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Viewpoint: The social beating heart of the hotel

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Viewpoint: The social beating heart of the hotel

With competition hotting up, one way to stand out as a hotel operator is to create a fantastic bar, says Robbie Bargh

Gone are the days where depressing counters serving a bleak range of predictable corner shop liquor – somewhere between a check-in desk and the elevators – masqueraded themselves as bars.

The hotel bar has now come into its own. A place for a business meeting, a place to enjoy an after-work beer, cocktail hour, a quick snack and a glass of something, a date, a post-dinner tipple, out with the boys, celebrating with the girls, toasting that deal: the bar is all of the above and more.

The bar is the social beating heart of the hotel – a place where connections, relationships and transient feel-good moments take place. The bartender is host, reader of minds, the concierge with a bottle opener, purveyor of the industry’s secrets and must-haves.

Hoteliers now recognise bars as being shop windows. They showcase true hospitality, generosity and warmth and highlight the core values of the establishment, whether this be quality glassware, fantastic ice, paper or copper straws, a gorgeous menu that tells a story, a refined well-edited back bar or a discerning speed-rail.

Like at any great party, our memories are based on what happened, not what we did. The hosts, the mood, the music, the lights, the unexpected – the detail. Give any credible independent publican, bar owner or restaurateur the captive audience far from home that hotels have every single day of the year and they will be rubbing their hands like it’s Christmas.

But hoteliers have no right to their discerning guests’ business; they must ensure they provide an experience.

Hotel bars that get on with doing what they do best – looking after the refreshment needs of the hotel guest and the local inhabitants, whether they be workers, residents or indeed, passers-by – are by far, for me, the ones that stand out from the crowd.

The big hitters, the iconic destination bars that deliver on the big story but that are neither too hip or too hyped are also becoming firm favourites. These are typically fronted by bar management empowered to lead their teams, who can deliver exceptional drinking experiences that are centred around the needs and desires of their guests. These bars – the stylish hotel bars of today – are the way forward.

When it comes to creating that showcase hotel bar, you need great storytelling, original and functional design, comfort balanced with escapism, sensible procurement and pricing policies, and a strong identity.

But critically, and most importantly, the industry needs to create a generation of passionate bar and floor teams. We need to review our culture, the value we place on hiring smarter and how we develop our teams. Hoteliers must empower their people to deliver exceptional experiences for guests – this is the only way we can stand out from the crowd.

Hotel owners and operators must realise the potential of these spaces with unique compelling stories that translate into memorable guest experiences and operational credibility. Whether the ambition is a candidate for ‘best hotel bar in the world’ or simply a great place to hang out over a flat white or a glass of wine, guests deserve exceptional experiences.

Hotels have little choice – they need to raise their game so guests will raise their glasses and celebrate the hotel bar.

Robbie Bargh is the founder-director of Gorgeous Group.

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