Putting hospitality at heart of trade

Andy Gemmell’s taste in cocktails has changed considerably during his 20-year trade career.

From the Andy Pandy – a combination of Taboo, Malibu, peach schnapps, orange juice, pineapple juice and grenadine – which was one of his earliest creations while working in the family pub in Greenock in the mid-1990s, his current drink of choice is The Penicillin: blended Scotch, Islay malt, honey and ginger syrup and fresh lemon juice.

His tastes may have changed, but those early days in Greenock sparked a passion for drinks and mixology – and first class customer service – that remains with Andy to this day.

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It laid the foundations for a career which saw him hone his bartending skills at TGI Friday’s in Glasgow before moving to work in bars overseas, where he “really caught the bug for mixology”.

That passion for making great drinks led him back to Scotland and a role with distributor Maxxium UK, where he spent three years working with bartenders across the trade on the firm’s portfolio of brands. From Maxxium, Andy went on to take a global whisky ambassador role with Bacardi, travelling to the likes of Tokyo, South America and the Caribbean to spread the word on whisky.

“It was a great job and it gave me a global view of the drinks industry,” he told SLTN.

It’s this broadened perspective, coupled with his drinks and service expertise, which Andy is ploughing into new venture, The Drink Cabinet.

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 12.19.45He and partner Lauren Stewart, who has a wealth of front of house experience and was one of the founders of Saltmarket Design, set up a UK operation of the drinks consultancy and training firm, which was established in Australia by their friend Jason Crawley, last October.

Since then Andy and Lauren’s Glasgow-based company has worked with a number of drinks brands, including Old Pulteney, Scottish Leader, Glenfiddich and G’Vine, on everything from brand activity and cocktail competitions to bartender education; the pair have also joined forces with the Whisky Ambassador to stage a new festival of Scottish beer and spirits in Glasgow this September (see story left).

The Drink Cabinet has also  secured a one-year contract with Ayrshire operator Buzzworks, whose outlets include Elliots, Scotts and Lido, to train its bar teams and floor staff.

“The Buzzworks job is a really big deal for us,” said Andy.

“I totally respect what they do. They’re so on the ball; they get it and they invest in their people and see it evolving.

“With Buzzworks, we’re training their staff and creating a self-sufficient training programme specifically for them.

“I think the key thing for us as a company is that we offer bespoke training; every business is different.”

The training arm of The Drink Cabinet is “really coming to fruition now”, according to Lauren. And while each programme is tailor-made to suit a venue or group, it is all underpinned by a focus on hospitality and customer service.

“The hospitality side of this industry is so important,” said Andy.

“In South America, for example, people live and breathe hospitality; they know that what they do over the bar represents their country. We want to bring more of that passion for high standards to more bar staff.

“I’ve been over 20 years in the trade; what I learned from working in the family’s pubs 20 years ago was the people side of the business and that has never left me.

“From collecting glasses and watching how the barman interacted with one customer and then moved on to talk to others, making everyone feel welcome; that has stuck with me.

“All the best cocktails and decor means nothing if the service is not up to scratch.”

Andy and Lauren ultimately aim to put their passion for good customer service into a hospitality training academy, which is their long-term goal.

For now, the pair are focused on growing the business.

“We’re really pleased with how it’s going,” said Lauren.

“When we started in October it was only me and Andy; now we’ve got about ten people working with us.

“I think our experience complements each other’s. I’m good at organising and Andy’s good at talking!”