No Menu Cocktail Concept
From a barren city to the breeding ground for bars, Shanghai has reached for its limits when it comes to cocktails. However, one bar owner has reached for the stars when he discarded the stereotypical menu in favor of something a little more customer-encompassing. Eddy Yang-- owner of Tailor Group -- walks us through his past, his passions, and how he came to discard the one thing customers expect to have in a bar.
Eddy lived in London for ten years and acquired his first job working in a bar simply to pay rent. He had no passion for the business, just simply needed a job to pay his rent. However, during his first job, he would take ten-minute breaks to sneak over to one of the most popular cocktails bars in London. Known as Detroit Bar-- where he would eventually work-- he would indulge in the tastes, concoctions, and skills that came out of that bar.
Seeing these skills and experiencing these tastes heightened within him a passion he didn’t realize he had. Coupled with the fact that these bartenders were making more than he was, he began learning and tailoring his craft through the inspiration of London’s Detroit Bar.
In many of the bars he worked, he started as a barback. He would collect glasses, clean them, polish them, restock juices and fresh ingredients as well as communicate with the bar staff. He realizes the importance of the barback because, without them, the bartenders would not have what they needed to work with. Barbacks not only provide them with glasses and straws, but they also provide them with communicative support.
And that is imperative in Yang’s bar concept.
Yang believes that every good bartender is truly great because of their history as a barback. This helps someone to become familiar with the flow of the bar, the types of juices and local flavors the bar works with, and it helps them to bust out of their shell and become more interactive with the customers of the bar. This is why he requires anyone he hires to work as a barback for two to six months.
One of the reasons why he requires this trial period is because of what has happened in Shanghai. For a while, the number of bars was limited in the area, so there was always an even number of good bartenders to bars. However, the number of bars grew so fast in the area that now there aren’t enough good bartenders to station at them. This means mediocre drinks get put out as good and the customer becomes poorly educated on what makes a great cocktail.
His requirement of employment as a barback before being promoted to a bartender helps to negate this issue within his own bar. In some ways, it’s his own way of reducing variance and making sure he can produce a consistent product.
The biggest problem he first encountered when jumping from London to China was the culture. In London, many people will hit the bars around four in the afternoon to have a ‘pre-drink’ before dinner and the true libations begin. In China, that is not the case. They would rather hang outside a restaurant they are waiting to open than to kill time having a drink in a bar.
There was also a difference with regard to the peak of socialization. In London, this peak occurs around 8 PM and lasts until around 10 PM. In China, however, this peak can begin as early as 6:30 PM and extend to as late as 1 AM before things begin to die down and people begin to trickle home.
So, why no menu? In Eddy’s eyes, a bar loses personality with a menu. With great bartenders comes a loss of talent when they are restricted to a few items on a menu. People come back and order the same thing over and over again because they have found something on the menu they enjoy, and he found that people trust the menu more than they do their bartenders.
Yang wanted to address that biased relationship.
When people walk into his bars, they are presented with a few questions. They are asked about their favorite type of spirit base, whether they want something strong or light, and whether they want something bitter or aromatic. All these questions not only engage the customer and pull them into the experience, but it gives Yang the chance to educate them on different brands of spirits. If they ask for a whiskey base, he might be able to introduce someone to an Irish whiskey they might have otherwise snubbed their nose at because it is not ‘what they usually drink.’
That is the biased outlook that menus perpetuate, and that is why he removed them.
Removing the menus from his bar has allowed Eddy to break down barriers, readdress the individual palette, and pull the customer in with a communicative experience. It is an engaging process that allows the bartender to showcase their knowledge and puts the people’s trust back into their local bartender’s instead of their local menus. It forces someone to dig down deep and really address what they want after a long day or during a night out. It creates an atmosphere that relies more on taste and less on drink names to sell something to someone.
And that is why people believe Eddy Yang is breaking barriers: because he removed the biggest one from his bars.