Mastering space is key to bar efficiency

MD of the LA Group, on the importance of creating the right environment


EVER wondered how a top chef can cater for several hundred guests while maintaining a high standard of service and food quality?

It’s because he or she has mastered their working environment.
And, insists Scott Gemmell, MD of integrated training, wholesale, events and multi-media consultancy the LA Group, the principles are the same when it comes to organising and running a successful bar.
“A bar is a confined environment – you either nail it or you don’t,” he told SLTN. “If one thing’s out of place, it puts everything out of place.
“A chef can serve 500 hot main courses at a banquet because he’s conquered his environment.
“The same theory can be applied to bars. You see a lot of operators spend millions on bars, but they’ve never thought through what they’re doing inside, or the under-bar schematic.
“This is where you make – or lose – money.”
Over the past five years LA Group has been developing a full suite of support packages for hospitality operators, covering in-depth staff training, bar design, product ranging and drinks menu development.
And Gemmell, whose clients include the Radisson and Dakota hotels and the Cup lounge, the new tea, Champagne and cocktail venue in Glasgow city centre, insists a bar will never work to its full capacity if any of those factors are overlooked.
“The environment, the training, the menu, the product all has to happen with a cohesive strategy,” he said.
“Operators have aspirations to do cocktails and wonder how they do it. They need to sit down and work out how they’re going to achieve it; it’s not one thing they’re trying to do.
“Unless they conquer the environment, they’re not going to get anywhere.
“Unless people are properly and physically trained and have sat exams it’s going to be kid on.
“Six months down the line two or three staff will have left, they’ll have people in who don’t know what they’re doing and will lose their momentum.”
According to Gemmell, any operator with serious ambitions to enhance back-bar efficiency has to begin not on the ‘shop floor’, but the cellar. Only then will they have an overall picture of the operation and the factors that will determine success or failure.
“The first thing I do when I’m asked to do a consultancy is stand right at the back of the cellar and see what’s going on – or what’s not going on,” he explained.
“It starts with supply. If you can’t see what you’ve got or can’t rotate stock in terms of shelf life… [you hit issues].
“You start in the cellar and work your way to the front of the bar to the perfect serve and the guest experience.
“That’s why we have to conquer our environment here before we start preaching to other people about what we do!”
Gemmell’s LA Group HQ is a multi- roomed space in Glasgow’s Houston Street, close to Paisley Road West, where professional bartender training (practical and theoretical) takes place alongside drinks wholesaling and digital video/photo production.
He told SLTN it’s been a long journey to get to this point, but at last sees signs that the trade in Scotland is coming round to the principles of bartending and good hospitality that he and others who share his passion have been advocating for more than a decade.
“The whole trade has forever, in my eyes, been going round in circles,” he said.
“Even big operators struggle to train, develop and hold on to staff to keep the continuity of quality and make cocktails as they should be made.
“This is what we’ve been working towards for the last four years – creating an academy and courses that are actually in tune with where the London bar scene’s at or where the Paris bar scene’s at.
“My business model is set up to help operators.”

Image: Measuring fifteen square feet, the gantry at LA Group’s Glasgow base is said to be Scotland’s biggest.