Interview by David Spanton
Sydney cocktail bar, Maybe Sammy has recently been named the winner of the Art of Hospitality Award as part of the World’s 50 Best Bars 2020. The award recognises one bar in the world which industry experts declared offered the best hospitality experience. They also ranked the highest amongst our Aussie bars reaching an amazing #11 on this prestigious list.
We sat down with Maybe Sammy co-owner Stefano Catino to find out what makes his bars so special and what our industry can learn from this outgoing Italian and his fantastic team culture.
Congratulations Stefano on this prestigious international hospitality award. What does it mean to you?
It means the world to me and the team, this is the biggest award we have ever received and make us so proud to have this recognition and be the first bar ever to receive it.
Why is being hospitable so important to you?
Well, hospitality and hosting guests for me is everything, I been watching my family doing this since I was a young boy in Italy. I also have this crazy need to make sure everyone is having a good time, maybe sometimes is too much but I just love it.
Have you had any great mentors over the years that have influenced your customer service?
Of course I did! First was my cousins back at home in Italy, they give me the base of hospitality and the gift of loving guests. Once I moved to Australia Marco Faraone was definitely one of my mentors in customer service.
Do you have any staff routines for greeting or hosting guests that you can explain (things the staff have to do)?
I’m crazy for the light in the room, the music they choose and also I want everything to be ready on the dot once doors open. Then the main rule is to watch the door at all times and make sure every single person is greeted, and also every single person once they leave they say goodbye and thanks.
What can people expect when they visit your bar for the first time?
We hope that it is fun, we hope that you can feel the energy in the room and that the staff can understand your needs – maybe you coming for a quiet night or to have fun – we need to understand your needs.
Explain some of the things you do that surprise and delight guests beyond their expectations?
We use lots of toys in the room, we give customers stuff to play with and then we do silly thing like we dance behind the bar and spray people with bubble soap. Simple things always done at the right time (we hope)!
Does having an outgoing Italian flavour to your hospitality add anything special?
It has always done something special I think. It’s given me an accent and some old school base of hospitality. I love my country, I was born there, and I learnt a lot from there, also I have seen many mistakes that my country did and I’m happy to not repeat them here.
What are some of the common mistakes you see in bars in regard to guest experiences?
I see many bartenders or waiters that don’t greet customers. I see many people judging customers on what they drink rather than just giving them what they want. I see so many people try to educate people in the wrong way and I see so many people not happy in what they are doing. If you are in hospitality you gotta love customers, guests and people in general. If it is not your night, I always say send someone else (your colleague) to that table but if you don’t have it just go home and come back tomorrow.
Can you train great hospitality with anyone or do you need at least something to start with from a staff member?
You can train definitely, but common sense is not so common, and you need to have people who have something. If you have any talent, it’s good, we can train the rest. I find impossible to train lazy people – if you are lazy it is the worst for me and I can’t train you.
Can you name me any bars and bartenders from around the world that have inspired you with their customer service?
Ago and Giorgio from The Connaught
Masa from Katana Kitten
The Clumsies in Greece
How does Australian hospitality compare to other parts of the world and is there anything that makes it special?
To me it is one of the best in the world. I moved here and I fell in love. First of all the food , any food is great and cocktails as well, lots of amazing professional and people that push this industry so much and make you want to be better.
I love Australia and the more I travel the more I think we are a very good bunch of operators down here.
What would be three top pieces of advice would you give bar professionals on improving their customer experience?
Watch the people’s facial expressions every time
Communicate with your guest (don’t hide behind the bar if their drinks are coming out late, just let them know). Make them feel special; all everyone wants is a bit of attention.