I don’t know about you but the first thing I do when I walk into a new pub is go and have a look at what’s on the pumps. It gives me an immediate sense of the place: commercial vs independent, locally sourced vs international favourites, traditional staples vs whacky cartooned disruptor (though the lines are somewhat blurred these days). Secretly however, I’m not really seeing what’s on offer (I’m probably going to try at least 5 3 of them anyway), I’m instead waiting to be approached by the bartender and see what form of greeting, if any, I receive. Will it be…
- The disinterested student ‘are you ready yet?’
- The Company Man ‘This one is surprisingly good’ suggests the over-stocked/under selling beer.
- The Ever Professional ‘what’s your flavour palette?’ (to my 3 year old son)
- Maybe The Class Clown’s ‘want to see a magic trick?’ (to my 75 year old father)
- Or the simple, earnest therapist’s ‘how are you today?’
I do the same at festivals and am almost always disappointed, the exception being when the bartender is more inebriated than I am. We have grown accustomed to being processed like cows to be milked; receiving an underwhelming, warm beer for £7 that’s been sat on the back bar for 10 minutes. I appreciate that in high volume situations we want queues to be minimal but there are opportunities to add some value for money.
The difference between the good, the bad and the myriad of ugly service I have received in hospitality is vast and the importance of it cannot be overstated. Get it right and you give someone’s routine night-out a curve ball they did not expect and turn it into something magical. By the same token, get it wrong and an opportunity is missed, a venue becomes another forgettable place I went once and at worst might even get a venue a bad reputation.
Power to the People!
Unsurprisingly then, we at Fire and Fly place a huge emphasis on customer interaction to ensure guests have a great time. But how do we go about it and what qualifies as good service?
For us, the answer lies in our team’s ability to unlock the potential of the guests: power to the people!
And how do we unlock this potential? Well, we, yes you guessed it, empower our people, the bar team. Firstly, by building an environment for them that they feel safe and valued, then equipping them with the correct tools to deliver excellent service. This allows them to get their heads up and focus on how to empower their guests to have a night like no other, safe in the knowledge our systems will support them.
Preparation (another one of our P’s – check out the Preparation blog!) is key. Firstly, identifying a diverse team that will work for and complement each other. Training that poses thought-provoking questions, challenges bartender stereotypes, ensures everyone’s safety, teaches how to make a damn good, efficient drink and ultimately bring out everyone’s silly side – breaking down cliques and pre-conceptions.
It isn’t revolutionary, it isn’t game-changing, but proper training is something that is so often missed when working in events and is an investment that gives so much in return.
Once on site, the senior manager’s focus is on cultivating and sustaining an environment in which our team can flourish; daily briefings, regular check-ins with team members, a rotation of bars to keep things fresh. They will also introduce the team to other departments on the ground: security, stage management, front of house etc to help build a friendly, safe and co-ordinated operation.
This again, is all in an effort to bring out the bar team’s individual superpowers: the knowledgeable mixos, flamboyant flairers, colourful actors, unassuming interrogators, innocent charmers or whacky humourists.
While these attributes make for great entertainment, to truly provide great service there is one superpower all hero bartenders must have: That of listening. As Dale Carnegie said ‘to be interesting, be interested’. Like a cat who smells its owner’s been petting other felines on their way home (and lies about it), a guest can see straight through someone who isn’t being sincere. Our team must learn how to listen and be sensitive to the needs or wants of their guests, within reason, to best be able to serve them.
Suddenly the bars become a place where people want to be, where questions are answered, tailored drinks are served, games are played, and the party’s at. Guests find themselves swept up in the energy, upsells and return custom flow and everyone, from client to guest, benefits.
These high standards that we ourselves have come with a (positive) price. Due to the level of immersion and escapism these productions have incited, Secret Cinema has cultivated a devoted following, both in its cult status as one of the leading immersive events in the world, but also in a more official capacity with the rise of the Positive People of Secret Cinema (PPSC)! This is a superfan group that have taken the guest’s role in world building to new levels, creating characters and backstories for the world that extend beyond the boundaries of the physically built space and creating an eco-system outside of the shows for group members to share their love of all things immersive, cosplay and the cinematic. They have co-ordinated PPSC nights in which hundreds come together to catch up, play the games and challenge the actors, front of house and bar team to keep the world alive and recently started a weekender ‘PPSC’ fest to keep the party going and connect in new ways.
The upshot is that on any given night at a Secret Cinema event there are a lot of people from all different backgrounds, experience of Secret Cinemas and with different roles and responsibilities (we haven’t even spoken about the actors, the stage management, security, front of house and cleaners!) but all with the common aim of creating something special.
They know that many things will be the same, set-pieces, uniforms, the drinks etc, but there will always be those unique moments, of pure joy and theatre, made by those people, that are reserved only for that show in that particular time and that is what keeps the people coming back the re-live it all again.