Stateside blends meet Gulf trends
December 31st, 2009
Celebrity mixologist Kathy Casey brings her extensive beverage knowledge to the region and shares her creative touch with industry professionals from across the Middle East
Last month saw celebrity US mixologist Kathy Casey pay a visit to Dubai, where she hosted a workshop and roundtable in conjunction with flavourings provider Monin for key players from the UAE’s beverage industry.
Held at Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates’ intimate 1897 Bar, the event gave attendees the opportunity to enjoy an in-depth discussion on the future of the industry, as well as allowing Casey to share her knowledge of global trends and her experiences of the regional market.
Trends during tough times
According to Casey, who has appeared on various television and radio shows in the US, the global beverage industry has continued to perform well during the economic crisis.
“I think people are drinking a little less when they go to bars, but they are still going out — and happy hour promotions have become huge business for many,” she observed.
Casey said that throughout the downturn everyone had been “all doom and gloom in the States”, citing the willingness of outlets to cut costs in the face of lower customer spending as a major problem.
“In America right now people are not putting very much emphasis on training and are cutting training programmes, which I think could be a mistake,” she said.
Casey asserted that halting beverage innovation was another unwise cost-cutting tactic being employed.
“When we come out of the recession everyone’s going to want to go out, spend a little money and party,” she said.
“They are going to want to go to those places that are doing new and innovative things, so I think it’s important to always be thinking forward, regardless of what business you are in.”
While in the UAE, Casey spent time working with the bar team at recently-opened Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Abu Dhabi, aiding the development and service standards of the hotel’s beverage staff.
“They were all very engaged and I think we found some absolute superstars,” she commented. “When we went out in Abu Dhabi, however, the scene was definitely on the green side; it took a while for someone to engage our table and generally no one followed up on whether we would like another drink.”
Commenting on the differences between bar staff in the US and the UAE, Casey suggested American bar staff possessed a degree of arrogance absent in the bar workers she came across in Abu Dhabi.
“In the US there are definitely bartenders who know what they’re doing, but a lot of them have an attitude; whereas everyone here was so gracious, hospitable and charming,” she remarked.
Casey added that she felt the lack of bar experience she came across at the Fairmont was more an opportunity than a hindrance.
“I was very encouraged that the staff were so interested and I really feel that it was OK that some of them were not trained, because now they have learnt properly,” she said.
A tweet future
During the course of the roundtable discussion, a major trend Casey flagged up was the growth of social media.
“Twitter is one of the biggest tools you are going to be able to use as an outlets,” she advised.
“When you have a special event you can host a tweet-up event; you can make a social page for your bar, for yourself, or you can set up online groups.
“I’m from the west coast of the US, which is always ahead in terms of technology or anything computer-driven,” Casey continued.
“If you start to implement this you will be well ahead of everyone else. I even had a social media intern — that’s how big it is.”
Russelito Sanchez, vice president of the Mastah Flairtending Club — Dubai Chapter, noted that the growth of online social media had been of major benefit to the growing organisation.
“We’re in the process of developing our social media programme, because from one online post every member will get the required information simultaneous,” he commented.
“But some of the guys are very busy at the moment, so finding time is the biggest problem.”
Dominik Schachtsiek, head bar chef and beverage manager at the Grand Hyatt Dubai, also presented Casey with a common problem found at many hotel properties.
“For us, the issue is that social media crosses the line into sales and marketing,” he pointed out.
“I think it is a big challenge for both the beverage and the marketing sides to get along in regards to this.”
Casey responded by pointing out that marketing departments often wrongly believe social media to be part of their remit.
“When companies do social media they often hire an agency to do it,” she said. “It then becomes fake and they will have about five followers — it must be done by bar people as that’s what it’s all about.”
The burgeoning beverage market in the UAE today is markedly different from the US market, according to Casey.
“The juicy freshness thing here is really great — you don’t see really fresh juices like you do in this region in the US,” she observed. “As a result it was even more fun creating cocktails at the Fairmont, because we had so many wonderful and different products to work with.
“In future, I hope to expand to my business in the Midde East,” she added. “We want to work here to develop drinks and train staff with real passion for the industry.”
About Kathy Casey
Kathy Casey is a celebrity chef, mixologist and media personality based in the north-west US city of Seattle. She founded Kathy Casey Food Studios and Liquid Kitchen, a food and beverage consultancy firm with an R&D department, and was recently involved in training the service team at Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Abu Dhabi’s F&B outlets.
What the participants said:
Monin MEI sales and marketing director Jeremy Coulbeck
“For me she is bringing over the trends. American tends to drive trends forward in terms of recipes and flavours.
“This region can lag behind America; especially if you look at the market for smoothies and shakes, which has not been as quick to catch on here as it has in the US.”
MMI bar development and training manager Rebecca Sturt
“I think anyone who can come over will help move us forward.
“Events like this always give the industry a boost and outside influences are always good.
“They come in and are often surprised to see how Dubai works.”
Fresh Express beverage sales manager Ghaith Zeidan
“Having professional visitors from different markets helps brings in different trends.
“There were Mexican influences in the drinks she made for us and she brings with her excellent knowledge for the region’s bar industry.
“It is always good to get people from other markets coming over to share their ideas.”
“It was really fun and great to hear what other people have to say. I think it’s great to have something like this where people can share and I’d love to see more of this type of thing in the US.”