An exclusive interview with the LCW founders
London Cocktail Week 2020 is underway, and we’ve been counting down the days until we could reunite with our industry friends. It’s been a tense few months in the run up, with government guidance constantly changing, but the team at LCW have worked hard to allow the festival to happen to unite and support the industry.
We caught up with founders Hannah Sharman-Cox and Siobhan Payne to get some insider insight into the first physical large-scale drinks event since COVID-19, followed by our schedule of events.
When did it hit you that LCW 2020 was going to have to change completely?
Initially when lock-down started, we assumed that we would be entirely ‘back-to-normal’ by October. However – just a few weeks in, we started to realise that this was not going to be the case, so we started reaching out to our friends in the trade – agencies, brands, bar owners - to discuss the possibility of what the festival could offer in 2020. We waited until mid-April to cancel The Cocktail Village but there was so, so much work behind the scenes before this point to ensure that what was left was a viable business.
Did you ever consider making LCW 2020 completely digital, or was that out of the question?
No. We knew we had a responsibility for our bar partners to create a platform and an environment where people would feel safe to venture out into bars again. We felt our trusted voice and extensive database of discerning drinkers had the most value here. Many of our peers were either cancelling or stalling to make an announcement in the early stages of lockdown but we knew that it would be more impactful to run The Cocktail Tours as soon as was appropriate - even if that had have meant waiting to run the festival. We were actually prepared for any outcome – even moving it into the New Year - but as it is – the timing feels… good.
The response you’ve had from brands and bars seems so positive! Can you tell us a bit more about that?
We know - it’s been so lovely! Really early doors we asked people in the industry if they wanted the festival to run and the response was so overwhelming! We felt an immediate responsibility to pull it together. Once we’d reworked the model for the new-look festival – we went out very positively to both brands and bars and asked for early pledges of support, so we knew that we personally were able to then 100% commit to the project. It was such a time of uncertainty and (aside from all the banana bread that other people seemed to be making) a pretty miserable time, so having something tangible to look forward to seemed to really strike a chord.
Every cocktail counts is a really nice sentiment for London Cocktail Week. How are you hoping the activity will support London’s hospitality industry?
Following the success of Eat Out To Help Out (the UK government’s scheme to encourage people to eat out with 50% discounts on food) it became clear that while the newspapers might be intent on scaremongering, Londoner’s were definitely keen to get back out and about. This scheme was so great but would never translate to the drinks industry as the powers-that-be can’t be seen to promote that we all go out and drink cocktails. Our Every Cocktail Counts messaging was designed to tap into the same ethos of EOTHO – it’s just our discount is supported by the drinks brands rather than the government. If we can encourage normal, nice people to get out socialising safely again – we’ll have done a good thing.
How do you keep on top of all the latest government advice and make sure that your partners and the customers feel confident about LCW?
With outrageous difficulty. It doesn’t help when the rumours start circulating or you glimpse the front page of newspapers when you’re dashing out for groceries! Every step of this weird year, we’ve taken a minute, thought calmly, and simply just tried to be kind. There’s certainly been some curve balls and we’d be deluded to think there won’t be any more but approaching them all with calmness and empathy for those who might be most affected is our rule to live by.
Logistically, what do you think will be the hardest part of LCW when October comes?
Five Saturday nights! FIVE!
But in reality - there are just so many moving parts, so many bars and so many partners – and hopefully so many guests - the attention to detail from our side has to be second to none. We’ve been involved in every single conversation for this year’s event, so we’re hoping that everybody just remembers to keep us in the loop so we can keep the website and the comms as perfect as possible.
What events are you most looking forward to?
The Cocktail Tours in the incredible bars that have signed up this year. 200 carefully hand-picked venues will be serving up a specially created £6 cocktail all month long, and the list is especially impressive this year!
How do you think the 10pm curfew will affect the industry?
The new curfew is certainly a blow for the hospitality industry, especially for those operators who have been working tirelessly to keep their staff in jobs, their rents paid and their guests safe. Our festival starts on Thursday 01 October and is geared up solely to encourage Londoners back into those responsibly operated bars - many of which are independently owned and may not be able to stay open with these new rules in place. However we feel now more than ever we have a responsibility to forge ahead and support those which can remain open, every cocktail counts.
A big thanks to Hannah and Siobhan for taking the time out for this interview ahead of London Cocktail Week. Edrington-Beam Suntory UK is a proud headline sponsor, and we’ve got a whole load of events happening across the entire month. Take a look at our full schedule here: