The bar is where it’s at. In decades past, diners would use the bar to have a drink or wait for additional guests before entering the dining room. Today, diners see bar dining as another option, and some even prefer it to sitting in the dining room.
Bar dining presents specific challenges for managers and bartenders. Nick Jarman, general manager of OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar & Brasserie in London has found that his guests love sitting at the bar and enjoying a meal. Below, he shares how he manages this specific part of the restaurant and what advice he has for other managers on how to capitalise on the bar dining trend.
How do you create guest experiences at bar at OXO?
We focus on providing customers with a compelling food offer and excellent service. In our bar, the menu is bolder, with bigger and more robust flavours. This is because we serve small plates and sharing platters, and customers will want to try a bit of everything and so they are keen to explore spicier and richer flavours, such as fried squid, spicy chips and flatbread with dips. Customers tend to enjoy a wide-range of drinks from our menu, from cocktails to beers, wine and sparkling wine, and our aim is to have a plethora of dishes on a menu that work with a variety of wines, beers and cocktails, to ensure that most food and drink pairings are crowd pleasers. We’ve even created our own OXO Session IPA which has an aromatic blend of hops to complement many foods; it is, of course, great on its own too.
Why do you think bar and counter dining has become increasingly popular over the years?
It’s a more relaxed way to dine, as guests can enjoy just drinks or bar snacks and cocktails. It’s a more approachable way to experience OXO and we find that many customers, particularly younger guests, will try the bar food first before the brasserie or restaurant. Similarly, we serve several menus in the bar, so guests can enjoy a variety of dining occasions, including brunch and an express lunch menu, where guests can enjoy a main course and a drink for only £18.
How do you manage the bar and make sure that everyone is having a good time?
Great service is key to ensuring guests have a good time. In our training we focus on empowering staff to trust their intuition and we look at how to provide customers with an engaged service without dominating the table. This might involve going the extra mile, guessing what the next drink order will be and asking if guests would like another plate of a certain dish if the first plate disappears quickly. We also create a warm, inviting atmosphere, so that guests can relax and focus on enjoying excellent food and drink whilst taking in the views over London.
What are some of the pitfalls of managing bar dining?
The bar food comes from our busy Brasserie kitchen, which delivers a variety of dishes to over 300 covers during service. It’s important that the bar food is seen as big a priority as orders for the brasserie. Guests need to get the same ‘wow factor’, and the same excellent quality.
What are some of the differences in managing bar dining versus managing guests in the dining room?
The main difference is that every table in the bar is most likely having a different dining experience. There’s usually a real mix of occasions in the one room – some tables will be having cocktails only, others savoury snacks and wine, another may be enjoying a full meal (guests are able to order from the Brasserie menu in the Bar); whereas in the Brasserie and Restaurant, most guests will be having two or three courses with wine. It’s a more dynamic vibe and our staff have to be flexible, and it’s imperative that they understand what sort of experience each table is after.
What advice would you give other managers about managing at the bar?
It’s important to get the food offer right and the speed of service. If it all works, it builds an additional revenue stream and introduces new customers to your business, who may become loyal, regular diners.
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