There are guest shifts and good guest shifts. Pajtim Tani Hasa from Lab 22 is our guide to takeovers done well.

Our approach to choosing guest shifts at Lab 22 is pretty simple. Almost every one we’ve organised has been facilitated by friendships we’ve made in our wonderful industry. Our goal when doing a takeover is to give the guests of our bar or the bar we visit a fresh experience which they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Over the years we’ve done shifts with both bars with a similar style to us and those that are wildly different – and both approaches have merit. These events can be a great window to another style of service and hospitality, which may not be prevalent in your city. For example, Cardiff doesn’t have any 5-star hotel bars so when we have a bar like The Savoy’s American Bar, Artesian or Donovan Bar, we are offering something completely new to our guests. Or a bar that is better known for its parties is equally valuable, not to mention fun for the community. Equally, a bar that shares your style of drinks, hospitality, vibe or values can be a natural fit – if your patrons like you, they’ll likely like them.

When choosing partner bars, I’ve never worried about the idea of a bar hierarchy. Back in 2018 we were lucky enough to host the American Bar at The Savoy when it was ranked No.1 in The World’s 50 Best Bars. At the time, we were a fledgling bar on the national scene and hardly anyone knew who we were. The reason we were able to collaborate was through the friendships and connections we had made, and it was really humbling to think that a titan of a bar like the American Bar saw value in coming to us for a guest shift. It really put things in perspective for me.

Of course, the more ‘known’ a bar is, the more people are going to want to collaborate with it. But not having an award doesn’t mean you’ll just get overlooked. We all have one thing in common - the experience that we deliver to our guests. Being passionate about what you do every day is infectious. 

Marketing vs making money

Our main priority on takeovers is the experience of the guest, rather than just to promote the bars and brands involved. Of course, a guest shift will bring in revenue for the host, but the financial side isn’t the priority. Takeovers should never feel transactional. Whether you’re hosting or being hosted, you want to promote the event in such a way that both excites regular guests and attracts new ones.

At Lab we always like to make a big deal of our takeovers so that we can showcase the bars we’re hosting. The reason we want to collaborate in the first place is because we think they’re doing great work and want to share that with the rest of the city. Done right, an event on a week night can feel like a weekend through the tills, in addition to the fiscal benefits. Opportunities to share a bar with inspiring and creative hospitality friends, old and new, is what it’s all about.

Going global

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We’ve only done a handful of international takeovers to date, but I can tell you that they do present further challenges around transporting prep and stock. It helps if you’re working with brands which have a relationship with the bar you’re visiting, so you can guarantee necessary stock and logistics. But when it comes to other prep, house-made cordials etc, you have to either bring it with you – we’ve had prep explode on flights before – or work with your partner bar at the other end. Clear detailed prep fi les are always helpful, and we have come across some which are prep [team] members’ dreams.

One guest shift with Copper Bay in Paris springs to mind – they simply asked us for our prep fi les and they ensured everything would be complete on arrival. We did the same for Camparino from Milan. A helpful attitude, clear communication and a sense of good hospitality can all help to streamline the process and ultimately make a guest shift successful.

Brand partners

We love to build strong relationships with all of the brands we work with, whether it’s a menu listing, pouring brand, or one-off activation. We want to ensure that both parties are getting as much as they can out of an event. Sometimes a brand will reach out to us with a plan, other times we communicate with a partner bar to see which brand works best for both of us.

These events can be really beneficial to the brand in a number of ways, whether it’s a new opportunity for it to expose its product to a new venue and new customers, or simply good promotion with an existing account. Having a good connection with the brands you like to use makes the whole process really easy, as you look forward to working with them and using their products, not to mention that it makes the whole organisation process run effortlessly.

Not organised with care and purpose, takeovers can feel superficial, but done right and for the right reasons, they can be a win for everyone involved – the bars, the brand and ultimately guests.