Let’s take a moment to consider a spectacular occasion. The date is the 18th of May. In London’s Cecil Hotel, 300 guests are enjoying the debut of a new culinary happening: The ‘Dîners d’Epicure’ is not only being served to them – the same ceremony is taking place simultaneously in 37 restaurants around the world. All the participants are savouring the very same meal, and each is being called upon to share their thoughts on the occasion. What – you don’t think that is anything out of the ordinary? Well, the fact is that we find ourselves in the year 1912, and instead of the internet, Zoom and Messenger, they are sharing their impressions using the innovations of the day – the telephone and the telegraph.
It is an idea that traces its genesis to the innovator of modern cuisine, Auguste Escoffier. By this time he had already revolutionised the way things were organised within the kitchen, introduced the use of electric lighting in kitchen workstations, and learned to value women as important customers. It is to him that we owe ergonomic kitchens, Peach Melba and (thanks to his time at the London Savoy) the importance of frog legs as the embodiment of French cuisine. Escoffier was also a pioneer when it came to globalisation, and his ‘Dîners d’Epicure’ can justifiably be seen as the world’s first culinary social media event.
One century later, an online presence and social media represent an obligation and an opportunity for practically every bar. Bars without social media accounts seem strange. Are they snobby and elitist? Technologically incompetent? Or are they simply ‘hush-hush’ and very discreet?
The significance and use of social media differ from country to country in a way that is similar to how, in some parts of the globe, payment is made solely via app or credit card, while in other regions cash is king. It's amazing how social media can contribute to success, and there may be no more striking example than that offered by the ‘Dead Rabbit’ bar in New York City. Right from the start, the bar’s operators, Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, had a PR person with social media expertise on their team, and in interviews they readily admit just how much these modern communication channels have contributed to their success. It is possible that the attention they paid to this form of communication played a major role in their being honoured as the ‘World’s Best Bar’ on multiple occasions. When they sat down with the trade journal ‘Pub & Bar’, they explained: “Over here, social media is how you do business – with everybody, every day. You know how often people are paying attention. Everybody is linked all the time. We take it more seriously than most other New York bars. It’s not just your bar, but your personal Facebook page too. Every single post has to be thought out. The ones you put up, running around with the dog or going shopping or whatever, they’re not for likes, they’re to show that you’re a normal person.” The spirits brands also recognise the value of using the internet to network globally, and they obligate participants in cocktail competitions to advertise their participation and their drink accordingly in social media (and therefore to advertise the brand organising the competition).
A closer look often reveals significant deficiencies in this area in German-speaking countries. Terrible photos and posts that are neither informative nor beneficial waste users’ time (and annoy them to boot). Sometimes it is clear that posts are being made out of a sense of obligation rather than motivation, along the lines of: “We’ve also got to do something on this Facebook thing.” This is made worse by an insufficient maintenance of data and content, sometimes going as far posting conflicting information on Facebook, Google and a bar’s own website about when it is actually open.
On the other hand, there are also bars here in Germany that demonstrate how social media can be put to good use. At the Le Lion Bar in Hamburg, readers of social media are always well informed and warmly – you might even say ‘seductively’ – welcomed. This is also the case at Seiberts Bar in Cologne, where readers become part of a warm bar community and outstanding photos of drinks immediately engender a desire to have a sip. The same goes for the Hildegard Bar in Berlin, whose posts on verse and on music create their own special vibes and warmly share these with its patrons.
Social media experts talk about using social media engagement to create a ‘tribe’ – and all us would love to belong to such an appealing bar tribe. BCB News talked to one of the true ‘chieftains’ in the world of bar culture. Alexandra ‘Barstalker’ Bühler is herself active in social media channels, and she writes an outstanding and congenial bar blog in German and English known as ‘Adventures of the Barstalker’. The Barstalker travels the world, ever in search of her next bar adventure. It goes without saying that social media play a major role in her drinks-based existence. Peter Eichhorn spoke with Alexandra about her experiences.
How did you discover the world of cocktails and the bar scene, and why did you start writing your Barstalker blog?
My father was a chef in his own restaurant, so my life in the food and hospitality business and my affinity for life’s pleasures began at a very early age. My first experience with cocktails was many, many years ago in Stuttgart, where I was working in a bar. The bartender inspired my love of cocktails and initiated me into the secrets of a good drink. While the bartender left, my love for cocktails remained, and the refined, adult pleasure of drinking has been my passion ever since. My blog is a loving diary devoted to the finer things in life. This is where I share my love of bar culture and record my thoughts as a way of combating my forgetfulness. I am always on the lookout for good flavours and funny stories, and sometimes I am even in search of myself. I love the night – our senses are heightened, and sometimes they are a bit hazy as well (laughs).
What are some of the latest developments in the world of drinks that you find fascinating?
WThe thing I find particularly fascinating about the bar world is its community, its sense of family and hospitality. No matter where in the world I go for a drink, I always receive a warm welcome. I love thinking about the amazing nights I’ve enjoyed in the Manhattan Bar in Singapore, for example, or my visit to Maybe Sammy in Sydney. The thing that I’m amazed by today is the extraordinary selection of spirits on offer, particularly the handcrafted spirits created by small producers and distillers. I also love the wide range of vermouths that is now available. In the past, I used to wonder what would happen when we had drunk all the old classic whiskies and rums – would my bar life come to an end?
What things related to daily bar life would you happily do without?
The first thing that comes to mind is the ‘smoking gun’ – I could really do without their unpleasant smell and their stale taste. I’ve never really understood the point of this method. If the goal is to add a smoky flavour to drinks, there are spirits available that can do a much better job. Anyone who needs smoke should light a cigarette or a cigar instead.
