Regularly playing host to more than 1,800 customers at her site is water off a duck’s back for Sandy Gourlay, general manager of Glasgow’s Òran Mór, a venue that attracts drinkers, diners and live entertainment fanatics.
Òran Mór, formerly the Kelvinside Parish Church, lives up to the Gaelic translation of its name – ‘great melody of life’ or ‘big song’ – by putting on extravagant concerts and plays for residents of the great Scottish city, as well as for revellers from further afield.
The former Church of Scotland site offers its customers a diverse range of experiences, including a whisky bar and brasserie latenight bar; three dining areas; and corporate events spaces, a theatre, nightclub and a live music space.
However, the Òran Mór that is known today almost didn’t exist. It stood derelict for four years until its current owner, Scottish hospitality magnate Colin Beattie, blitzed the building’s interior before reopening it as it now stands in 2004. Gourlay has managed the site for the past 12 years, a period of time in which she has seen a massive change in the drinking habits of the venue’s clientele.
‘Shift in what people are looking to drink’
“We have so many people coming here because of the variety, but what I have noticed is there’s been a shift in what people are looking to drink when they come into the venue,” she explains. “At lunchtime we have more people than ever drinking soft drinks with their food.
“Even during evening events, such as gigs and at plays, people are drinking more nonalcoholic options. I’m not sure why that is, maybe it’s down to people thinking about their health a little bit more.”
The site’s current wet:dry split is 80:20, with 13% of wet sales coming from soft drinks, such as Coca-Cola. While more customers are choosing to drink softs, Gourlay does point out that a fair amount of the sales come from revellers having spirits and a mixer.
Coca-Cola European Partners is the main supplier of soft drinks at Òran Mór and has been since it opened. Òran Mór employs 150 staff, making it one of the biggest employers in hospitality in the city and, as a result, requires a lot of training support from suppliers. Having the support from her Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) sales rep Paula Turnbull is something Gourlay relishes.
“We have had great support from our CCEP reps, which we really appreciate because we have such a large venue,” she explains.
“Paula is out there working with all kinds of other businesses, so she knows what’s going on and what’s on trend, which we benefit from. She will come into the site and freely chat with the staff, which I like her to do. She will even have one-to-one sessions with staff to talk to them about serve and trends.”
Serve is a sticking point for the general manager, who ensures every member of staff, no matter where they are working in the site, reaches the serving standards she expects for every drink.
‘More important for this site’
She adds: “Soft drinks are becoming more important for this site and across the trade for various reasons so, for me, getting the serve right is one of the most important pieces of information I can communicate to my team.”
Offering a paying punter a glass of Coke with one ice cube and a straw isn’t good enough, she explains. Instead, staff are trained to ask the customers what type of Coke they want – Coca-Cola Classic, Zero Sugar, Diet Coke – and if they would like it from a bottle or from draught. They are then trained to offer ice, a citrus garnish before serving on a napkin and with a straw.
Training staff now and getting the standards set is important as Gourlay envisages soft drinks becoming an even bigger part of her business and the on-trade in general. The rise in the trend can already be seen through the amount of soft drinks on offer, which is constantly expanding to cater for different types of customers and their varying tastes.
“Premium mixers have been getting bigger for a long time now and it’s a huge part of our trade because customers are ordering a premium spirit and they want a premium mixer to go with it,” she says. “But when they want a non-alcoholic drink, they are looking for something just as premium, something that is interesting and that is also served well. The popularity of soft drinks, I think, can only increase.”
To cater for the growing appetite for softs, Gourlay says she is looking to offer more premium and sophisticated options for older consumers like Schweppes, while younger drinkers want variety. As a result, she can see her non-alcoholic offer expanding in the coming years, driven by demand from the 1,800 revellers regularly entertained at Òran Mór.
Comment from Paul Grace, CCEP director of field sales GB
If there is ever a soft drinks hall of fame then Sandy Gourlay needs to be the inaugural member.
No nuclear physics needed here. Put the right products behind the bar and train your staff with product knowledge while serving the drinks perfectly every time – well-trodden ground that I have written about before.
What I like about the approach from the Òran Mór is that they fully understand their audience and their positive choice not to drink alcohol. Long gone are the days when walking into a bar and ordering a non-alcoholic drink is seen as eccentric.
When your outlet serves multiple needs like the Òran Mór then your opportunity to sell products from a broader range increases to meet those changing needs. These needs include customers dining, customers partying, theatre goers and people like me setting up camp for an hour or so to clear a few emails while getting a bite to eat during the ever-extending working day.
For the best part of 10 years now, CCEP has tried to champion one group of consumers choosing not to drink alcohol; the designated driver. We will continue this support over Christmas with free drinks for drivers after their first purchase. Our aim is to promote the positive role soft drinks play at this time of year while helping licensees to keep drivers happy and engaged with a well-served range. This will ultimately increase dwell time for the rest of the party and keep the till ringing.
I would urge all licensees to ensure they stock some proper grown up alternatives for those not drinking alcohol like an Appletiser or Schweppes Sparkling Juice drink while also experimenting with some non-alcohol cocktails to create a little sophistication when all around are losing theirs in Christmas cracker headgear.