“The pandemic has dealt a blow for bars and their sustainability”

Iain Griffiths is the co-founder of punk pop-up Trash (previously Trash Tiki), Global Sustainability ambassador for Pernod Ricard and one of the bar industry’s most brilliant and alternative thinkers. Here, Iain shares his thoughts on how the pandemic has affected the industry, current trends and the future of the bar industry.

How has the pandemic affected you and the industry as a whole?

Personally, I opened a new bar in Toronto in September together with the Trash-collective that we had to close in June. It’s been a challenging and emotional rollercoaster, to be honest. Looking at the industry as a whole, it has devastated us. In a global sense, we were one of the first industries to be told to shut down. And in a North American sense, we were given a huge degree of false hope – we were told that we were essential workers, but at the same time we weren’t allowed to operate normally. We were forced to make do with delivering cocktails and to-go-options. And financially that’s completely unsustainable. We’ve been given nothing to help us survive. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as the laws that we are forced to operate under are actually hurting us more than helping us.

Sustainability is one of your great passions. How has the sustainability work within the bar industry been affected by the pandemic?

Environmental sustainability is still hugely important, and our planet is in an incredibly bad place. But with the reality of the pandemic – and the minorities and marginalized individuals that are fighting for recognition – we just want to be conscious that sustainability is a part of that conversation, without taking up space. The majority of bars in North America have only been able to operate through home-delivered cocktails and all to-go cups are in plastic. It’s all about taking the pandemic seriously right now. No doubt, the environmental sustainability within the bar industry has become a far more complicated issue within the pandemic. 

Iain Griffiths, Co-Founder of Trash and Global Sustainability Ambassador at Pernod Ricard.

What’s happening in the bar industry right now? Can you see any trends?

What’s been amazing to see is the way our industry has adjusted in every possible manner. For one, we’ve found new ways to educate and invest online and the standard of how things look has improved tenfold. It used to be hideous! I probably have 20 friends who designed their bar logo in Microsoft paint. Also, I’m stoked to see a political agenda feeding into our industry. We’ve begun finding a larger purpose and talk about race, politics, gender equality, etc.

What other trends do you foresee? 

I think we should take this moment of pause and self-reassessment to address the primary flaws in our industry and move forward in a clearer and different manner. I want to highlight three primary issues; the first is the damaging language in bartending – the future is to find a better language and a better way to speak about ourselves, each other and the industry as a whole. Second is the expensive bartending consultancy, which has created a big gap of inequity in the industry. Marginalized venue operators can’t afford consultancy which means they don’t get access to skills. Redistribution of finances and equity to marginalized groups will be key here. The third thing is that venue owners must become more equitable – both in terms of their staff, but also who they spend time with off work. It’s about fighting unconscious bias.

Want to hear more from Iain? Don’t miss his talk about “A Hospitality Career in 2021” on the Polish educational resource Barschool.pl’s FB page.