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Whisky Jobs… Gillian Kirkland on being a Bar Owner

Whisky Jobs… Gillian Kirkland on being a Bar Owner

Edinburgh Whisky Alumni Gillian Kirkland runs The Piper Bar in Glasgow. We asked her to tell us more about the day-to-day and what qualities are required to succeed in the role…

A place like the Piper is there to be enjoyed; whether the customer wants food or drink, it needs to be right. My job involves knowing our brand and our offer and building on it by improving standards to ensure the customer gets what they want. It’s a fast-paced, ever-changing cycle of responsibility. I always need to know it all inside out and top to bottom while being aware and adaptable.

My priority is to motivate and empower others to do a great job for me. This requires a lot of focus, engagement and planning. Firstly, I always check the figures. I need to know my financial position and be on top of all spends (more so now than ever). 

I always have a look on social media to see what's current, what's popular and to have a sneaky look at my competitors just to keep me on my toes. I then usually prioritise and delegate my ‘to-do’ list, pop a smile on my face and set off to work.

To succeed as a bar manager, you need to be prepared for anything. There can be a lot of unexpected challenges; whether it’s attending meetings, customers needing attention, events that need to be checked and planned… I never plan my full day out; this leaves me time for those emergencies that crop up. Always be prepared to expect the unexpected.

I've probably made things more difficult for myself by becoming a whisky bar. This has challenged me personally as it has been a five-year journey about whisky (along with everything else). Studying it, selling it, buying it, collecting it, investing in it, drinking it, nosing it, bottling it and judging it. I have to say I love doing it all. 

I was in retail for 14 years and I thoroughly enjoyed it, I was focussed on my career. If you put a family in the mix, your career may not be so important. So, I decided to go to university and study to become a nurse. Four years later, I had my degree and set off to becoming a nurse. During my study time, I was involved in hospitality and I decided instead that it was this I really wanted to pursue.  

The skills I had from retail were ideal and allowed me to focus on being a successful business owner. My love and passion for whisky has allowed me to build on the basics and have a great business which I'm very proud of.

My advice would be, firstly, get a good team of people around you; trust them, respect them and invest time and money in them, it is worth it. Some training may be needed to ensure consistent customer satisfaction. The people I have in my business have helped me to achieve my goals. I would advise a robust plan and deep pockets initially. There really are a lot of financial risks to take but you learn from your mistakes and build on your experiences.

This year will test the best of us, it's been the worst, most challenging, emotional year I've ever known. It's like having 'the fear' all the time because the future is so uncertain. But, I have to hold my nerve and hope things will return to normal sooner or later. 

Any independent business owner knows that the money we have lost during closure due to COVID will not be redeemed. The pandemic has been catastrophic for hospitality and for people's lives but, we have to put people first and save lives during this time. My only wish is that the government took a more measured, fair and reasonable approach to things. Here's to 2021 as I'm sure we all agree 2020 would gladly be forgotten.

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