H. Joseph Ehrmann has over 30 years in the bar industry. He started at the age of 16 as a cook and then worked in well over a dozen establishments before opening his own bar, Elixir in San Francisco, in 2003. H, a high school nickname that has stuck, also worked in the Dot Com and PR worlds but, when the Dot Com bubble burst, he went back into bartending. Actually, whenever he was looking for a new job and needed money, he would return to a position behind the stick. H finally realized that his heart was in the hospitality industry, particularly bartending.
When Nightclub & Bar recognized H as the 2010 Bartender of the Year, he was proud but not because he thought it meant he was the best bartender. He maintains that it was his marketing prowess that earned him the award. “When I won that Bartender of the Year Award, I always said, ‘It’s not because I was the best bartender, it was probably because I was one of the best marketing bartenders.’”
Along with marketing, H feels that education is incredibly important. In his mind, education is a form of entertainment. When someone is studying something they love, opines H, they’re interested, engaged and relaxed. When he was studying for his MBA he doesn’t hesitate to admit that the content was boring him and putting him to sleep. Spirits, wine, beer, service, trends in the industry, marketing within the industry, all of these topics grab H’s attention immediately, fueling his thirst for knowledge.
H makes an excellent case for education as entertainment. When looking at the hospitality industry, it’s easy to see that we’re in the business of entertainment. When people mention that they’re hosting guests, they say that they’re entertaining people. The ambiance of venues stimulates the senses and affects the mood of guests through visual, aural and aromatic means. We strive to provide our guests with good energy and entertain them from the stage. Our stage is simply the bar: the use of bar tools, how the bar is set up, the way drinks are made – these are all theater. We also entertain through our marketing programs, using promotions and advertising to engage consumers.
Now compare those methods of entertainment with how we in the hospitality industry educate our guests. The service they receive is educating them on how to entertain in their own homes. They learn use how to use lighting, music, home bar setup, cocktail building and presentation from our venues and our staffs. Engaged guests are watching, studying and asking questions. Why does the bartender squeeze lime at that moment of his cocktail build? Why is she using simple syrup in that beverage? What brands of spirits do these bartenders prefer to use?
To better educate and entertain your guests, you need to become more education-minded. After all, your business starts with you. If, however, you’re the type of owner who prefers to remain behind the scenes, find a bar manager or head bartender/mixologist who can be the face, that person the guests and even staff look to for education in all its forms. This approach to service continues with your staff, flowing through training, beverage, food and marketing programs. Your marketing efforts reinforce the education you provide guests, guests who will become much more loyal if they feel they’re learning and having an excellent time in your bar. When people have more knowledge about beer, wine, spirits and cocktails, they enjoy a more satisfactory experience. Often times, they feel intimidated by impressive inventories and beverage programs so teaching them about the traditions and origins of spirits and brands can make them relax and motivate them to become engaged with you and your staff.
Of course, to be viewed as a credible expert, you need to become an expert. To that end, study everything. Travel everywhere. Experience as much as you can. For example, H traveled to Cognac and Armagnac in France to better understand those two types of category and their origins, uses and stories. Become the guru and leader and train your staff. Then, TELL THE WORLD! Position yourself as an expert by executing a public relations plan that gets your name out there as an expert. Write short articles and blog pieces, get quoted in industry publications, become involved in industry events like the Nightclub & Bar Show and judge contests… Do whatever it takes to prove that you’re an industry expert, are involved, and are committed to educating the public.
As far as educational promotions, there are the overt and the subtle. Examples of the former are themes such as: Come Learn About Using Agave, Learn More About Tequila, or Learn About Botanicals. The latter can be as simple as: Come Have the Best Margarita or Try the Best Gins, promotions that entice and then give you, your staff, brand ambassadors, cicerones, master distillers or brewers the opportunity to pass along educational information. Off-hours tasting classes, one-off events with visiting master distillers, brand ambassadors and brewers, regular events with in-house specialists like a somm, cicerone or head bartender, regular events with visiting specialists, self-guided tastings with printed mats and menus, and education-focused outside events are all incredibly effective when it comes to educating guests and converting them into loyal fans of your bar.
You can keep up with H via his blog, Behind My Mahogany. You'll also have the opportunity to learn from industry experts like him at the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show. Early bird registration is now open!