Do you have a favourite drink? Do you have a favourite bar?
It really depends on my mood, but I have to admit that I love classic drinks with just a few, select ingredients. Right now, my favourite drink is the Rose Cocktail. The Rose Cocktail is a romantic combination of vermouth, cherry eau de vie (Kirsch) and raspberry syrup. It is a charming, aromatic and gentle drink with a light flowery note that really came into bloom during the 1920s in the Chatham Hotel in Paris. Classic yet modern, simple but complex. Sometimes l like to drink my way through New York with a Manhattan, a Greenpoint and a Brooklyn. As to what my favourite bar is, the thing that immediately comes to mind is the Mabel in Paris. It’s small, intimate and sustainable, and every drink is exactly what it should be. Besides, they serve generous grilled cheese sandwiches, and they provide a terrific contrast to their delicately crafted cocktails. Fundamentally, to qualify as a potential dream bar, an establishment must offer a combination of intimacy, energy and a good time. A dimly lit location for maybe 50 people with elegant furnishings and comfortable barstools. A bit of classy music and the atmosphere would be perfect. Its cocktail menu should not have more than fifteen drinks.
Let’s move on to the topic of social media. You spend a great deal of time in bars, not just in Germany but internationally: How much do you make use of social media when planning your travels and in your daily life here in Germany?
Whenever I’m planning a new bar adventure, I use social media a lot. A good example: I post on Facebook asking all my friends if they have any bars or restaurants they could recommend. Then I take a closer look at these places’ Facebook pages and follow this up by visiting their Instagram feeds. I get a good impression from the pictures, and I read through the comments to help me decide if it might be a place for me. Otherwise I make a targeted search for articles, evaluations, tips and other such things. I like to compile my own information, because all the posts have started to stress me out, and I find them really annoying. There’s a great deal of nonsense out there.
What are the most important channels for cocktail fans? Facebook? Blogs? Instagram? What else?
In years past, Facebook was very strong, but Instagram has since edged ahead. I think they are the main players in the ‘adult drinking’ segment. Naturally you've also got Snapchat and TikTok, but cocktail drinkers aren't really their target group. I myself have a Pinterest account, and I use it a lot. My pages have been seeing a lot more visitors of late. I think the site does a really good job of linking photos and providing direct access to content, i.e. to the websites directly. As to actually making the cocktails, you can find some good instructions and explanations on YouTube. In addition, more and more blogs are springing up like mushrooms. Even so, there is generally a lack of quality assurance; in other words, everyone can write whatever they want, without anyone checking it.
What do you expect from bar and cocktail experts on social media channels?
Inspiration, ideas, insider tips, dialogue, and a sharing of knowledge. Unfortunately, a lot of the content that is shared is quite free of substance. If I had to describe what I would like to see, I would probably sum it up as “less action – more focus”. My expectations are not too great here.
Are there any differences internationally with how well bars make use of social media?
Absolutely. Social media raises profiles, burnishes images, and attracts attention. Many bars have received prestigious awards, and many others are striving to attain these. Countries outside Germany are far less restrained here. It's something that I noticed in the Greek bar scene many years ago, and it also applies to how frequently posts are shared, and thus multiplied. It is an area in which success speaks for itself.
Can you give us any examples of social media profiles and concepts that have been particularly successful?
To be perfectly honest, I think posts in social media are brief and very ephemeral. I can't say that any of them have really stuck in mind. I can give you a current example, however: before the coronavirus struck, the Bürkner Eck in Berlin had not really attracted much notice. Then it began posting frequently about its takeaway offers and the process of making its drinks. They even created humorous videos. I think their efforts have been a big success. El Copitas, a little hard-to-find bar in St. Petersburg, has really made a name for itself through social media. Their posts made a big impression on me because they’re not only funny, short and sweet, but they are also both personal and substantive.
Are there any flops that stand out?
None that really come to mind. That’s one of the advantages of the fast-moving nature of the medium. The advantage here might well be that it allows you to be brave and try out new things. When channels start annoying me, I simply unsubscribe. I have to admit here that some bars that are heavily promoted and which appear to be great at first glance can turn out to be a huge disappointment when you get there. That’s happened to me a number of times, but I really don’t want to start bar-bashing.
Do you have any suggestions regarding the things that bars should pay attention to if they want to optimise their web presence and social media channels?
There are already more than enough experts in this field. As a consumer, the following things come to mind: post regularly, and do so appropriately. Finding the right balance between annoying people and making yourself memorable is difficult, so it can really help if you try and get some feedback. Layout is also important. There’s shouldn’t be too much text. It’s important to make use of hashtags and links, but they can also be placed in the background, or shown in different colours. There are also attractive design templates available that bars can use for their own signature posts. Ideally, these should go with the drink being featured. The web is full of good tips and templates. There are a lot of posts that I end up looking at due to their appearance alone. It goes without saying that it is important to pay attention to legal aspects, including data protection declarations, publishing details, and the obligation to identify all advertising as such.
You write a popular blog yourself. How has this changed over time? What have your experiences been in this area?
The idea and the content have stayed the same. Over time, I’ve adapted the layout, and I’ve done the same with my posts on Instagram. I’ve tried to create a consistent style that is easily recognisable, and I especially appreciate it when visitors come to my site for the first time and like it right off the bat. They often say that it's been lovingly created, and I really have put a great deal of passion into it.
Many thanks for the interview.
Alexandra talks about worthwhile tips on the internet that offer good advice for creating a social media concept. As an example we can refer you to the handy nine-point plan published by social media expert Andreas Duck on how to create a ‘tribe’ of followers.
And the words of Auguste Escoffier still ring true 100 years later: “People who do not accept the new, grow old very quickly.“