OPINION: How to run an ethical bar

Sauvignon Private Ryan

Elliot BallBartender Elliot Ball of The Cocktail Trading Company on running an ethical bar

What’s the dream of every bar owner? To open the best bar, the most profitable, the most popular? Well, what about the most ethical? Hear me out.

I’m only going to consider the ways in which this can benefit the business itself. Examples include reduced turnover of staff due to a higher living standard afforded by ethical wages, and a corresponding increase in demand for the growth of your business by those wishing to work for you. Hawksmoor demonstrate this nicely.

Equally, higher welfare products are typically higher in quality, though the proportion of quality increase to cost is not necessarily as favourable. But then the environmental side of ethical operation is tough – you’re really just going to spend more on waste removal.

Looking at ethical operations in terms of potential benefit is often the only way to get operators to consider the matter. Otherwise, it becomes all too easy to dismiss it due to the extra cost. It’s the managers who need to be armed with the knowledge of how to pitch it to their respective owners.

Some operators brush the issue aside, to be explored later when the business is up on its feet. While I agree that financially martyring your business produces no long-term benefits for anyone, it’s important to recognise that this never happens. No one looks back on their budget and decides it’s time to go green for waste and recycling, and it’s rare that operators offer staff a pay rise as a gesture.

So what would happen if a new business decided to operate ethically from the start, to include it in their opening P&L? Well, stay tuned. Myself, Andy Mil and Olly Brading are opening the Cocktail Trading Co, coming to central London soon. We believe everyone in our business deserves a good wage, and, with an Employees Benefit Trust owning 25% of our company, alongside the basic wage and tips, a full-time member of staff can theoretically pull £30,000.

In terms of the cost to our business, we’re losing 25% of profits. But we’d be offering an unparalleled standard of living to those who choose to work with us, meaning we shouldn’t be short of staff looking to grow within our company – one of the greatest obstacles to an expanding business is getting the managers in the right place.

This could go three ways. The benefits of ethical operation to the business turn out to be worthwhile which would be fantastic. Or, secondly, the extra efforts yield little for the business in terms of profit, but the benefits to those within the business, and hopefully beyond, are still present – I’d consider that worthwhile. Or thirdly, the added costs cripple the business. Well, I’d rather fail for this reason than a thousand others.

The second option is possibly the most interesting to consider so, as a parting thought, consider our drink, Sauvignon Private Ryan, pictured above: would you pay £2 apiece for the can as new, or would you bulk-order Heinz for cheap, have them delivered to a shelter, and then collect the cans once they’ve taken the beans? Sometimes utilitarianism is the easy option.

Find out more about The Cocktail Trading Company at www.thecocktailtradingco.com.

Originally published in the print edition of the November 2014 edition of Bar magazine.

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