Running a Bar: Owen Morgan, Co-Owner of Bar 44 Tapas Y Copas
The Co-Owner of Bar 44 Tapas Y Copas, Owen Morgan speaks about the business, their priorities while running a bar, and current hottest drink trends.
Bar 44 Group has grown from just one outlet in a small town in the valleys of Wales to five outlets including Cardiff’s, capital of Wales, leading restaurant venue Asador 44. The last 15 years have seen them right at the forefront of the modern Spanish food and drink revolution in the UK. Since launching their stable of modern Bar 44 tapas bars in South Wales in 2002, they have become known for their unique, flavour-packed take on authentic Spanish fare.
Tell us little more about Bar 44?
September just went and Bar 44 celebrated its 16-year birthday. And to celebrate it opened its fourth bar venue venturing over the Severn Bridge into Bristol.
The management consists of a brother, sister, and myself. Bristol has always been our 2nd home so it’s an exciting move for us.
Situated in Clifton village we are about 8 weeks in, with a beautiful venue that was previously a ‘chain’ restaurant. We were lucky to get it before it went on the open market. We have decked it out full of our inspiration and travels around Spain. It is unique but with the soul of the Bar 44 group.
There are a bespoke Jamon room and two private dining rooms.
One has been developed with the Sherry company that I work with. It has bespoke hand painted murals sent over from Spain. The other we collaborated with a Cava producer. It has riddling racks, groovy lighting and natural oak table in there.
The great thing about the four different Bar 44’s is that each is a take on Spain, whilst each outlet has its own unique menu. Same Spanish soul and each with a different twist. We are 18months into Asador 44 – the restaurant version and that’s going well.
Bar 44 is all about food that people want to eat served by a team of 150 professionals with a high level of skill for its modern relaxed environment.
Is the current economic environment good or tough for pubs and bars?
It is tough – we are super tight on things. We cook from scratch every day and ingredients from everywhere and teams in different places, so effective execution and waste are big issues. The natural thing to do would be to compromise and standardise, but that is not what we are about and we are loathed to compromise. So we still use high-end ingredients and are creative, managing accordingly, whilst also pricing right for the market.
There is no doubt people are being cagey with their money and we are on tenterhooks with Brexit – much of our produce and drinks come from Spain. So we are a little worried about what happens in Spring. Since the referendum, the currency has taken a sharp hike. One thing - for example, Spanish craft beer – we do take a hit on it because it is integral to the Bar44 offer. But there is no doubt the boom in British craft beer has made its presence felt. Duty and exchange rates are horrendous.
Even a small scale pub or bar has a million moving parts. How do you assert priorities and yet remain flexible to demand?
Our systems are getting better and better – forecasting and budgeting especially.
We work with a big digital company who are building our own app.
We have an internal system built for us to help in managing the outlets – basically getting the management side to do their targets and rotas online and report back weekly. We have real-time feedback on every single aspect of labour, sales and other aspects of the business.
We use technology – to respond quickly and flexibly across a number of measurements.
What are the top 5 priorities in running a great bar/restaurant?
- Number one is always going to be customers. That’s the aim of hospitality. Quality is improving all the time and it’s a volatile market with more competition and better quality for the customers. That’s not forgetting happy campers at the front of house make for happy customers.
- Passion for the product an experience for customers that they don’t get elsewhere
- Quality and consistency of food and drink offer
- Margins and labour.
- Increasingly people want beautiful environments to dine in so re-investing in the sites becomes critical. There are always lots of other aspects back of house such as constantly liaising with landlords so that each venue is future-proofed.
Which is most important beer, wine, spirits, non-alcoholic drinks?
That’s a big one – wine and cocktails that equals gin. Gin for the last 5 years in particular.
However, our bars are known for wine and sherry. We introduce a younger crowd to sherry through cocktails, which has been very successful.
What is the hottest drink trend in Bar44 currently?
Sherry is the hottest drink this week. We’ve just finished International Sherry Week and I am one of their ambassadors for that.
One of the companies that we import has reported that sales have massively spiked. So sherry is going crazy and I do quite a lot on Social media, talks, media festivals even WI Nights to get people buying it at a retail level.
How important is it for suppliers to consider sustainability and environmental issues to pubs and bars?
We are seeing it all over. Almost everything regarding beer is one-way key-keg
Everything wine-wise is now natural, organic, biodynamic.
We have looked heavily into organic wine on tap – in keg rather than the bottle. The wine was above entry-level wine and significant cost improvements so clear consumer benefit. We almost pulled the trigger on it, but it was quite hard with acceptance of the customers – possibly a step too far and we need to communicate it better, but we will try again next year.
The bar items such as biodegradable straws etc have spiked interest – it goes and then comes back again. So we are always in the direction of more sustainability.
Pubs and bars are still closing at 18 per week (CAMRA Aug 2018) – do pubs have a long-term future in the UK?
I’d like to think so - absolutely yes. There is a big argument going on last week amongst the rugby crowd (being from Cardiff we’re big on rugby) including one of the journalists, discussing young people drinking less than ever which is leading to the decline of pubs and bars.
But I’d like to think that they thrive at the level of quality rather than quantity.
But ultimately who knows. In any city, there doesn’t seem to be many themes to closures whether its quality or overhead. There may be a bubble bursting yet there are more and more outlets opening every day.
Recruitment seems to be a big issue in the UK hospitality sector. What strategies and tactics can you use to manage it?
It is always a factor, both front of house & kitchen. We are always recruiting, developing and promoting from within. We have created a Head Office at one of the restaurants – where we develop much of the collaborative thinking for developing people in-house. We can’t pay salaries as much as the big boys but we can create a great environment to work in.
So we do things like cap hours so that people can get time off together, extra days holiday each year of service and trips to Spain.
So we work hard to become great employers and attracting the right kind of person. We will know within a couple of days whether the individual is right for us – do they want to cook or push buttons for example.
And it seems to be successful because we are attracting the right people who want to cook and people who are passionate about food, drink and service. People are coming directly to us now, rather than us having to find them.
It is impossible to have suppliers turning up with deliveries every 5 minutes. How do you manage range and choice with a limited number of suppliers?
The supplier side is down to me really. I often need to sit on my hands a little more because I am always trying to be more creative with wine and drinks list. So I do have to rein it in a little because you don’t want 60 invoices coming in every day. On supplier side, we have 5 wine suppliers and a couple more on beer, spirits & softs.
In Asador 44, which is a wine led restaurant we have 15 suppliers most with once a month small deliveries. It is more taxing and always a concern to limit the number of suppliers, but we are pretty loyal especially with those suppliers that have invested in aspects of equipment with us. So we will always take a look at their new things seriously.
On the food side, we try and have 2 or 3 options each on fish and vegetables to ensure seasonality. We have 3 or 4 core Spanish suppliers. Of course, we have lots of enquiries every week especially in the Spanish market, but we tend to stick with our existing lot.
We are constantly looking at the process and our offer to ensure that we are not missing out, certainly from the Spanish side of things. I would hope that I’d be ahead of most on that side!
Will Alexa replace bar staff?
We have put Alexa into each of our private dining rooms in Bristol, but we still need good people to serve them.
You can’t beat old-fashioned values and great service.
With such a large team then there are always training issues and frustrations, but in the end, you have to persevere and work with people in a good environment.
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.