The end of another year generally brings a time of reflection, what changes did 2018 bring and what will the future of 2019 look like.
We thought it would be a nice touch to catch up with one of the industry's Mr nice guys, a highly respected long-standing member of the Leeds bartending community who has witnessed the changing nature of the bar industry over the last ten years – we take great pleasure in introducing you to Mr Lee Jones...
Lee it’s been a great year for you, winning the Global Southern Showdown competition in New Orleans and taking a new position within the Sandinista Bar Group can you tell us more about it
Winning the Global Southern Showdown was a great way to essentially mark the end of my bartending career. The support from the industry was truly humbling and I have now moved on from General Manager at Smokestack to Business Development Manager of the group.
This is a new role in the business to create events, activations and experiences to bring people into our different sites throughout the year. After a few months in the role we now have a good idea of the messaging and formats that work for our customers.
In my opinion it’s not enough anymore to just open the doors and serve great drinks, Leeds is going through a great change at the minute with a lot of openings and closings. We need to work hard to constantly offer guests something different and to draw them in during the week with tastings and experiences.
Have you noticed any changes of trends in regards to drinking behaviour over the last few years?
Yes absolutely. Leeds has two large universities and so the millennials make up a big demographic of the industry and I have seen that people are drinking less and are a lot more interested in what they are consuming and in particular seem very influenced by provenance and you can see a lot more products available now behind the bars produced locally in the area. Guests expect more now, to be a good operator you really need to cater for the whole market whilst not diluting your brand, your non-alcoholic drinks need to offer the same complexity as your cocktails and the food needs to have a strong vegetarian/vegan offering.
What do you think defines the Leeds bar scene?
I believe and people always comment on how supportive the Leeds hospitality community is. It’s a compact city and people look after each other, everyone benefits from working together and there have been some great examples where staff or operators are facing a hard time and the community has reacted instantly. I help manage the Leeds Bar Grafters Union set up by Adam Wilson and it’s a really vibrant hub that provides information on job opportunities, training sessions and benefits for members of the industry.
And what do you think are the current issues or concerns of the bar community?
I discuss this quite a lot with my peers who have been in Leeds for a long time and there is a concern about staff becoming more transient, moving from job to job very quickly which has the effect of making the employers view them as disposable and so there isn’t the investment in training and developing of staff.
I receive a lot of CVs from people who have worked multiple different venues in just one year and it creates this catch 22 situation, employers aren’t investing in staff as they think they will just be leaving in a few months and with a lot of big new openings recently staff can move easily. This creates a situation where staff become viewed as more disposable and that’s not good for anyone. Bartenders in particular need training and time to develop their own skills and style. Their wellbeing needs to be a focus also.
And could you tell me a bit more about when you decided to make a career in hospitality
I started my first “proper” bar job at Mojo about ten years ago, a lot of Leeds career bartenders have been through that business and I was there for 4-5 years. I remember quite early on I was a winning finalist in a Havana club competition and in an interview with CLASS Trade Magazine I was asked about my future as a bartender and at that time I hadn’t given it much thought (and so they didn’t publish the question!)
Like a lot of people, I was considering whether I should be doing something different, applying my education and training but something clicked inside me and I realised – yes this is a great job and yes, I can make a good career out of this. This had a big change on my mindset and soon after I had the opportunity to open a bar with an old colleague and the satisfaction of seeing people having a great time in something you helped to create was an amazing feeling.
Would you recommend a career in hospitality or do you have any advice?
Like any career there are highs and lows – and like any craft it takes time and patience to get to where you want to be. There’s never been a better time to be in this industry but don’t be constantly chasing the shiny and new – surround yourself with creative minds and passionate people.