Q&A: Will Partridge, Owner of Heads and Tails, London
Heads and Tails is a bar located in the heart of West Hampstead. The owner, Will Partridge talks about his bar and the drink trends in the UK.
Heads and Tails is a new bar and club in the up and coming fashionable area of West Hampstead – North West London. Designed to reflect its differing upstairs and downstairs, experienced bar owner and creator Will Partridge tells us what it is like opening his new bar Heads and Tails in London.
Tell us little more about Heads and Tails?
We bought the site in February 2018 after 6 months of negotiation. The chap before had the venue for 39 years. He was a bit of an institution, and he had been approached a number of times, knocked everyone back and we came along at the right time.
The licence and location were good although we needed to do some fit out inside.
We chose the name because we wanted to make the most of the natural features. The property is open at front and back and has nice airy light feel to it; whereas the downstairs is moodier and lends itself to the more moody atmospheric cocktail bar. So there are two opposing feels, which are captured in the name ‘Heads and Tails’.
We opened for the first time on Friday and had a really good first weekend with loads of locals in and many people expressing their support for the transformation.
Is the current economic environment good or tough for pubs and bars?
It is tough but it has never been easy in this industry. Certainly from the perspective of managing costs with Brexit and most spirits imported so costs are creeping up in anticipation. Costs are a challenge
Customers are price conscious in this relevant affluent area. People do want to know that they are getting good value for money. So the quality of service and drinks are important. We just want to make sure they have the most for what they are spending.
Despite the economic environment we still went for the investment – you’ve got to be prepared to adapt and people still want to go out and have a good time.
Even a small scale pub or bar has a million moving parts. How do you assert priorities and yet remain flexible to demand?
We have a small team here, which is about making sure the right people for the job. I have a business partner and we spent a long time finding the right GM and so that we can pass on responsibility on an operation level.
From a top level we prioritise – my partner is responsible for the drinks menu and buying side of things. It is about breaking all these tasks down into manageable chunks and delegating accordingly.
What are the top priorities in running a great bar?
Number one always is satisfying customer focussed – always how to keep customers happy and how to keep them coming back
Most things stem from there. My role as the business owner is to ensure that the staff have the right resources and are happy to provide good service. Happy staff, happy customers.
Which is most important beer, wine, spirits, non-alcoholic drinks?
No one drink stands out – they are all important.
Heads & Tails is more focused on cocktails and wine and we have some great beers available – Angelo Poretti - & Brooklyn IPA.
With the cocktail menu, we wanted to include a strong low ABV menu because it’s a growing sector. We spent quite a lot of time on the wine list as well. But overall it is about a well-rounded offering.
What is the hottest drink trend in H&T currently?
The lighter cocktails very popular so far. We created two different cocktail menus one for upstairs, Heads, reflecting the lighter style cocktails based on vodka, gin and aperitivo style and one for downstairs, representing the more intense, atmospheric Tails – Old Masham, whisky, bourbon.
How important is it for suppliers to consider sustainability and environmental issues to pubs and bars?
Very important. We do as much as we can with things like straws. We have recyclable straws which are now available on request.
We have in terms of bar napkins we are just looking at having cloth ones made so that they get re-used.
A lot of suppliers – do these types of products these days. I think that if they hadn’t stocked the sustainable range then we would have looked elsewhere.
Pubs and bars are still closing at 18 per week (CAMRA Aug 2018) – do pubs have a long-term future in the UK?
Yeah, they do – I think it is a case of the strongest will survive. The better-managed places, who have taken the time to understand their location, local market and their customer base will carry on. It is just a question of keeping on top of that.
Recruitment seems to be a big issue in the UK hospitality sector. What strategies and tactics can you use to manage it?
It is challenging but my business partner and I have a lot of contacts and come across a lot of talented bartenders who are quite happy to come and work for us.
Retention is important and so that they are not working ridiculous hours, they are paid well and team building. Every now again take people out for food & drink and create a good working atmosphere.
Will Alexa replace bar staff?
No, I don’t think so. It’ll be a long time before that happens – people like good old interaction.
About the Author
The article is contributed by Alistair Morrell, Wine Inspector, wine industry consultant, journalist and, commentator. Over 30 years as a wine business professional, Alistair shares his global knowledge, network, and experience of growers, importers, distributors and buyers.