VIEW FROM THE BAR: Pop-up bars ‘must deliver the wow factor’

TCS Buffalo Bourbon EmpirePop-up bars must focus on the customer experience, warns Nick Ford of The Cocktail Service

Drinks companies need to ensure their pop-up bars focus as strongly on the customer experience as they do on the brand, warns the boss of event bar specialist The Cocktail Service.

The growing use of pop-ups at both trade and consumer events has seen some brands lose sight of the fundamental reason for their appeal, believes Nick Ford, director of The Cocktail Service.

He said: “A pop-up bar needs to deliver the ‘wow factor’ for a brand quickly and effectively. It has to persuade customers to find out more about what makes the brand special, with bartenders who can professionally mix and serve signature drinks and engage with customers.”

The Cocktail Service has created pop-ups at events including London Cocktail Week, The Ashes, The Kent & Curwen Polo Cup, Henley Royal Regatta and the Aegon Tennis Championships, spotlighting brands including Bacardi, The Balvenie whisky, Bloom Gin, Bombay Sapphire, Buffalo Trace bourbon, Greenalls Gin and Grey Goose vodka.

The company provides a one-stop concept, design and build service for pop-ups, and can tailor teams of bar professionals to a brand’s needs. At the Buffalo Bourbon Empire for Buffalo Trace, the bar team served bespoke speakeasy-style cocktails in authentic 1920s costume, while at the Bloom Gin pop-up, bartenders dressed as farm labourers encouraged customers to pick the strawberries from a field re-created indoors for using in a drink at the bar.

Ford added: “We’ve seen various pop-ups where the space is a bland, off-the-shelf bar unit manned by under-trained or badly briefed agency staff, and as a result the customer experience is poor.

“As well as interesting, well-served drinks, you need to offer customers activity that fits the brand’s values and the bar’s theme, such as the craps table we operated at the Buffalo Bourbon Empire and mini-croquet in the Bloom Gin Garden.

“Effective pop-ups can seem expensive, but in terms of the overall marketing it doesn’t make sense to cut corners at the point where the brand engages with its target customers.

“Having delivered successful pop-ups at more than 25 locations over the last two years, we can give accurate advice on budgeting from the word go, and our one-stop approach delivers real economies. We store all assets and POS, so the pop-up can be recreated wherever it’s needed, and at short notice.”

The Cocktail Service has built strong relationships with many venue owners, so for multi-location events such as London Cocktail Week, it can offer advice on the right setting for a pop-up.

Its sister company In the Spirit Events also has bar contracts at various high-profile events such as Henley Royal Regatta and Cowes Week, providing exclusive opportunities to showcase drinks brands.

“The pop-up bar has moved into the mainstream of drinks marketing precisely because it’s such an effective way of showcasing a brand,” said Ford. “As consumers become more familiar with them, we all have to work that much harder to keep pop-ups special.”

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