Drinks with Sarah Ben Saoud (Bartender)
What we drank
Sarah: Pint of Guinness £5.50
Hebe: Pina Claro £11
So, once again Hebe has taken forever to type an interview (shock horror) and Sarah has now started a new job as a bartender at Acarcade Food Theatre and works for Hayman’s on a part-time basis. It’s very exciting, but does mean that when Sarah talks about what she’s doing…it’s in the past.
Hello! For the fans, tell us a bit about who you are.
Hello, I’m Sarah. At the moment my main gig is with Hayman’s gin (remember…it’s all in the past). I started as a casual worker in the distillery, helped out with distillery tours and so forth, but more recently I’ve gotten into the events side. The idea is when you do your Taste of London or your foodies festival you have a stand and I’m effectively the bar manager for those events. It’s great fun, it’s also a little bit hardcore. I still haven’t got my voice back from Taste.
How long have you been in hospitality?
Funny you should say that. I started in hospitality in September of last year. Very new. The reason was that I had a whole career before that but that career was in corporate. I was an operation manager in support services for investment banking. I had a great time for 10 years. The company I worked for was a third party contractor, so you’d be in different banks or different law firms across London. It was great for the time it lasted, but there came a point where I found I needed to do something I really enjoyed and was passionate about.
I’m a creative person. I studied performing arts and I always lacked that creative side in the job. I racked my brain and thought what could it be? And then it was so obvious…Booze! I love booze, I love cocktails. I love hanging out socially, the whole thing attracts me.
So how did you get into the industry?
This is the funny thing, how I got into it, because how do you get into it? I actually went to Imbibe last year to do networking. I went from stand to stand and asked people ‘what is it I can do?’. No one could give me the answers until suddenly in a great twist of fate I ended up at the Hayman’s gin stand and I was advised on all these wonderful and great things I could be doing. Not just within the gin industry, but in bartending, sales, brand ambassadorship. To this day I still think they were the most helpful person there.
What was your next step?
I needed a basic knowledge of what bartending is all about and I asked my lovely friend who owns Pimp Shuei, Slash, to help me. I consider him my mentor. He taught me so many things, I cannot express how grateful I am. I fell in love with bartending and that was never the intention I had.
So what’s your day to day like?
It very much depends if I’ve got a bar gig going at the same time or not, but my day to day is never the same. I love that about it. In fact, when you get that moment of clarity where you might be cutting lemons or branding lemons in my case and you like you know what, this is great. I’ll do that for one day and I’ll end up doing a distillery tour another day. When the events are happening that’s it’s own beast. For me, it’s the variety the job brings.
What’s your favourite part of the drinks industry?
Since I’m still quite new to it, my favourite experience has been that people have been incredibly supportive, which I didn’t expect. I mean my Instagram handle is @bitlatetothepartysarah and this is very true to my life. Everyone welcomed me with open arms. Everyone suggested ‘oh you should look into that’ or ‘would you like to work for us’. People have this beauty of surprising you. Without all those positive people I couldn’t have done it.
And what’s your least favourite part of the industry?
Actually, I’ve got two very specific things.
Number one is when people use public forums on the internet, I would like to see more professionalism and respect for each other. People will suggest a serve and someone will lay into that first person with swearing, calling them names. I’m all for banter and funny memes, but what I don’t like is people being attacked for their opinions.
The second thing is bad service. What I mean is you rock up at the bar, it might not be very busy, but the bartenders want to finish a ten-minute conversation amongst themselves before they serve you. Or there’s no acknowledgment. We’ve all been there when it’s three deep, I get that, but at least point a finger at them and be like you know dude I’ve seen you. People will forgive you a lot when you understand they exist. They’ll happily stand there patiently if they know you’ve seen them.
Now, my feminist question, do you think being a woman has affected your career?
For me it’s no different from any other industry. I think in general we’re still behind when it comes to the women equality thing. I think we’ve still got a way to go. That’s not to say there’s been specific examples I could give you from the drinks industry. Do you get the classic ‘Smile babes’ line, of course you do. I get that walking down the road, it’s got nothing to do with hospitality. When I worked in an office I had more negative experiences. It would be ‘oh can you grab a few coffees for the guests’. Why? I’m the one working my arse off and there are ten men around me doing fuck all, but none of them were asked to grab that coffee.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in this job?
Oh, babes, the biggest challenge is me. I’m my biggest enemy. I always considered myself to have extremely high standards and in the past when those weren’t met by myself or others I would get frustrated. The problem I have in this industry is that I still know very very little. I don’t have twenty years to hone my skills because it’s already twenty years later for me.
This has been such a platform to be creative, I’ve finally found that again. To work in a bar is the best platform.
If someone wanted to do your job, what advice would you give them?
Firstly I would say go for it. It’s never too late.
Secondly, take the advice of people you trust.
Thirdly, but don’t be afraid to make your own mistakes.
How can we support you?
Just be happy and supportive. That’s all I really want. It’s cool to have people acknowledge what you’re doing. Just be welcoming and inclusive.
What’s your favourite drink at the moment?
I do really like a gin martini. My favourite version is wet with an olive. But, would I do that all night long? No, because I’m not crazy. If the question was what would you drink for the rest of your life, it would be G&Ts.
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