Nate Booker interviews Penelope McMylor

We often think about direction and next steps in this Industry but sometimes life can come full circle. Nate interviews Penelope to get some unique insights and reflections from her rich and diverse career as she moved from the bar to brands to events and back to the bar.

So you’ve been in the industry a long time and you’ve done A LOT! What hooked you in to Hospitality.

When I was 18 I moved to Manchester for Uni. I got a job as a glass collector at Cruz101 (a nightclub in the ‘Village’). I then had an opportunity to join the team at Baa Bar after a couple of weeks. That initial move was really interesting actually as the venue had 30 different shots on the menu, so I had to learn quickly about process of learning specs and serving quickly and efficiently.

Then…I decided to leave Uni and I really had to think about what I had to do next.

[Penelope soon realized she wanted to stay in the industry but wanted to progress beyond just making vodka-cokes and opening bottles of WKD Blue. Her next step was to Living Ventures where she had an awakening and found professionalism and craft.]

That was where I really FOUND bartending; round building, cleanliness, more advanced drinks, hospitality was more present, guests journey and how they get from A-B-C. That set me up with a core skill set to go elsewhere…

You eventually moved from Living Ventures venues to the more independent places in the Northern Quarter of Manchester like Cane & Grain and Cottonopolis. What was defining about those times?

The creative outlet. That’s when I went to all the tastings, trainings. So my product knowledge grew and I started entering cocktail competitions. Channeling my creativity.

Why did you decide change course to the brand world?

I was levelling up in a way that was right for me. I’d been a bartender for so long, I’d gotten drinks on the menu at Cottonopolis. And the next step was do I carry on doing this? Do I go into management? Or ‘repping’? I think a lot of people saw that [brand representative] as the next step at the time.

Whilst we discuss the transition from the bar to brand world we both note that there is a habit in the industry to look at the brands side with rose tinted glasses.

“Yeah selling that 9-5 lifestyle….Ha ha ha…It isn't 9-5. It’s hard but rewarding work. I worked closely with the brands, I immersed myself in them  and spirits and production. You’re working for a business and you’re working in a city pretty much on your own. That area becomes like your own business. The stuff I’ve learned and experienced has been incredible. But sometimes people forget they are a SALES representative as well as a brand representative. I learned A LOT but what that did take away from me was that creative outlet. Which was one of those first reasons I fell in love with bartending.”

What are some of the unexpected challenges you encountered in the brand side of the business?

Confusing brand sales with brand advocacy. There’s lots cross over but realistically are very different roles.

If you had some advice for those looking to get into the brand side of the business what tips would you give?

Research, research, research. Find out exactly what the job entails. Think about what you like and don’t like in a job, what works for you and if there’s longevity in it for you. There’s no shame in finding out something isn’t right for you.

After working in the brand world for almost 4 years, the pandemic happens, lock down hits and a thoughts of the future start to creep in.

[Lockdown] made me think about my direction a lot more. “What am I doing for the world” that was my thought process at the time. It brought me back to a place-of-before. What do I enjoy? I missed being around people, problem solving with people together. So I wanted to work in a venue again.

But I wasn’t sure if I wanted to lean back into what I did before. What makes sense with my new skillset; I don’t just know a bar anymore, I know sales I know how to manage customers. So I found an events role at Ducie St Warehouse. Handling anything that was privately booked, birthday parties, corporate meetings, through to weddings and full buy outs of the venue. Big stuff! Working as a bartender and a Rep gave me a lot of transferable skills. But I learned a tonne.

What were some of the best bits of that role?

I had a creative outlet. Delivering unique, bespoke experiences for guests; visuals, decorations, cocktails, food. This is the creative bit I love. (But it was still 75% admin!) That creative bit sparked again. And then the Hospitality sparked again.

Ok so why did you come back to bartending?

Over Christmas last year lots of parties got cancelled because of the travel chaos, but the venue itself was still really busy so I just started helping out in the restaurant and the bar. Got back on the bar. I LOVED IT. My girlfriend is also a bartender and I thought to myself, ‘Why am I not doing this? I miss this? I Love this? This was the start of it all’

From Ducie St, Penelope finds her new home in Manchester at the epitome of hospitality, Hawksmoor.  A fitting venue for her return behind the bar.

I’ve come back to pick up where I left off and see where it goes!