What’s Beyond Bricks and Mortar for Bars?

So many businesses this year have had to pivot, and there’s a learning curve in that for everyone. With customers stuck at home during the lockdown, the internet was the only way to reach them. Has this changed things for good? Should brands in the drinks industry continue leaving footprints in the digital space?

Hospitality is perhaps one of the harder industries to make digital as it relies heavily on live experience in a brick a mortar venue. Those who run successful bars, restaurants and pubs are adept at controlling a three-dimensional environment. From evergreen concepts like design to the intangible aspects of ambience, a great food and drink operator orchestrates each customer’s sensory journey, in from the pavement and back out again. And they do this so well that people have pined for their local haunts during lockdown. 38% of the 2000 people surveyed by Statista said going to pubs and restaurants was what they missed the most during lockdown. So how did operators translate this desire for 3D experience onto the (mostly) two-dimensional internet?

The owners of restaurant Top Cuvée were swift to pivot. They rebranded as Shop Cuvée to construe their friendly service and unfussy but sophisticated drinks menu into the binary ones and zeros of the web.

The first thing to do was to capture the owners’ playful but meticulous personality in the digital branding;

Then to fill a webshop with the kind of neighbourhood wine bar chic they were known for providing, alongside store cupboard deli essentials;

Finally, founders Brodie Meah and Max Venning needed to communicate their offering to both old and new customers. So they took to social media, specifically Instagram. Through sharing videos of mouthwatering food, delivering pre-chilled cocktails and bottles of wine by bike and packing orders, they got the word out and became a source of fun to clientele consumed by doom-scrolling.

During each step in the pivoting process, they captured the same essential professional undertones as the restaurant by providing a great menu but kept the joyful, off-the-cuff elements of excellent service through their personal, playful and considerate videos. Their core remained the same. They just extended their reach.

One of the owners, Max Venning, had already successfully sold bottled cocktails offsite at his London bars Three Sheets and Bar Three. So they created a ready-to-drink cocktail page on the website and amassed an enviable drinks list by selling his own and other bartenders pre-batched cocktails. This ego-less move meant that Shop Cuvée became the online equivalent to a never-seen-before Super Bar stacked with multi-award-winning mixed drinks. Another positive spin on what could’ve been a really limiting situation.

In February 2021, the team received some great press. They won an Innovators Award at the GQ Food and Drink Awards. Having national distribution in place allowed them to immediately capitalise on sales enquiries coming from that national press.

Although Shop Cuvée was meant to be a temporary measure, Venning and Meah have done so well that they’ve opened a permanent shop around the corner from the original restaurant and will continue to sell both online and in the off-licence. Both the shop and the restaurants are now open to the public again.

By keeping a digital dimension to their business Meah and Venning will be able to continue:

Extending their reach beyond physical footfall

Gain sales from a product range produced by an extended network of server skill sets

Capitalise on national narratives in the press, on social media and through word of mouth

Deliver into their bottom line so that the business can continue to expand

Defend their business from further disruption with multiple revenue and communication streams

The future will tells us how important the digital arm to their business becomes, but for now, the effort of translating their brand to the internet has been great for the business and its customers alike.

The creativity and drive bar owners have shown all over the country has been both inspiring and motivating. If you have a story about a local who made something positive happen for you as a customer or an employee, then let us know by emailing us on sware@bacardi.com.

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