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Bartenders who mean business - the making of Seven Bar Group

Bartenders who mean business - the making of Seven Bar Group inploi Team | 29.05.2018

Opening your own bar on a shoestring is no easy feat, and Seven Bar Group’s founders, Liam and Jonny have made their fair share of mistakes to get to where they are today. We caught up with Liam and Seven at Brixton’s General Manager, Jess, to find out more about this fast-paced independent bar group.

“Brixton happened to be kicking off at just the right time,” Liam says, taking us back to when they first opened Seven at Brixton. “Seven is very much us at 26. It’s quite casual, it’s very chilled out. We didn’t have a kitchen. We just went to IKEA three times, and my Dad picked us up. The menu was 5 cocktails all at £5, and a plate of chorizo, jamon, and pintxos.”

The inspiration for Seven Bar Group came the founders’ visits to Barcelona to watch the football (and sample the local food and drink). “We wanted to open a Spanish tapas bar that would survive in Barcelona,” Liam explains. Somewhere relaxed with a small, affordable menu of well-executed food and cocktails. Having previously worked for a high-volume bar group, Liam and Jonny were eager to create their own space - more akin to the low-key places they liked to visit on a night out.

Although the group has evolved quickly over time - now including Three Eight Four in Brixton and Two Hundred Rye Lane in Peckham - the pair have stayed true to their original vision. “It’s been a long, arduous journey, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Liam says. “With Three Eight Four the decision was: if we’re gonna manage two places, it makes sense that they’re around the corner from each other; but it doesn’t make sense that they’re both Spanish. So Three Eight Four is us at 28 - it had to be a bigger and different project, with a similar ethos.”

Seven Bar Group’s speciality lies in creating small, neighbourhood bars with products as good as those you’d find in Central London, without the inflated price tags. They’ve been offered numerous opportunities to take up sites in Soho. However, they insist that they want to stay in south London - opening in the areas they know best. The bars and their teams have therefore been able to integrate themselves closely with local communities. At Two Hundred Rye Lane in Peckham, they use locally-sourced Amaro in their cocktails, and have done fundraisers for the local refugee centre. Similarly, the team at Three Eight Four have created a cocktail called ‘Ziggy Stardust’ to commemorate Brixton as David Bowie’s birthplace, and work closely with Brixton Pound.

The bars’ proximity to one another has been a key part of building a close-knit team. “Seven is really lucky as the market has to close at midnight,” explains Jess, “so we finish a little earlier and get to go to Three Eight Four where we get the staff discount!”. The team are given Monday evenings off - used for ‘open’ (entirely optional) training opportunities - run once a fortnight by one of the group’s General Managers. These can be on any topic, from Bartender Steps of Service, through to Bourbon tasting evenings with a veritable feast of chicken wings, brisket and other snacks. “It’s conversational learning,” Liam explains, “if staff want to come along, and have a night out and a free dinner, they can.”

These evenings also serve to inspire the team, as everyone is able to contribute to Seven Bar Group’s evolving cocktail and food menus. For cocktail menu development, staff are invited over a 3-week period to take cocktail making sessions with their Managers and produce new ideas. The Managers (and often a Head Bartender) will then meet with Liam and Jonny to present their ideas to be added to the menu. “The General Managers apply more structure to the process-” Liam explains, “-by asking things like, ‘How fast can you make this cocktail?’. They coach them. And then we throw everyone’s ideas together.”

This summer, the bars will be hosting a special ‘Negroni mini menu’, with Campari as the focal ingredient. The main inspiration for which will come from one of the Manager’s annual trips overseas. Seven Bar Group truly believe in rewarding their team, as well as giving them the opportunity to meet suppliers, and soak up the bar culture of other European cities. Previous Supervisor and Manager trips have included Berlin, Paris and Porto: “On these trips we have the freedom not to be reading emails constantly - you can go to a restaurant and think, ‘That’s really cool - let’s take inspiration from that.’”

Where in many companies the only progression is upwards, Seven Bar Group offer staff the opportunity to develop within their role, and really get to know the team by running numerous company-wide competitions, cross-bar promotions, staff rotations, wine and food tasters before shifts, team-building trips, one-on-one training, regular staff appraisals, two annual staff parties, and supplier visits (to name but a few!). Furthermore, each individual is constantly supported and incentivised to upskill, upsell and build strong relationships across front of house and kitchen.

Over bank holidays the team have previously run Bingo Card competitions, whereby staff attempt to complete as many pre-set tasks as possible - giving them the chance to win a bottle of wine, or a team tab behind the bar. Tasks have included anything from ‘High-five a customer’, to ‘Sell a bottle of wine’, ‘Hug a member of staff’ or ‘Compliment a chef’. As Liam says, “It’s nice when you get a new batch of staff as it teaches them what our culture is.” In addition, Liam and Jonny run bigger incentives - such as sending six of the highest performing staff to Barcelona and Paris. The array of weekly, monthly and annual activities is exhaustive, but as Jess points out, “Change keeps it fresh and keeps us on our toes in terms of training!”

Regardless of an applicant’s experience level, Liam and Jess are both on the lookout for people with an ability and willingness to learn: “Often people who come here have no experience with cocktails or hospitality,” explains Jess, “but they’re not afraid to be hands-on, and engage with the customers.” As a Bartender, turned Supervisor, Assistant Manager and now General Manager herself, Jess is a strong advocate for Seven Bar Group’s incredible commitment to looking after and training their staff. Every General Manager at Seven Bar Group has escalated to their position within the company, and have been able to contribute to the company along the way. In London, where the hospitality industry can feel dominated by chains and external investment, Seven Bar Group offers people a unique opportunity to work directly with senior decision-makers, to follow their passions, to learn, and build their career with an ever-growing independent business.

If you’re interested in exploring opportunities available at Seven at Brixton, Three Eight Four or Two Hundred Rye Lane, visit the Seven Bar Group company page here!