The Lobo Plantation’s Daniel Hilton: ‘A bad vibe will sour even the best cocktail.’

Daniel Hilton at The Lobo Plantation. Photo: Christopher Pearce

The Lobo Plantation is one of Australia’s finest cocktail bars, and a multi-award winning bar at that. The undergound haven of rum attracts a loyal (and thirsty) clientele, and is one of those busy bars in which you need a strong team to keep the show going.

Just as well they’ve got managers like Daniel Hilton. He’s known as Paris by local bartenders, and has an energy and passion for the trade that few can match. Here, he shares with us his journey into management, and what he’s learned along the way.

For those who haven’t been there, can you describe what The Lobo Plantation is all about?
The Lobo Plantation is something a little bit magical. We’re a rum bar that treats the spirit how you would whiskey or gin, but still keeping the heart and soul of it intact. We take what we do seriously, just not ourselves which is something that rings true with me being one of the least serious people out there.

Tell us a bit about how you got started bartending?
I started as a glassy at Mint Nightclub back in WA, weekend work because my day job was barely covering my needs. I was quickly moved up onto the bar and eventually got to run a one-man bar at the back of the venue, I started buying cocktail books and before I knew it I was hooked . I quit my sales job when I moved over to Bobeche, then after a couple years in Perth I landed at The Lobo Plantation where I have currently been for close to three years.

What’s your current role, and what does it entail?
I am currently the assistant bar manager of Lobo, supporting the ever-fabulous Chloe Natterer. My main duties involve helping run and keep the team in check, daily running of the venue, building monthly cocktail menus, general maintenance and handyman things as well as being the tall person in the bar. Those duties are ever growing as the company continues to evolve and becomes more dynamic. As we speak, Chloe and myself are workshopping a mentorship program for our team, to help provide the guidance and education they need so they can upskill and grow towards their career goals.

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How far along in your career did you make the transition from bartender to manager?
I had a few false starts into management which to be honest was probably a good thing, the mentorship and guidance I’ve gotten here at Lobo has been unparalleled. I moved into management about a year or so ago as the Bar Supervisor/Manager in Training so about 5 – 6 years. In those years I got to focus a lot more on networking, upskilling and personal endeavours without too many distractions or responsibilities, which I’m pretty thankful for. Too often I have seen and heard of managers who have moved up too quickly and haven’t learnt the right skills to handle situations, to be able to support their team or meet their needs.

Daniel Hilton at The Lobo Plantation. Photo: Christopher Pearce

What do you think are the skills that are needed for a bartender to move into management — is there a different way of looking at things?
You need to be empathetic, you need to be hands on and you need to be experienced in what you’re leading. As a manager you need to be able to balance your professional and personal sides – you’re still a mate you’ve now become the boss as well and that’s a hard line to draw. You’ll need to lead by example build trust, because contradicting yourself will result in your team not taking you seriously. Whilst you can prepare yourself for management, you’ll always be learning and growing. I have found to be incredibly important.

How would you describe your management style?
I’ve best been described as the dad of the bar, and I’d say that’s pretty on point. I can deliver the disappointed dad face when needed but will almost always be apart of the mischief as well. One thing I always try to do is bring up positive points during any chats, and to not discount the hard work put in by the team.

What advice do you have to rookie bartenders starting out in their careers? Were there any big mistakes you made you’d like to see others avoid?
I definitely got ripped into a lot in my early days, I had an egoistical attitude about a lot of things, thought I knew everything because I worked in great bars. I was just really lucky to be in the right place at the right time and Lobo really humbled me when I jumped on board. I’ve made all the mistakes you can make but to keep this short: don’t hate on drinks, it doesn’t make you cool but it will make you a worse bartender. Be humble, you don’t know who can hear you. If the guest is being a dick, kill them with kindness; you don’t know what’s going on in their life and sometimes you’re just the unlucky bugger that cops it.

When you walk into a bar, what are you looking for? What makes a great bar experience?
When I walk into a bar I’m looking for eyes up, for a smile, I’m looking to be greeted when I walk in regardless if you know me or not. Everyone says they test their bartender by ordering a Daiquiri or a Martini, me? I’ll order a Japanese Slipper (or similar depending on your backbar). If the reaction is anything other than positive then I’m out the door, a humble and attentive host will always deliver a great bar experience and that’s what I’m looking for. We’ve all enjoyed a crappy beer with good company, but a bad vibe will sour even the best cocktail.  

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