The Guest Shift Gravy Train Is About To Run Dry

The Current State of Things

Guest shifts & pop ups have become an important and major part to our industry and a big benefit to becoming a bartender has become the chance to be able to travel the world and doing what we do in the cities we visit. They keep us trading ideas and bringing our world-wide community closer together. And for a large part so far, this is all made possible by brands, who usually treat us like royalty while we’re travelling too.

Because of such, it has long been the question people have asked us the most… “who’s paying for all of this?”

While the answer is a fairly straight forward one (US!) the reason, we think, requires a bit of further exploring.

Firstly let’s take a look at what your average pop up or guest shift model looks like at the moment.

  • The brand pays flights and accommodation

  • The brand will potentially also pay a fee for the traveling bar/bartender

  • The brand will often give stock to the host venue

  • The brand receives “advocacy” and “goodwill” for being seen to be poured by the bartender.

To state the obvious, this is not a balanced business model. Its breeding a lack of originality and laziness with the mentality that alongside every great idea comes the question, “what brand will pay for this?”

Most importantly, one day very soon, the powers-that-be who control the purse strings and write the cheques, are going to add up what their brand spends on this wildly unbalanced model in any given year and realise the ROI simply isn’t there. At that point, one brand will follow the next and in a very short period of time, we’re all going to be left twiddling our thumbs bored without an airport check in or “coming in hot” status to post.

Even if that doesn’t happen, it’s about fucking time we started working as the true, equal professionals we are. Brands are integral to our industry, their support has helped our humble little slice of the hospitality game grow. However that “support” role has very quickly changed to one of “Sugar Daddy” and we think it’s time we stepped backed, utilised our whole network, business acumen, and learn to stand on our own.

 

A Possible Solution?

So, we created what we like to call “the Band Model”. The premise of which is fairly simple; we’re the band, we find venues we want to play at and then should we need to engage a brand, we get them to do what they do best, invest in selling tickets and getting bums on seats.

With each venue, we contact them directly with a pitch deck, discuss potential spaces that would be best in the venue and look at realistic volumes so we can then pull together a sales matrix. On most occasions, we’ve agreed on 50/50 split of the net sales with tips accounted for with the two of us as one staff member (to ensure the venue staff don’t miss out in anyway for us being there).

We then pay our own flights, accom and living expenses, and the brand makes sure PR as well as any POS agreed upon, is covered to help hype the crap outta it. For the North American Anti Waste Tour the very awesome Fords Gin knocked the marketing out of the park and also got the help of the wonderful David Semanoff  to frankly, crush the PR side of things. Thanks guys!! 

Now not every night has be raging success, but that’s part and parcel of running a business. It also meant on those quiet nights, everyone was still invested in making it a success and getting as many folk down as possible instead of everyone chucking in the towel and say it fuck it ‘cus it would only hurt the brand that way. We looked towards 3 key factors when considering a venue/city/country;

A) Does the venue have a dead space or secondary space we could occupy that means their primary trade wouldn’t be affected

B) Does the venue close on certain days as this is always an easy proposition (“Would you like 100% of nothing, or 50% of something?”)

C) Is there a down time in terms of season aka is going to be fucking bollocks hot and so likely a little quieter. This has the added benefit of meaning industry folk aren’t picking up as many shifts and so have time to come down.

Ultimately this meant we had to form a business partnership with every venue and if we couldn’t do business with them, whether for a few nights or something much larger, the greater purpose of this whole chaotic tour would be lost. Most importantly every single time, without fail, our primary question was “are they great people doing good things for the industry that we get a positive vibe from?”

 

The Result

You know what, it’s fucking working! It means when we say we’d partnered with Fords Gin for our Anti Waste Tour, we do so with our head high knowing there is transparency on all financials and equal sharing of responsibilities. It means when we walk into a venue, we’ve already spoken with them multiple times, we’re agreed on the likely volume of the event, and have made a collective effort make sure it’s as nuts busy as we can make it so everyone benefits.

Yeah, we had to save our butts off before leaving London (yes, including brand work. This is by know means saying we turn our back!!) and there was a LOT of planning to do. Which is to be expected when you do something as stupid as sell everything and travel the world for 9 months, because as always, we’re aiming to be the extreme example so that everyone else can find what works for them, and we certainly reckon this will work for every bartender out there.

What we love most about this model however, is it puts the power back in the bartender's hands. It means you haven’t got to work at a certain bar or give an unnecessary amount of your listings to one portfolio just so you can get on the road and spread the word on what ever cool shit your bar is up to. It’s a chance for many many more bartenders to get out there as opposed to same handful of bars and bartenders who tend to get to be at the same event

It ain’t perfect, but fuck it, time to try something new and get some equality back in the brand, bartender and bar relationship!

#DRINKLIKEYOUGIVEAFUCK
 

Disclaimers:

  • If you win, participate or judge a competition, you damn well deserve reimbursement. We’ve both been there and the amount personal time and effort that goes into such, you should get what's owed.

  • Before we formed this model to run our business with, we had prior agreements in place for two city stops that we’ve honoured as they were originally agreed on, which involved a brand picking up the flights, accom, etc.

  • A global tour and the fact we can mostly stand sharing a bed together does mean we can consolidate some costs and spread them out over multiple events, which is a consideration we think is worth highlighting for sure.

 

Templates!

Many you reached out asking about templates for how we pitch, plan and prep for our pop ups, so below you'll see links to download. As always cos we're open source we're happy to share and love to hear any feedback!