Iain Griffiths: White male bar owners should positively discriminate

Laura Foster

Laura Foster

27 August 2020

One of the drinks industry's most alternative thinkers takes to Barschool to talk grassroots diversity, damaging language behind the bar and how bartending isn't a lifelong career

Iain Griffiths, the bartender who helped co-found Trash Tiki with Kelsey Ramage, and who works closely with Ryan Chetiyawardana for Mr Lyan, has broken his self-imposed ban on giving industry talks to issue a call to arms for drinks professionals to shape a positive, healthy drinks industry for people to work in over the next 20 years.

Speaking on the Polish educational resource Barschool.pl’s Facebook page, Griffiths unsurprisingly didn’t mince his words, and one of his standout points was the perpetuation of a lack of racial representation, especially when it comes to venue ownership.

One of the biggest downfalls our industry is currently facing is the fact that white male owners choose to go into business with other white males

Iain Griffiths

‘I truly believe that one of the biggest downfalls our industry is currently facing is the fact that white male owners choose to go into business with other white males. They then spend time outside of work, mentoring, socialising, and imparting their experience on other white males, who then become the next generation of white male bartenders,’ he declared.

‘We have to step up and understand that if we truly want a diverse and equitable hospitality industry, it is time to understand the power of who we mentor and who we bring forward in this industry. We should not admonish the individual that turns around and is fighting for your workplace uniform to be gender neutral. They're not difficult, they are not challenging. They're a natural born leader.’ 

Diversity and inclusion have been big discussion points in the drinks industry in recent years, but most of the discourse so far has focused on representation at awards ceremonies, on judging panels and in industry talks. Grassroots action such as mentorship could help enact wider change.

There’s a mentality that you have to survive the hospitality industry. That is incredibly dangerous

Iain Griffiths

Having taken the opportunity to stop and reflect during the Covid 19 outbreak, one of the foremost alternative thinkers in the drinks industry announced, ‘I want to shift our focus onto the industry that we're creating for the next generation.’

The wide-ranging talk highlighted other problems that Griffiths thinks needs to be tackled, including watching the language we use and accepting that bartending isn’t a lifelong career.

Thrive, don’t survive

Griffiths discussed reshaping bar culture by leaving misguided beliefs behind. ‘There’s a mentality that you have to survive the hospitality industry. That is incredibly dangerous,’ he declared. He espoused a more calm, considered, human approach to the industry. One that walked away from the toxic working practices that have been adopted from restaurant kitchens: stopping the dehumanisation of employees where they are reduced to a rank; and creating a culture where the practice of ‘first to arrive, last to leave’ isn’t celebrated.

‘The fact that to be a hospitality professional, you must be a little bit jaded, you must almost have a disdain for society in some capacity, that's an incredibly negative trait that I want to implore all of us to look towards how we can leave that behind,’ he said.

Watch your words

This next part of the presentation came with a trigger warning, so for those upset by references of sexual assault, skip to the next section of the article.

‘I believe our mindset begins with our vocabulary,’ announced Griffiths. ‘There are a number of phrases that our industry continues to co-opt and normalise.’

Just because you like your labels straight, just because you like your bar kit to be at right angles, you're not OCD

Iain Griffiths

Words like 'mental' and 'crazy', 'rape' and 'OCD' have been adopted into common vernacular, despite how damaging they are. He recounted a bartender describing a Saturday night shift as being ‘totally crazy; we got raped’. ‘Imagine how triggering that phrase must have been for any survivor hearing it,’ he said.

‘Mental health is a disease that is an underfunded societal issue that the governments of the world are still struggling to properly acknowledge. And when we normalise phrases like mental and crazy, we immediately turn around and only further push those issues to the back when they should be at the forefront.

‘Finally, OCD is an illness that people live with every day. Just because you like your labels straight, just because you like your bar kit to be at right angles, you're not OCD, you’re detail oriented.’

Bartending is a launchpad, not lifelong

Griffiths also addressed the common-held belief that bartending is a lifelong profession.

If we don't start empowering people to use bartending as the baseline from which they can build on a greater career, we are going to be holding back our entire industry

Iain Griffiths

‘We're running our entire profession on a basis of fear that if you dare to move forward in any other manner, you're leaving behind what's most important, and we need to do away with that, because to be very, very clear, you will not bartend until you're 100,’ he said.

‘The idea that you would discuss ambition beyond being a bartender, that you will dare to dream that you would do anything else except the bartender is a point of contention. If we don't start empowering people to use bartending as the baseline from which they can build on a greater career, we are going to be holding back our entire industry.’

He concluded: ‘If we've spent the last 20 years convincing our friends and family that this industry is a profession, we need to next spend the next 20 years creating the infrastructure, culture and mental approach. That means it truly will be a profession for decades and centuries to come.’ 

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