In our latest newsletter, we wanted to feature some of our customers and they share how they have had to adapt their business to deal with the pandemic restrictions. We hope you like both interviews…
Turning 3 drinks into 6,000: Easton’s Bartender Hire Company explains how business changed in 2020
With the events industry in turmoil over the last year, we spoke to Lewis Spindlove, founder of The Bartender Hire Company and long-term tenant at Easton Business Centre, to find out how they were affected by the pandemic.
BSW: Hi Lewis, so tell us what The Bartender Hire Company looked like pre-Covid.
LS: We ran mobile cocktail parties. I started out as a bartender and people would ask me if I could do private parties. And it just grew from there, to running bigger gatherings and office parties. We took on more bartenders, then added on glassware and drinks so we could manage the whole experience. We’ve been based at BSW over 10 years now.
BSW: How was business this time last year?
LS: 2020 started nicely. We were very busy and had some great contracts. People were in high spirits and we were all getting ready for a good year. I think people had started to get over the initial shock and misery of Brexit and were keen to spend money. As it got closer to March – well, we all know the story.
BSW: Do you remember the last event you ran?
LS: I remember it vividly. It was just before Boris Johnson made his big lockdown announcement, and we were in London to run an office party. We’d kept wondering if it would go ahead, they assured us it would – and they’d paid in advance – so off we went.
Everything was on the cusp of lockdown. I’ve spent a lot of time in South London and it was very different that day. Everywhere was empty – it was eerie. The security staff were really surprised we were there for a party but once we entered the office, everyone was waiting for us – thrilled that we’d turned up. So that was our last party. We couldn’t even get hand sanitiser anywhere, so were using vodka to wash our hands!
BSW: What were your initial plans once lockdown was announced?
LS: At first, we thought we’d be out of it by the summer, so everything just got postponed. We started making phone calls to businesses and suppliers we’ve worked with for years, to say goodbye really – and keep in touch. It was hard.
The events industry has been devastated. 80% of people in events are self-employed or freelancers, and have had very little financial help.
I tried to look after the staff who were on our books, and then sat twiddling my thumbs in the back garden, working out what to do next.
BSW: When did you realise things wouldn’t return to normal for a while?
LS: By June, it was obvious we wouldn’t be back running cocktail parties for a while. I looked at our warehouse here in Easton. We’ve got lots of space and various rooms that were storing our mobile bar equipment, that we could use differently.
So we set up a fully fitted cocktail bar, which we’ve called The Bar From Afar. It’s got pro lighting and filming equipment, and we now run cocktail classes online – either for private parties or corporate teambuilding activities.
The concept has been so successful that we’ve now got a second studio downstairs, the Flamingo Bar, so we can run two classes at once.
BSW: That sounds fantastic, how does it work?
LS: All the participants receive a cocktail kit in the post before their event. We bottle up their premium spirits here and package them up with the mixers, fruit and garnishes – all the ingredients they need to make three cocktails during our class.
We run the classes live, so it’s ideal for friends celebrating a special event, or businesses looking for some virtual teambuilding. It’s a really entertaining activity. We even offer couple’s boxes for a fun Friday evening at home.
You can see how it all works in this quick video: https://youtu.be/9TKW4QwHSeU
BSW: And have you been busy?
LS: Yes – it’s been really well received. We were incredibly busy in the run-up to Christmas and hung up our aprons on 23rd December, completely exhausted. We thought everything would calm down in January, but it hasn’t been the case. People are being realistic in not expecting in-person events to start for a while, so we’re back up to 200mph and pretty much sold out for February. We’re running 5 classes today and are shipping our cocktail kits all over the UK, and even further afield.
Previously all our events were bespoke, but it’s now a simple, off-the-shelf party option for the organisers. So it’s a quicker sale. And the feedback has been fantastic.
BSW: What’s the biggest party you’ve run online?
LS: We had a corporate group of 850, and are currently preparing for a St. Patrick’s Day booking of 6,000 – that’s a lot of bottles of ginger ale to box up and send out! It’s great that in the studio I’m making 3 cocktails, whereas in reality, that’s 6,000 drinks being made and enjoyed.
BSW: What have you had to learn or adapt?
LS: I’d already been doing some teaching on Zoom because I’m a cub scout leader, so I knew how well it could work. I’ve had to rapidly learn about posting and couriers and delivery costs, which are not cheap. A lot of our day is now spent packing up boxes to ship out. And there have been so many shortages throughout the pandemic, when cocktail materials and packaging all ran out.
But we’ve got a really good system going now and our office space is being well used.
Our previous equipment is now in storage, and as well as the two studios, we’ve turned our former glass washing room into a bottling room, where we measure out and bottle the spirits and dehydrate the fruit. We also have cardboard boxes, either packed up or waiting to be packed, in every available space!
There are usually four of us in here – all distanced with masks and gloves – packaging up cocktail kits for the next round of bookings.
BSW: Has anything particularly helped you?
LS: We’re so grateful for the relationships we’ve built over the years with businesses who we’re now working with in a slightly different capacity. They keep coming back to us, knowing we can turn things over quickly.
The move towards virtual teambuilding events has helped, and has enabled us to reach more of that sector. And through social media, particularly LinkedIn and Instagram, we’re reaching more people in general.
BSW: How do you think The Bartender Hire Company will look in the future?
LS: It would be a shame to stop the virtual side – it’s been fun. Even once we’re booking face-to-face events, there will still be a demand for online parties and events – particularly on the corporate side with more people working from home. I think we’re all going to be more localised.
BSW: Can you take away any positives from the last year?
LS: Not having to travel so much. I used to be down in London every week, but I haven’t left the South West since last year. And there’s much less set-up and transition time between activities now – I can be packing up 500 boxes, then just run upstairs to the studio and lead a cocktail party.
BSW: How can people book a cocktail party at The Bar From Afar?
LS: You can book through our website https://www.thebartender.co.uk – and take a look at this video to see how it all works https://youtu.be/9TKW4QwHSeU