Reinhard Pohorec: “Being a host begins with being a good host to yourself”
Credit: Anja Grundböck
Bartender, maker of spirits, consultant, author, host and, first and foremost, a people person: Reinhard Pohorec is one of the best-known personalities in the German-speaking bar scene and he is very active internationally. At least during ‘normal’ times, that is. How is he dealing with the situation today, what challenges and opportunities does he believe it holds – and what can we look forward to in his presentation entitled ‘The Art of Hosting’ at this year's digital BCB? Jan-Peter Wulf sat down for a virtual ‘fireside chat’ with Reinhard Pohorec.
Reinhard, before we get started: How have you been doing? How have you managed to get through these past months?
Generally speaking, I’m doing quite well, thank you. Financially speaking, as an entrepreneur I have been dealing with the same changed circumstances and major challenges as all other businesspeople. As a result of the impossibility of travel, international consulting projects and presentations have pretty much disappeared. That's just the way the situation is. Even so, I’m notorious as a ‘glass half-full’ type of guy, and I always find the positive in a situation. We have to stay dynamic and continue developing new opportunities to shape the best possible future.
Have you created anything new during these extraordinary times, a ‘coronavirus baby’, so to speak?
Yes I have, in fact. I gave a lot of thought to how I could take the things I enjoy doing – bringing people together and being a host – and transpose these into a virtual format. The result: I created a virtual lounge for cigars and the finer things in life (editor’s note: ‘Light Em Up Lounge’). I welcome people from all around the world here – it is a place where I bring great master blenders and leading figures from the cigar business together with our global community and conduct interviews. I am even able to welcome top international speakers, entrepreneurs and coaches, not to mention master distillers and legends from the spirits trade. Our lounge has already played host to well over a quarter-million people, for which I was recently named a Global Ambassador by ‘Cigar Journal’. As you can see, I am finding new ways to be a host.
Being a host: That is the focus of his presentation ‘The Art of Hosting’ at this year's Bar Convent Berlin, which is taking place digitally on account of the current situation. Do you feel that the requirements for ‘hosting’ have changed as a result of the coronavirus?
Fundamentally, nothing has changed at all. Hospitality is not some marketing buzzword currently doing the rounds just because the term ‘mixologist’ has become passé. It is a philosophy of life, an affair of the heart, something that lies deep within. When this is the case, a person exudes hospitality, and there is simply no other choice but to live it. Hospitality should be firmly anchored in every corporate culture as one of its quintessential values – a firm conviction carried deep within. Then it will find its way into everything we do. It is clear that when the conditions of our daily lives are changed, the ways in which a host must act change with them. My lounge now allows me to be a host in the virtual realm to people from all over the globe. It is not quite the same as when I am at ‘Tür 7’ (editor’s note: this is the famous bar in Vienna where Pohorec continues to work behind the bar on a regular basis) and open the door for someone, take their coat and welcome them to our bar. What doesn't change, however, is the whole concept behind it: What is the meaning of hospitality?
What does it mean for you?
For me, hospitality is the desire to be open, honest and welcoming when encountering other people. It is a desire to do well by them without expecting anything in return. It is a well-meaning and sincere act.
Now you have to wear a mask when you work at the bar. Doesn't this get in your way and make your work more difficult?
That is not a question that I ever ask myself. It is one of the rules and we have to follow it – questioning it will not help anyone. We actually have things a bit easier at ‘Tür 7’. It is a small bar, and it has always been designed to offer its patrons space and calm – to be a constant they can count on. I believe that our customers are particularly happy that our bar continues to offer the same thing today as it always has: a place they can rely on. It goes without saying that masks make it more difficult to read facial expressions, so some aspects of communication are lost, but it must be said that you can see a smile in the eyes, and you can sense when it comes from the heart.
As a guest, I can confirm that.
I love people! (laughs) I love the interaction, the diversity, the variety: all our strengths and weaknesses. Every day is a new opportunity, and every encounter represents a door to a new world. With this positive attitude in your heart, hospitality is something entirely natural – there is no need to come up with a special concept or USP.
In a podcast talk some time ago, you said that it was very important to you to recognise the beautiful things in everyday life – life’s little pleasures. Does this perception – this awareness – help with being a good host?
Yes, I believe that a certain openness to the good things in life, continually being aware of them and reminding ourselves of all that we have been given – these are important anchors, and they help us deal a little differently not only with the challenges of everyday life, but also with more difficult situations like those we are confronting today. I am a very modest, unassuming and thankful person. This allows me to see many things differently and to appreciate them.
Your presentation is subtitled ‘The multi-tiered culture of treating people well’. Without revealing too much of your presentation, could you tell us what lies behind the title?
To me, hospitality – particularly in a business context – takes place on three levels. Being a host begins with being a good host to yourself. It is intrinsic to hospitality. I have to be open, welcoming and respectful to myself in order to be able to open myself to others. The second aspect is an internal one: How do I deal with my team? How can I develop a corporate culture in which everyone feels welcome and respected – so that they can all perform to the utmost of their abilities? The third aspect is external, and it applies to my customer or guest: How am I to deal with this person? We often think about how we can approach this third component differently, how we can optimise it. Or we think about the specific product: How can I make my drinks more innovative, perhaps using powdered acids to create a basic mixture that tastes of lemon or lime? In doing this, we frequently begin to lose sight of the first two aspects, yet these are essential if we hope to deliver a good performance externally.
What is needed to give someone the feeling that they are being well looked after in a bar, and when do you feel at home in a bar?
Now we are coming to my second affair of the heart – designing an experience that appeals to multiple senses. I believe that a bar experience always has to be taken as a whole – it is an ensemble that must function on a variety of levels so that it feels just right for the patron. Holistic and without any rough edges – or, as the US-Americans would say, ‘frictionless’. No one can say exactly what the precise ingredients are that make it feel right. Arriving, winding down and feeling good – it is the sum of numerous individual components that impact all the senses. I have to acquaint myself with every aspect of the design: What does my bar feel like? What does it look like? How does it smell? How does it sound? How does it taste? I have to put every single component to the test: do I – or don't I – feel at home, respected, welcome? When combined, all these ‘little’ parameters become something that is greater than the sum of its parts: my customers are able to enjoy their best possible evening and are treated to a wonderful experience – without the host being plagued by the thought that they are actually trying to relieve their patrons of their money.
Does that mean that one should also enjoy visiting their own bar, basically as their own ‘guest’?
Absolutely. You have to feel one hundred percent comfortable and at home – if not, you need to starting thinking about what it is that is not working the way it should. ‘Tür 7’ is definitely a home to us. Admittedly, you can never really be wholly ‘at ease’, because you are always on duty in one way or another. After all, it is second nature to keep your eyes on everything to see if it is just right. I don't really mind, though: if I notice that a customer needs something, a glass of water perhaps or a recommendation for what bar to visit next, I make sure to help them. I would do the same thing for anyone – even if it is not the bar where I work.
That sounds like hospitality that comes from the heart. Many thanks, Reinhard, and all the best.