Emilia Wrelton, bar manager at Ivy on her love of bartending and starting out young

Photo for: Emilia Wrelton, bar manager at Ivy  on her love of bartending and starting out young

28/01/2022 From starting out at 15 to becoming Bar Manager at the Ivy in York, Emilia Wrelton has come a long way. And with her talent, hard work, dedication and love for the job she has a long way to go.

Where do you work?

The Ivy, St. Helen’s Square.


Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you begin your career and how did you progress into this role?

I started working in the hospitality industry when I was 15 at a local coffee shop, and I fell in love with it. I’ve worked in all kinds of establishments, from fine dining and silver service to event catering. However, working behind the bar is by far my favorite.

I am now the Bar Manager of The Ivy in York, having begun as a barback with the restaurant when it opened back in 2017, I have a real sentimental attachment to it. - Emilia Wrelton

"I am now the Bar Manager of The Ivy in York, having begun as a barback with the restaurant when it opened back in 2017, I have a real sentimental attachment to it." - Emilia Wrelton

Define your role and the tasks involved in your role.

My role as bar manager encompasses all aspects of the smooth running of the bar. This is more than simply making drinks and making them well, which I admit is the part I love the most! The role involves product ordering and stock control, minimising wastage and promoting sales, making sure the drinks-led side of the business adheres to all safety legislation regarding financial, licensing, and health needs. It also includes team management, which is arguably the most important part of the role. This means staffing for shifts, and organising the shifts well so that service is impeccable, but also means looking after their overall well-being, making sure they’re happy on and off shift, and training them so they can progress, helping to build their future careers.

What questions would you ask the bar owner before you plan your sales growth strategy?

It would firstly be useful to ask the bar owner what their customer demographic is like, how they conduct their market research into this, and how they use this information currently to their advantage in terms of sales strategies. One of the most important goals that can be achieved is maintaining relevance with your core target audience in such a competitive market. It would be useful to look for any new prospective markets that the business could attract and how this could be achieved. What new processes, offerings, and skills you would need within the business in order to attract, and keep this new market.

It would then be good to ask if the business has any effective upselling programmes or incentive schemes? Looking at how you can sell more to your existing customers is a great place to start in order to improve sales. Focusing your attention on those existing customers who are the most profitable for your business already helps in terms of sales growth as you are readily able to sell them more products, or products with a greater profit margin, while simultaneously increasing guest satisfaction.

I’d also like to find out how the business uses its KPIs to make data-focused decisions. Measuring the correct and relevant KPIs is essential to sales growth, as being able to make informed decisions about your business will benefit your overall profitability greatly. Knowing on which days you will sell the most product i.e. knowing your wet/dry sales split for any given day, can help you to move particular products through promotional activities and increase overall profit margins. Knowing your wage percentage helps you to use labour effectively, reducing unnecessary staffing costs during quieter periods, etc. These (and more) can then be used to plan a realistic data-driven sales growth strategy.

How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

By working closely with us on an individual site, and as a team of individuals. As a collection of restaurants, it’s easy for some suppliers to treat our bars/bartenders as identical, so it’s important to collaborate closely and personalize support programs or incentives. Suppliers who can offer training and tasting sessions really help to drive sales - improving the knowledge of the bar team helps them to upsell; they love talking about spirits and cocktails so by building their repertoire you can improve sales.

The Ivy, St. Helen’s Square.

The Ivy, St. Helen’s Square.

What do you look for in items that qualify for house pours?

It is a good idea to use entry-level products that are well recognised so that consumers are already familiar with the product. Big brands are typically where your greatest profit margins are as they typically have a lower price-point but they are popular and likely to move faster. A house pour needs to be neutral enough to be incorporated as the base to a great number of drinks.

For an extreme example, having a flavoured gin as a house pour won’t allow you to use it in many cocktails. The big brand, basic spirits will be your best-sellers or highest-volume products but using these as house pours also gives you the opportunity to drive interest and increase sales of non-house pours that are more interesting, better quality, possibly local, or at a higher price point.

What do you look for in items that qualify for non-house pours?

There is so much to consider of course when selecting a new product line for your back bar, including how it looks on display, whether it tastes nice, what the company has to offer in terms of training or incentive programmes. Other more sales-focused factors to consider are the ability to up-sell the product, how it diversifies your offerings, potential sales, etc. It is important to keep your inventory streamlined, ensuring the stock you have is the stock that will sell, and you are not tying up money in holding stock.

What are the four main things you focus on daily in your role?

Staff well-being is at the foreground of my daily focus. Having a happy and healthy team is essential to having a productive and successful bar. By checking in with my team members regularly I am able to help them with any personal or professional issues they may have, obtaining their trust and in return loyalty, as this level of trust most often leads to better staff retention. This has many benefits of course as they know the business better than those staff on a quick turnover so will ultimately be able to give superior service. It also leads to a stronger team ethos. We are in this together, working together and performing better as a team.

I am always focused on the presentation of the bar itself. This includes its cleanliness, organisation, staff uniforms, personal grooming, etc. I want people visiting my bar to be in awe of how beautiful it looks and by how smart and professional the team is.

The presentation can also be extended to include stock levels, making sure we have all menu items available on any given day so that we can offer everything to our guests.

Preparation is also something to focus on. Making sure my team is properly prepared in briefing and training and the bar is fully stocked with everything they need to perform at their maximum capacity from the outset and throughout the day allows the shift to run smoothly, providing them with the ability to generate the most revenue per hour.

