. And just because you’re nice to them once, doesn’t mean you’re suddenly best mates. It’s a continuous assessment and there’s always someone else looking to pounce.

4. Potential Crew

What’s also happening everywhere now is that bartenders are being continuously recruited by brands. They recognise that in order for their whiskey/gin/beer to gain or maintain credibility in the bars, it looks good for them to have someone on board who knows the trade and its people. That cool bartender you’re getting to know might well end up being a valuable employee or partner down the road.

As Irish drinks brands gain further footings and strongholds around the world, its crucial that we comprehend every nuance of what’s expected of us and what we’re up against. If I can offer one universal piece of advice to them all, it would be: don’t neglect bartenders!

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