By Matthew Lynas
FROM football to rugby and rowing to Formula One, teamwork is at the heart of many a successful sporting endeavour, including the pubs and bars where the big fixtures are broadcast.
It certainly seems to be the case at Sportsters in Falkirk – SLTN Sports Bar of the Year for 2015, in association with Sky.
On a busy day, staff can be faced with 1500 customers at capacity – numbers that mean teamwork is vital, according to general manager Daniel McCue.
While Sportsters is operating at the highest level at the moment, helped along in recent weeks by some seriously attractive football fixtures – the return of the Old Firm in September was the bar’s third highest day in terms of bar takings – getting the offer to where it is today has taken some graft from the team.
“Two or three years ago we got a bit lost in what we were doing,” said McCue.
“So we stripped things back to basics and agreed sport is our bread and butter. But it’s not sustainable to just base your business on sport.”
McCue and his team have clearly worked hard at adding diversity to the business.
A pint at the football may be tradition, and is certainly still available, but in addition to that there’s a plethora of premium options, from Scottish craft beers to small-batch spirits and cocktails, on the drinks menu for those looking for something different while they cheer on their team.
The Sportsters food offer also strikes a balance, retaining the popular sports bar favourites but with the addition of some unusual extras which help the venue stand out from its competition.
While the outlet’s gourmet burger menu remains popular and kangaroo has recently been added to the offer, it’s the separate ‘hot rocks steak’ menu – where customers can watch their steak cook on 400ºC volcanic rock – which McCue reckons is the current unique selling point in food terms.
These tweaks to Sportsters’ food and drink are derived from a real wariness of complacency, according to McCue, who said it’s an attitude that’s keeping the venue at the top of its game.
“My constant focus is to not get too complacent,” he said.
“When you start getting too comfortable things start to go downhill.”
What keeps the ball rolling at Sportsters is a team that’s as passionate as it is large – numbering around 30 staff on a busy Saturday night, with a minimum of 18 bartenders, a half dozen floor staff, the kitchen team and stewards.
Passion in this context doesn’t mean a love for football or rugby, however; instead McCue said when it comes to hiring he’s looking for “the right character”.
“Everything else can be taught,” he said.
“We like good outgoing people. We like bartenders who can build rapport with the regulars.”
Interaction between staff and customers is one of the pillars upon which the sports bar has built its atmosphere, but technology most definitely has a place too – and Sportsters can boast to having enough equipment to cover all the action at any angle in the venue.
With over 60 screens and 12 projectors customers can keep an eye on the game from just about every square foot of the mammoth Sportsters unit – including in the toilets, where even the mirrors above the urinals are fitted with displays.
The abundance of audio visual equipment inside and out (a two-sided TV on the front window means even the smoking area is covered) makes it impossible to forget the venue’s core offer, which is only enhanced by the presence of six British pool tables and five American pool tables as well as Xbox consoles in booths with a range of sports games to choose from.
And the venue’s sporting reach extends beyond its front doors.
Giving back to the Falkirk community has been a firm focus for McCue and the Sportsters team for a number of years now, and the bar sponsors a range of local teams, including amateur football team FC Braes, the Falkirk Rugby Youth Academy and Stenhousemuir Ladies FC.
While sponsoring local teams is instrumental in building a community feel at Sportsters the biggest day for the bar, both in terms of atmosphere and takings, was when the town’s professional outfit reached the Scottish Cup final in May of this year.
“It was packed from opening to closing,” said McCue, who remembers the day having a real family feel to it and, even though in the end Falkirk lost 2-1 to Inverness, the celebrations continued complete with special guests when the players popped in for a post-match pint.
Much like with sport, McCue reckons bringing people together is what the venue does best.
“I think community stuff is really important,” he said.
“People like to know you’re involved and helping out.”