SMALL TALK

Dave White of Dead Parrot bar on competition and bartending success

Dave White of Dead Parrot bar on competition and bartending success

Dave White, manager of the Dead Parrot bar in Horsham, West Sussex, beat over 120 contestants to win the Monkey Shoulder Ultimate Bartender competition in July for the second year running. He gives his top tips for bartending success ahead of London Cocktail Week (3-9 October) where he'll be running the Monkey Shoulder Ultimate Pop-Up Bar.

It's the second time Dead Parrot has won this competition, what's the secret to your success? 

Last year was team entries, which we all entered and this year it was just individual entries, so it was a different format, but I think the key was preparation.  I'm not sure if anyone else did as much prep as I did. When I knew the format I practised all the rounds.

I've also had moderate success in competitions before and was 2011 Class magazine Bartender of the Year, so that and 17 years' experience working in bars went some way to helping. 

It's a big competition - there were 125 entries - and it's one of the best prizes for a cocktail competition in the UK (the winner runs the Monkey Shoulder bar at London Cocktail Week and keeps all takings from the event) so it's a good one to win. 

How do you plan to sell lots of cocktails (and boost your takings) without breaking responsible drinking laws? 

Irresponsible drinking isn't going to be too much of an issue. There's so much going on people won’t be just downing drinks at our bar. We do cocktail tasters so people can try things without buying five full drinks and, like we do in the Dead Parrot, we’ll have water available. 

It's difficult to compare to last year as we're in a new venue - Old Spitalfields Market - this year and the space is very different. We will have less facilities to be able to customise our bar than last year, but there's higher footfall in the market than in the Truman Brewery (last year's location) so we'll see. 

How did you get to where you are now? 

I started doing part-time bar work when I was at university, but became disillusioned with studying so went into bars full-time. I worked in a number of bars in Edinburgh for 14 years before moving to Horsham for my wife's work. I got a job at Wabi in Horsham for two years before helping to set up and then open The Dead Parrot in 2014. 

It is rare to find innovative cocktail bars in towns outside London, how does Dead Parrot survive in a market town? 

We're providing something different and people like that. Mid-week trade is usually tough while Friday and Saturday get booked up, so we've done a lot to encourage people out during quieter times: We do a cinema club on Tuesdays and a games night on Sundays which is fun. 

We are constantly making small changes. Originally we were a seated-only venue, but we were having to turn people away at busy times, so we changed downstairs to incorporate standing space while upstairs is seating and table service. 

When we started we didn’t do reservations either, but six months in realised it would be a good idea and we've kept that. 

What drinks have proved popular on the menu? 

Two drinks have been on the menu since we opened, but we tend to change our menu every three months with the seasons. We include lots of variety, long and short drinks, vodka, whisky. You need to supply something for everyone. 

We started selling well-made frozen drinks two years ago. We invested in a slushy machine and it’s been great. It means people get the drinks faster and the quality is consistent. We sell a frozen mojito which is doing really well.

Low alcohol drinks are also quite trendy at the moment so we have lower alcohol options on the menu. 

What are your tips for bartending success? 

Get a job in the best place that will hire you and then don’t stop learning and improving yourself. You can learn a lot from watching what others do. Entering competitions also helps you learn from others’ mistakes and your own. That’s how you get better.

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