Waste management is important to concentrate on a daily basis as this is an easy area in which you can reduce losses to the business. Mistakes do happen but they can be minimised through thorough staff training.

5 ways to upsell drinks at the bar

There are simply two main ways to upsell, that is face-to-face and subconsciously. Items can be up-sold at point of service through offering up recommendations to guests before they’ve had the chance to make a final decision for themselves, leading them towards certain items or higher price points, or suggestions can be given after they’ve made a decision through offering similar products of better quality and higher price point. It is important to note that the server needs to have relevant and appropriate knowledge of the product they are selling before making the recommendation. Similarly, products can be up-sold by offering up a selection, when items are listed it can spark curiosity in a guest to try something new without feeling like they are being pressured into ordering a specific product.

Another way is to create bespoke drinks for guests. Knowing what someone likes and building on that base improves guest relationships and loyalty but it also means you have the freedom to use up products in a cocktail that may not be moving so well on the back bar.

Back of house are also upsell products through organising promotional activities and using menu layout to their advantage. Strategic menu design can really help to increase sales, improve profit margins, and can aid in upselling specific products. A well-designed menu can influence a consumer's decision quite considerably - aim to highlight high revenue dishes (or those you wish to upsell) using graphics such as borders, different fonts, illustrations, etc.

Emilia in her element at The Ivy.

Emilia in her element at The Ivy.

Tips on training new bartenders

Find out what they're interested in! Giving them the opportunity to explore their own interests is a sure way to make them fall in love with bartending for life. If they're into wine, hold tasting sessions and explore interesting bottles with them, if it's cocktails let them experiment and provide feedback, if it's beer try visiting a brewery. As bartenders, we want to make and try as many drinks as possible, and for new bartenders, this is the most exciting part so share your passion with them.

What's trending in the UK drinks scene? Which cocktails, brand names, and categories?

Sustainability within the drinks industry has become a big focus. It isn’t a new concept by any means but following COVID and the increasing pressure of climate change, sustainability and a focus on “green” products are becoming increasingly important within our industry. Consumers are more likely to order an item or pay more for a product that is in environmentally friendly packaging or whose producers pay great attention to their environmental impact. Take for example Beefeater Gin launching their new 100% recyclable bottles at the start of the year, as owner Pernod Ricard looks to broaden their sustainability strategies, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics at their point of sales within the year.

What's customer service to you?

I would describe good (or great) customer service as a willingness to give their best at all times, a genuine passion for their product, and a desire for continuous learning and improvement.

Define a good bartender

A bartender is the face of your business, the primary interface between the business and the guest and they are then your most valuable asset. Therefore they must be approachable, entertaining, productive, and profitable. The most important of this is the ability to meet the expectations and needs of a guest before they have to ask.

How do you manage non-performing brands?

This really depends if you will be in breach of contract if the brand is removed from your menu. Running an incentive on the item or working it into your cocktail menu can help to move any stock that you want to get rid of if it’s weighing down your holding stock. But if you’re tied into a contract it’s a little more tricky, it can be an idea to consult with your brand rep and see if you can put together a promotional event or new collaborative marketing strategy that will help to strengthen the image of both the brand and stockist with the aim of increasing sales which is beneficial for both parties.

How can you increase your beverage sales with the selection you already have?

One way to increase sales is by creating new and interesting serves with the stock you already have. Run an in house competition to create cocktails using slower-moving products, this gives energy to your team as they are contributing personally to the bar’s menu, it increases their product knowledge as they research for their drinks and use them as a platform for marketing as they talk about their work or post on social media, all of which help to drive sales.

How according to you has the role of the Bartender evolved, especially now during Covid times?

COVID Times have been eye-opening for everybody. We have all had to rethink our priorities and use our creativity to make the best use of our open hours. I think we have become more creative and efficient in how we use the time available; not just in terms of profitability, but for guest and staff experience as well. Well-being and enjoyment are much more central to our focus now than ever before.

What else do you look for in a brand before saying yes apart from quality, value, and package?

I look for an opportunity to collaborate with a brand as opposed to simply stocking it. It really excites me when a producer can offer visits to their distilleries, tastings, and training, or if they allow my bar the opportunity to produce a specific serve or menu for them.

Give us an example of a common problem in the bar business and how you handle it.

One common problem that is increasingly becoming more of an issue following both COVID and Brexit is supply shortages. What can you offer when the supply chain fails? Having lots of items off the menu can drastically impact the level and quality of service your establishment is able to give, ruining the guest experience and ultimately the business’s reputation.

How to overcome this is by having an alternative readily available to offer - this can be a replacement product such as Smirnoff vodka substituted by Wyborowa, or it could be a slightly different menu item that can be offered as an interesting alternative, such as offering a Zinfandel in place of Primitivo.

Another way to possibly overcome this is by having strong relationships with other bars and restaurants around your own. Being able to borrow and lend products off your neighbours is an incredibly useful resource, so look to build good relationships with your local hospitality peers early on.

Your favorite places to enjoy drinks in London?

Nine Lives Bar, simply great drinks by great bartenders with a great ethos.

What's the best part of your job?

That no day is ever the same as the last and I always have fun during my shift.

What's the worst part of your job?

If I had to say something I would say the very long hours, but in truth, I love the work and the high I get from doing my job well.



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