Meet Luca Rapetti: the bar manager who does it all

Photo for: Meet Luca Rapetti: the bar manager who does it all

28/01/2022 5-star, high-volume bar with high customer service expectations? Luca Rapetti knows how to walk the tightrope and does it with flair.

Where do you work?

Shangri-La, The Shard London.

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

I'm originally from Genoa, Italy, and my journey in hospitality started almost fifteen years ago when I decided to quit university where I was studying to become a nurse. As a first step, I attended a basic course of Bartending organised by AIBES in Italy and after some experience in local cocktail bars, which are working mainly during the summer season, I thought that working in a 5-star hotel would have been a great opportunity for my future career. In 2011 I moved to Florence as there you have more chances to work in establishments with a cosmopolitan clientele and indeed I could learn the English language. Despite a good contract at one of the most prestigious hotels of the city, in 2014 I took the decision to leave my country and relocate to the UK as I realized that my knowledge and experience were still not good enough, and London would be a great opportunity to improve myself. This is now my seventh year in London, an exciting and still very challenging journey that saw me working in iconic venues such as The Ritz, The Lanesborough, and Brown's Hotel. Currently, I'm Bar Manager of Gong, the main bar at Shangri-La, The Shard, and also the highest cocktail bar in Western Europe.


Define your role and the tasks involved in your role.

Bar Manager of Gong is a role that requires full control of a department that has a constant high volume of business throughout the year, especially due to its unique location. The biggest challenge I face in daily operation is to ensure that we provide a high level of standard and five-star service to our guests while serving more than 300 people on a busy day such as Friday or Saturday.

In addition, managing a team of more than 25 people is an interesting aspect of the role, and we encourage and involve all of the team when working on new menus, normally two menus per year.

Luca Rapetti, Bar Manager of Gong, the main bar at Shangri-La, The Shard.

Luca Rapetti, Bar Manager of Gong, the main bar at Shangri-La, The Shard.

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

What's the concept behind the bar and where would you like to position it in the market?

How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

The support of our suppliers is one of the most important factors to consider when planning the sales growth and as well any future menu or activation. Once you have identified the direction you want to take for your venue, it's important to share this with the supplier, who can help you, for example, creating a list of selected products that are more suitable for your project. Also, the supplier is the key contact when you are planning to get in touch with a big brand to further discuss a big project or a long-term partnership.

The bar at the Gong.

The bar at the Gong.

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

Working in a luxury venue requires a selection of house pours that reflect the quality and the service provided in that place. I always look for the quality of the product itself and its cost of purchase, which is, of course, an important point to consider, especially when the venue has a strong sales mix of spirits and cocktails.

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

Usually, non-house pours products are those whose cost of purchase is too high and won't allow us to maintain the level of profit agreed in the budget.

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

1. Ensure that the bar will be ready for service.

2. Double-check all bookings and special requests with our host team.

3. Plan the strategy of the day in order to maximize the revenue and increase the average spend per person.

4. Brief the team on highlights of the day and what we learned from the previous day in order to improve the service.

Luca Rapetti in his element, going through cocktail books.

Luca Rapetti in his element, going through cocktail books.

5 ways to upsell drinks at the bar

1. Knowledge of the product.

2. Choose 3 to 4 keywords to use when describing it to guests.

3. Use appealing and easy-to-understand words when describing it.

4. Identify a strong point of sale for the specific product (for example, what makes it different from other products of the same category).

5. Sell it at a reasonable price, that can still be affordable for your clientele.

Tips on training new bartenders

1. Strong training on classic cocktails and a bit of their history as they are the base for creating new ones.

2. Training behind the bar but also on the floor, in order to develop their selling and up-selling skills.

3. Training on spirits and liqueurs, perhaps organizing weekly knowledge tests.

4. Schedule some hours of shifts in the back of the house, learning the homemade preparations and how to correctly use the equipment.

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

I can see that the market of RTD drinks and cocktails is still growing and expanding on both off and on-trade. Also, the launch of many new non-alcoholic spirits and low abv products shows how much attention is there for this category, which I believe will steadily grow in the years to come.

What's customer service to you?

It is the ability to adapt the service we provide and tailor it around guests’ needs, in order to provide the most memorable experience.

Define a good bartender

A good bartender is a person that has a solid sense of flexibility and adaptability when at work. Also, a good bartender has the same level of strong cocktail knowledge as for spirits, liqueur, and beverages in general. A good way to test a bartender is to see how he/she moves and deals with guests when assigned to work on the floor.

How do you manage non-performing brands?

As a first step, I would meet the representatives of the brands to further discuss the situation and see what can be done from both sides in order to improve the performance.

To follow, I will keep monitoring the sales of the brands and I'll review the support received by the brands themselves, which should reflect what has been originally agreed in the first meeting.

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

Organizing training and tasting for the team in order to increase the overall knowledge of the department and ensure that they have all tools and resources to sell and upsell.

Also, creating a seasonal cocktail menu or special menu can help boost the sales of some specific products listed in the menu, and this helps in the rotation of stock as well.

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

Bartending has become a job that requires a constant knowledge of products and an understanding of the trends in the market as we see new products being released every week. The beginning of Covid time and all the changes linked to it have made people more aware of the importance of hygiene and compliance with specific guidelines on this matter.

As a result, the bartender is now more involved in this crucial aspect of the business and this requires more knowledge and awareness of procedures and risks, from the moment you set up the bar in the morning to the last piece of equipment you clean at the end of the shift.

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

The story behind the brand, the people, and the overall concept of the brand. I need to feel inspired by it or find it interesting and different from other brands of the same category.

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

A problem that is currently affecting everyone in the bar industry, as well all of the hospitality, is the staff shortage.

My strategy is to have strong communication and interaction with our HR in regards to recruitment strategy, setting the right requirements for the positions we have open and trying to forecast in advance which vacancy we'll have in the next month.

Your favorite places to enjoy drinks in London?

The Dukes, Scarfes Bar, The Connaught, Rules Restaurant.

What's the best part of your job?

Developing people and seeing your team achieving great results all together.

What's the worst part of your job?

Dealing with guests’ complaints, but this represents a good opportunity to improve the performance of my department.



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