Be Your Brand

by Lance J Mayhew

When I first began bartending in the early 1990s, bartenders didn't talk about building their brand.  They spoke about building a following of regulars; if you moved to another restaurant or bar, the question was, could you bring your regulars (and their business) with you?  If a bartender could carry a following to the new establishment, they had successfully managed their brand. Social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and blogs simply didn't exist, and few bartenders really did any networking or research. Sure, Dale Degroff was in NYC, and Gary Regan was doing his thing, but for every Degroff or Regan there were a thousand bartenders like me, just trying to make a few bucks, have a good time and not take life too seriously.

Now, as the overall craft of bartending is improving in America, and our digital age is providing innovations and opportunities, there is a dedicated and quickly growing group of bartenders actively managing the overall perception of themselves as a brand.  As a result, the market is rapidly becoming more competitive.

Brand management is a marketing idea first thought up by the minds at Proctor & Gamble in the 1930s.  Essentially, brand management focuses on an individual product (you, the bartender) and the customer experience with it (the hospitality you provide). There are tangible portions and intangible portions of your brand management. If you work in a certain style of bar, you may want to style your wardrobe or hair to match the style of bartending and the bar you work in. Think of the tangibles as the physical expression of who you are and your style of bartending. Then there are the intangibles. Things like your customer service skills, your knowledge and style of drink making. It is the emotional connection a guest makes when they think of you.

All of this comes together to form your own personal brand. You work hard to create a consistent product for your guests, so shouldn't you also be focusing on creating a consistent brand experience for your guests as well? Managing your personal brand can help create guest loyalty and help you build a following of regulars at the very least, but leveraged appropriately, it can open and create opportunities that may not exist otherwise, such as brand ambassadorships, magazine articles or new job opportunities. In a competitive marketplace, where literally everyone nationally can see what everyone else is doing in the industry, if you don't manage your personal brand to get the results that you want, you are going to lose opportunities to those who have managed their brands. Good personal brand management is what is going to distinguish you from everyone else behind the bar.

So how do you manage and embrace your personal brand in an age when everyone is on Twitter and every cell phone has a camera? I look back on my early bartending days and cringe at what blunders could have made it to YouTube, had it existed. For instance, during my first year of bartending, a bitter ex-girlfriend took advantage of some empty glassware that I had intentionally let pile up in front of her. She began to throw the empty glasses at me, shattering bottles on the back bar as I ducked and cowered from her fury. Imagine if that was recorded on a camera phone and posted to YouTube. Sure, it might get several million hits and a collection of snarky comments, but that one incident could have really harmed my personal brand, and by extension, my career. We live in a real time, digital age, where mistakes can be magnified instantly. Because of that, it is essential to be vigilant and manage your brand at all times. Here are five quick tips on how to manage your personal brand:

  1. Stay focused on being your brand. The guest experience is and will always be key to our industry, but now, more than ever, bartenders have to be on their A game at all times.
  2. Alcohol and Twitter do not mix. Nor do alcohol and Facebook. Keep social media professional or keep it locked down to only friends and family. There is no middle ground on this.
  3. Focus on what you are passionate about.  Find a portion of the spirits and cocktail world that interests you and become known for that. Maybe you love whiskey, like me. Start a blog about your journey through the world of whiskies. Or maybe conduct a cocktail class at your establishment. Do things to engage your guests and share the things you are passionate about.
  4. Look for opportunities to involve yourself in cocktail-related activities. From the USBG to cocktail competitions to a cocktail demonstration at your local farmer's market, involving yourself in the bartending community will enhance your brand's status both within the cocktail community and the general public.
  5. Stay positive and friendly. Look for role models who reflect this in the cocktail community, see what they do to build and maintain their brands, and network with them. Jeffrey Morgenthaler and Ryan Magarian are great examples of people in the cocktail community with these qualities. 

Using these five tips as a foundation for managing your brand will help you gain new opportunities and stronger presence in today’s fast paced and ever-changing marketplace.

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