Internationalist: Platforms

This featured in the January issue of Australian Bartender magazine

By Philip Duff
Philip Duff is not writing a book.

I was at two book launches in the last two weeks, both in New York: the official launch of The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan and the launch of New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park‘s cookbook.

The latter was also a celebration of Eleven finally achieving the coveted third star from Michelin and the announcement that owner Danny Meyer was selling Eleven to his protégés, the authors of the cookbook, general manager Will Guidara and chef Daniel Humm.


Jim’s book is gorgeous – beautiful, heavy and brilliantly written. It’s a manual too, detailing the philosophies of PDT, the tools and equipment they use, even diagramming their mise-en-place. An amazing achievement. The Eleven Madison Park book is, if anything, even more mind-bogglingly good than their party was, and their party was at least as good as Jim’s book. (How cool was their party? Well, Jim was bartending there!). The Eleven book weighs more than 3kg, and is as beautifully photographed and typeset as any such high-end food-porn cookbook from a posh restaurant you’ve ever seen.

What sets it apart is that, like Jim’s book, it goes further than just F&B porn: it describes not just their philosophies, but how they evolved and how they work, listing the entire all-day chronology and checklists and floorplans of what is one of the world’s greatest restaurants (and the World’s Best Restaurant Bar at Tales Awards ’11).

However, those books will never sell a great amount. And that’s not a bad thing.

What Jim and Will have done is create a second platform – their books. Even in this Kindle-infested age, we accord books unusual respect: the grandees of our world like Dale de Groff, Gaz Regan and Dave Wondrich admit that their fame (and lucrative bookings to teach and judge on behalf of drinks brands) increased exponentially after publishing their respective books. There is a little money in writing books, but not very much – no more than you’d make by putting the same effort into bartending, really. Honest. But books extend your fame globally, and thus give you a platform from whence to explore further commercial possibilities.

A bar or restaurant- like Jim’s PDT or Will & Daniel’s Eleven- is a platform: most bars and restaurants break even at best. Jim and Will used PDT and Eleven as platforms to get book deals, and will (I hope) use their books as platforms to many and even greater things yet.

Whatever your platform – bar, book, blog, a contest you run, whatever – it is up to you to commercialise it. A friend of mine is trying to start a bar in a city new to him. He has form. He has won every award there is. His long-term ambition, after hearing me speak so lovingly of Oz, is to eventually emigrate to Australia and start a bar there too. But first, in the next 5 years he wants to open and run the world’s best bar.

“Philip,” he said, “if I get all this done, open the bar, and it’s a huge, huge success, will I be able to do anything I want? Will I be able to just move to Australia, immediately get financing and open a bar there?”

“Not necessarily”, said I.

“Why? Why not?”

“Because opening the bar will only bring all those opportunities your way. Within months, you’ll be deluged with offers from investors who want to back you, staff who want to work with you, hotel chains who want you to develop a template for them that’s a bar just like yours…”


“That’s just getting the opportunity, though – the platform. You need to commercialise that. You need to be ready when you get the offers, able to negotiate in the boardroom, able to know what questions to ask and how much to ask for, able to make your promises and keep them…”

For bar owners and restaurateurs, many start with a single place (that breaks even) and use it as the cornerstone of a group, learning more with each opening, attracting better staff, getting better deals on loans and real estate until they finally do begin to make 10%. For authors, just the book is not enough – you need to get out there, teach, train, consult, write more books, get a YouTube channel, get your own TV show.

Get your own platform. It should be something you love, the way Jim loves PDT and the way Will and Daniel love Eleven. Your first platform takes time, and energy, and love. When it is up and running and perfect, begin to prepare for opportunities. Make connections. Don’t wait for them to happen if you’re ready. Combine preparedness with the opportunities you get from your platform and you won’t go wrong. When opportunity comes knocking, be ready.

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