Phil Harding, Boutique Bar Brands

Phil Harding, Boutique Bar Brands

James Sandrini 20th February 2018

What’s it really like to start a business in hospitality? We started an interview series to find out.

This week, we talked with Phil Harding, Founder of Boutique Bar Brands (BBB), about Advocaat, how bars looked 20 years ago and why bar staff are woefully underappreciated.


You’re in bars more than most; what do you see on back bars that makes you think ‘why are they still ordering this?’

I don’t think anything much has changed over the past 20 years. One thing that has always stood out, both from running bars and going to them in a sales capacity – why on earth would you stock Advocaat?

I’ve never seen it in a cocktail. I’ve never even seen anyone drink it.  Disgusting stuff.


What did Advocaat ever do to you? Name one other Dutch booze brand we should have instead…I dare you…

De Kuyper.


That told me then. Which brands have you enjoyed working with the most?

Fuller’s Frontier, definitely. It’s been exciting to work with a company like Fuller’s, especially when we were such a young company. We learned a lot about launching a big brand.

Then there’s Island Records: Great fun pulling together all the elements needed to launch a beer brand from scratch. It’s been quite a journey since we launched the beer, and to be honest, I know that we haven’t even scratched the surface with where we can take it.

Last one; Dingle Distillery. It’s been an honour to work with such an amazing distillery which means so much to the Irish – their first new, independently owned distillery in almost 150 years! It’s always really exciting to work with a brand that is so obviously going places.

48.1 - Phil Harding BBB

What new projects do you have coming up at BBB?

A lot! We’re about to sign off on a new brewery launching in summer, and we’ve got a high profile beer brand, an award-winning Scottish distiller and a historic gin brand in the works. 2018 should be exciting!


How has the bar industry changed since you first started?

I just think people have become so much more passionate and knowledgeable about the products they serve.

There are so many more exciting drinks to talk about and experience than 20 years ago. When I first started out, I was working in a bar that served Hoegaarden on draft, Sam Adams in bottles and Markers Mark… and we thought we were a real cut above the rest!


20 years is a long time.

Don’t remind me.


What do you think is holding the bar industry back right now?

We still have an awful attitude to people who work in the industry; something that has always pissed me off.  In the UK there’s a chronic lack of training, which ultimately impacts retention, which just creates a vicious cycle.

"When I first started out, I was working in a bar that served Hoegaarden on draft, Sam Adams in bottles and Markers Mark… and we thought we were a real cut above the rest!"

There’s a definite talent shortage. Why do you think we’re in this situation? And how can we remedy it?

Where do you want me to start? There’s an inbuilt snobbishness that surrounds certain trades in the UK. I think we need to show that hospitality is one of the most rewarding, exciting and diverse industries in the UK. Crucially we need to pay more and train better.  Every job should be valued. Look abroad. You see staff getting paid better and embracing the industry as the chance to carve out a career.

I think things have improved since I started, as ‘craft’ beer and spirits have made the industry more interesting for the younger generation, but there’s a long, long way to go.


Who do you think is getting this right?

There are companies that are great at what they do. Fuller’s staff and management always impress me when I go into their outlets – I’m not sure how they do that.

I used to work as a manager for Pizza Express and they had great training, incentives, retention…everything…and everyone used to feel a real part of the company. I could tell you who should go on the naughty step…but I shouldn’t mention anybody outright.

Thanks to Phil Harding.

To contact Boutique Bar Brands, head over to their website. Or, to share a few of your favourite Advocaat recipes with Phil directly, connect with him on LinkedIn.