Naren Young’s interest in cocktails started way back, at the tender age of 14. Ever since, he has focused all his passion and energy on studying – and shaping – his chosen industry and profession. A seasoned hospitality pro, he spent plenty of time travelling the world to train and advise other bartenders. Join Naren for an in-depth exploration of all things hospitality, based on a wealth of international experiences.
Naren, do you still remember what prompted your interest in gastronomy – and what makes it your perfect profession?
I started working in restaurants when I was 14. I started out like most people in that I just needed a job. Pretty soon, though, I developed a strange infatuation for all the bottles I was seeing behind the bar. I asked my mum if she would start buying me some cocktail books to look at. So, from an early age, I developed a very academic approach to my work, studying old recipes and trying to soak up as much information as possible. It’s become the perfect career for me because it’s flexible and dynamic, it allows me to travel and you always meet interesting and inspiring people every day, all around the world.
Generally speaking, what does hospitality mean to you?
Hospitality means giving yourself wholly over to others and performing every act or gesture selflessly without any expectation of a reward. Hospitality shouldn’t be something you do to get fame or recognition. It should be something deep inside you; something that genuinely makes you feel good to make others feel good. It’s very hard for many people to understand that fact, but it’s the basis of why we do what we do.
So, a strong sense of hospitality is vital for a bar’s success?
Yes, it is everything. Without a hospitable team, people won’t come back to your bar. It doesn’t matter how good your drinks are. And that sense of hospitality needs to permeate its way into every member of your team. If we’re not hospitable to people, then what are we doing?
What defines the perfect relationship between a barkeeper and his guests?
Empathy, kindness, respect, exchange … There always needs to be an open dialogue between two people where both care about the outcome. Both parties need to trust and respect each other, always.
So, which of your own, personal traits are important for day-to-day hospitality … and which of them might stand in your way?
As mentioned before: Empathy, kindness, respect, exchange. I always try to take a broader view and truly understand what the guest wants from each experience because this can change from day to day. As bartenders, we need to adapt and try to curate each experience for them differently based on a whole range of factors. Also, I need to be less cynical as I get older.
Is this something hosts can learn – or do you need specific “gastronomy genes”?
It is all learned. No one is born a great host. But how you treat others is often direct related to ‘how’ and sometimes ‘where’ you were brought up. At the same time, the more you travel, eat and get inspired by the outside world, all this can have an effect on your approach to the industry and your sense of hospitality.
Looking back, which experience has had the strongest impact on your sense of hospitality?
Moving to New York City. To me, New York was the pinnacle of bar culture (at least at the time) and so I wanted to prove to myself that I could make it here because this is a relentless city. But it’s also a very inspiring one and I wanted to be surrounded by the greatest professional bartenders in the world. This has shaped a lot of what I do every day.
What distinguishes American hospitality? How would you describe it?
It’s very strong, especially in New York, which has one of the most unique, diverse, dynamic scenes in the world.
You’ve travelled most of the world, training and advising bartenders. Did you notice any differences in hospitality between the many countries?
Too many to count! Every place is different and that’s why this industry is so amazing.
Well, did one of these countries stand out in a particular way?
Yes, Japan. They’re very precise, exacting, kind and proud of their job. It’s ALL about the guest for them.
How is the culture of hospitality evolving? With society focusing more and more on individuals and their needs, is the latest generation of bartenders any different?
Younger bartenders expect to be put in the spotlight much earlier and faster without a respect for the past and the years it takes to become a well-rounded hospitality professional. People should be more patient with their careers and put in the hard work to become the best version of themselves they can be.
In this spirit, what’s the best hospitality-related advice you’ve ever received from a colleague or peer?
Treat others as you would like to be treated.
And what advice would you give others?
Creating pleasurable moments starts from within. You have to whole heartedly LOVE serving people and making them happy – otherwise you are in the wrong business.
So, how would you like to be welcomed and hosted yourself?
With kindness and respect.
Thanks a lot for this interview, Naren!
Das Interview führte Jan-Peter Wulf
Photocredits: Roland Justynowicz