Why did Dante win World’s Best Bar? Naren Young thinks gratitude had something to do with it.

Naren Young back in his days at Dante in NYC

Story by Naren Young, currently working in Miami for the great folks at Sweet Liberty. You can catch him on insta @forkandshaker

I’ve been asked countless times, “Why did Dante win ‘World’s Best Bar’ last year?” It’s not an easy question to answer but one I’ve pondered a lot in my own moments of reflection. There are so many great bars now that turn up on every listicle imaginable and all spread out in a more diverse geographic diaspora than ever before. Many of them truly world class. Some of them truly questionable. So it goes.

So, what does separate one great bar from another? And what makes one single bar the best? It’s all a bit silly really but I did want to share a couple of small things that I implemented as part of the culture at Dante that I’ve not seen or heard of in other bars. Small details that I believe elevated the way people viewed our bar beyond the ubiquitous ways that many people (mistakenly) judge bars: nice drinks, elegant often ridiculous serving vessels, fancy ice, embroidered waistcoats. You know the drill by now.

So, let’s talk about gratitude . . . .

Pages from Dante’s famous notebook

Behind the bar, we kept a small back book next to the POS terminal where we would write in every VIP that came in. The staff became very adept at introducing themselves to everyone that sat at the bar and we could sniff out industry folk like a basset hound, no matter where they were from. The presence of some bar people is more obvious than others it seems. My team would ask their name, where they worked etc. and would write it down immediately, no matter how busy they were.

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Each of them would then get a small taste of what we would internally call ‘love’. A small welcome drink that was thoughtful, delicious and unique to us. Our go-to was a little elegant shot glass of white port and elderflower tonic with a frozen grape, although we had a list (again only known internally amongst the staff) of about twenty very thoughtful ‘love’ options that we could call on and that we could insert into their experience, especially if they were dining.

We would group these into ‘pre love’ (so mostly light, dry aperitif style), ‘mid’ (something to pair with their food), such as a splash of madeira or cider with their charcuterie plate as an example; and ‘post’ (served after their meal when it might be mini Espresso Martinis, Grasshoppers, house limoncello or the like). It was a very considered approach that I’ve seen few bars bother to execute with grace.

The famous Dante bar

Of course, the guest had no idea that we were going to these lengths and discussing the options amongst the team on the fly to curate something simple yet magical for them that would blow them away by the time they’d left. But moreover, what this showed was our gratitude to our industry friends and regulars, two groups we went out of our way to coddle in new and unique ways.

But the most powerful tool was the little black regulars’ book. It was old school, written in by hand. I’m sure there’s a more technologically advanced way of doing this through the terminal but I’m still old school like that. We would write down their name (which was a great reference check next time they came in and perhaps you forgot their name, which I often did) and what they drank. At the end of the night, that day’s page was photographed and sent around to all staff in our WhatsApp group. So, no matter where I was in the world as I was often traveling (remember those days?), I could see who came in.

I would often email these people with a small but sincere note along the lines of: “Hey X. I saw you came by Dante last night. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to host you personally, but I trust you were in great hands. I hope you enjoyed yourself and do please let me know if there’s anything we could have improved upon your experience. We look forward to welcoming you back again soon. Much love”.

Again, more gratitude. It’s so easy to do and yet to this day, amongst all the Top 50 bars on any list, I’ve never received such a note from a single one. That’s not to say they don’t do it, but I doubt it. Am I bitter about that? Of course not. But I do believe it’s these small touches that separate the good from the great. And it takes very little effort. You just have to genuinely care and genuinely be grateful.

And it works the other way too. I will often reach out to many bars I visit after the fact thanking them for their hospitality and taken great care of me/us etc. I cannot recommend these two actions enough. So I’ll finish by posing this question to all of you and be honest: When was the last time you either thanked someone for coming in (not just as they’re walking out the door but a sincere note like above) or you thanked someone or their team for hosting you? Make it a daily part of your routine, starting now.

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