Richard Gillam has been working in the bartending industry for over 15 years in almost every position from bar back to operations manager at venues from small luxury lounges to 3000 capacity nightclubs. He is a well-known name in the bartending world in London, employed by bars including The Kenilworth Cocktail Lounge and consultancies including Gorgeous Group. Richard was recently invited to Phuket’s XANA with Attica Beach Club to teach their bar team with the aims of raising the beverage standards of XANA and providing operational experience to help the team serve their guests delicious drinks more efficiently.
Richard kindly took some time out from his busy three day schedule to talk to Phuketindex.com about his work and bartending in general.
Do you think it is important for somewhere like XANA to bring in someone like yourself and if so why?
It’s very important to focus on the beverage offerings of any business. The bars are the most accessible element of any operation… guests are more likely to pop by for a drink more often than have a full dining experience. By giving them a fantastic experience in a simple order of a Mojito or signature cocktail you gain their trust and confidence to return.
Also with competition increasing with new places like Nikki Beach and the popular Catch, beach bars, or any for that matter, have to have a tangible element to draw people back. If that’s just because you’re new, your crowd will move on in a few months. Quality and Value for Money will always be a draw.
How and why did you begin bartending?
It began as a part-time job back in University. During my time there I became well known for fast efficient service and great drinks… soon people began poaching me to work in their bars which then became managing bars and then consulting to help set up bars. I could have followed my university path with an associated career, but I didn’t like getting up at 7am in the morning!
What qualities do you think a successful bartender should have?
They have to be very sociable, that’s at least 60% of the job requirement. To be successful you also have to be creative and easily adaptable. You have to think on your feet and maintain a professional character… you’re always in view of the guest.
What are the benefits of choosing a career in bartending?
Long hours, low pay… but if you love it, work hard and really commit then the potential is huge… I’m from a small town in England, yet I’ve spent the last 10 years flying around the world, staying and working with the best hotels and outlets globally… you can choose to follow the bars direction or move into Brand work for major drinks companies… the market is always evolving…
What do you like & dislike most about your career?
I love the freedom to create and inspire and also the travel and the rewards can be really good. Meeting and renewing great friendships is also amazing – we’re a tight community.
I only dislike the fact that people regard this as a second rate job, not a career with great potential. But people can think what they want in their 9-5 office job when I’m making Mojitos on a beach with a great team in Phuket!
What has been one of your favourite bartending experiences?
Every new one is my favourite! I’ve got to meet my icons in the scene and celebrities, stars and politicians… It’s hard as this life is full of surprises!
Do you have an original drink you are most proud of, if so what is it and why are you proud of it?
I have a few! My job is to constantly create new drinks for each project, but my favourites are the simplest ones. One is a simple mix of whisky, pureed pears, vanilla and lemon. The flavours blend exceptionally well and most bars could make this with minimal effort. One of my more complex favourites uses rhubarb infused gin, cardamom, pink grapefruit and fresh passion fruit. The flavour is so complete it’s hard to describe!
Where do you start when creating a new drink?
As Sir Paul Smith quoted “you can find inspiration in everything and if you can’t, look again!”
It could be food, pictures, smells, experiences. The new order of bartenders tries to work and create experiences rather than just drinks…
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
I’m quite content as I am right now… more success is always a target… but then I do get to have a pretty good life right now too…
What is the most memorable thing that has happened in your career?
It’s seeing people I’ve trained really excel in the trade, from students who win big industry awards or competitions to those who manage to secure fantastic positions they didn’t expect.
Especially in this part of the world they never expect that being a great bartender can lead to solid careers or global travel so it really touches me to see them do well.
Best bartending tip for a novice?
Focus on the basics, but more importantly MAKE SURE THAT EVERYONE WHO COMES TO YOU OR ENTERS YOUR BAR LEAVES HAPPIER THAN WHEN THEY CAME IN. That has nothing to do with fancy cocktails etc. do what you need to get that result.