Anyone who has been in the booze business knows that it’s the men and women behind the bar who build brands, invent drinks and are the backbone of the business. Let’s face it; it wasn’t a suit that created the Cosmo or any other top drink, it was a barkeep.
I first met Ray back in the day at Seagram when everyone talked about the fuzzy navel and credited him with coming up with the idea. More importantly, of all the publishers and sales reps who called on me, he was among the very few who understood the business and was a key to the important on-premise trade.
In the intervening years, he has continued to reach over 100,000 bartenders in Bartender Magazine and hundreds of thousands on Bartender.com. Along with his wife Jaclyn, they’ve been running the magazine for over 30 years. Together they’ve created the Bartender Hall of Fame and run a foundation to provide scholarships for bartenders and their children.
Ray has written dozens of books, including Bartending for Dummies. A perfect title for an outspoken, take-no-prisoners, ex-Marine who hates BS and some of the changes he sees in the bartender profession. But, I’ll let you in on a secret – deep down he’s a kind and gentle man who speaks his mind but carries no malice.
Let’s take the phrase ‘mixologist’ for instance. Here’s a quote I found in New Jersey (where the Foleys reside) Magazine, “A mixologist is a person who really doesn’t know how to tend bar but has the money to get a PR agent.” He told me pretty much the same thing when I interviewed him for this posting but went on to say that he really has no argument with the phrase and much respect for the serious mixologists. But, it’s those who are all ego and no skill, that get his Irish up. So if you call yourself “The Bar Guru” or “Mr. Mojito” stay out of his way.
Ray comes from the school where a good bartender is partly a person who serves drinks and mainly a person who does so with personality and customer service.
When I was running new products and we needed a signature or other drink to make the brand take hold, I learned two important things from Ray. The first was to let the drink idea come organically from behind the bar – the bartender or (forgive me, Ray) the mixologist. In other words, let the professionals do it and keep the marketing suits out of the kitchen.
The second was, in order for a drink recipe to take hold, keep it simple. According to Ray, “Creating a drink with avocado juice and lemongrass doesn’t impress me…how many bars have those ingredients?”
Of all the thousands of people who read Booze Business, I generally think about Ray when I do a posting. He never hesitates to let me know what he thinks and generally, the emails from Ray have been helpful and positive.
Except when I use the dreaded ‘mixologist’ word.