Name: Raul Faria
Location: Las Vegas
Brand Represented: Absolut
How did you first enter the bar and nightlife industry?
I started bartending at Quark’s Bar and Grill inside Star Trek the Experience. Quark’s had a Star Trek themed menu with some pretty unique ingredients for the time, like energy drinks, dry ice and draft cocktails. The bar itself looked exactly like the show, and we had costumed Klingons and Ferengi as barflies. It was the best bar for a nerd like me to get their start. I got into bartending at the craziest bar in the city as my first job, and I think that helped open my mind right out the gate to new concepts and techniques.
How did you become a brand ambassador representing one of the most iconic brands in the world, Absolut?
There was an intensive interview process. I think what got me over the top was my blog mixologymadesimple.com and my internal training program I was a part of at Caesars Palace. I love communicating what I’m passionate about with others, and I conveyed that enthusiasm for training during the process. Absolut needs to have people who can be self-starters, people who can conceptualize something and be able to execute their concepts on their own. Absolut also needs people who truly care about the brand. For me, their early support of the LGBT community was a big factor. We were the first big brand to advertise in gay media over 30 years ago and that meant a lot to me, and I conveyed that in my interviews.
Everyone takes different paths to their career and building their resume in the industry, but what is your best advice to anyone interested in becoming a brand ambassador?
My advice to people looking to get into brand work is to build your personal brand. Make that brand reflect a hard worker, self-starter and someone who is knowledgeable about spirits. Some other skills that help would be to know Excel, know how to cost out a menu, and be able to show how your decisions have positively affected your current venue or business.
It would seem that specific types of personalities work best in a brand ambassador role. Would you say that’s true?
You have to be capable of making genuine, legitimate connections with people, so you need to be a diplomatic, social, good listener. Being comfortable with public speaking is also a must. Not quite sure what type of personality that combination is but it is crucial to your success as a brand ambassador.
What’s one thing you wish you would have known before you began your career as a brand ambassador?
The amount of admin! You better love email and the warmth of your laptop because you’ll be spending a significant amount of time plugged in.
One of the greatest things about working in bars, nightclubs and restaurants is the various perks. What are some of the perks of being a brand ambassador?
Being a brand ambassador for Absolut has allowed me to travel the world and meet new people, see new places, and watch bartenders get excited about Absolut after going through a training. It is an incredibly rewarding experience.
What are some experiences you’ve had being a brand ambassador that stand out?
We had the amazing opportunity to travel to the Les Embiez, a beautiful privately owned Island in Southern France, to bartend for a Pernod-Ricard summit. We had some downtime and I was able to hike around the island, and I had to take a moment and realize how incredible that a poor kid from Brockton, Massachusetts was staring out at the ocean from a French Island because of my job with Absolut.
Obviously, a lot of people want to know you, and many of those people want things from you. What are a couple of the oddest, most interesting, most rewarding or flat-out most challenging requests you’ve had from an owner, operator, manager, bartender, etc.? And were you able to deliver?
That’s funny you ask but there is a world of Absolut collectors and they are truly passionate about our brand. They will often pop up from time to time to try and score rare or regional bottles from us. The most interesting request was for a bottle of Absolut that has my face on it (at Absolut Akademi you receive a custom bottle of Absolut). It was bizarre someone would want a bottle that’s pretty personal, so that would have to be the one that stands out to me.
Speaking of being asked for things, what are brand ambassadors prepared to do for operators in their territories?
Brand ambassadors are there to support their products. We drink it, for sure! We also help with recipes, with events, pretty much anything a bar would need. Most importantly, though, are trainings. When I get a chance to train people on Absolut it will typically open their eyes not just to our One Source production but also to the spirit category of vodka itself. An educated staff will sell more, thus helping the operator or venue.
Let’s say I’m an operator about to open my doors. How do I get in touch with brand ambassadors so I can start things off right?
The best point of contact is through the distributor’s representative. They will have relationships with all the ambassadors for the suppliers they carry.
Point-blank: What should a great brand ambassador be prepared to do for an operator?
Be available. They ask for something, you get it done as soon as possible. There are no weekends, there is no after shift, you are on call for your accounts (operators) whenever they call.
In addition to being a brand ambassador for Absolut, you’re also the president of the Las Vegas chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild. How do you juggle so much responsibility?
Compartmentalization, prioritizing, and delegation. It’s definitely a juggling act but it I enjoy a challenge. It’s also gratifying seeing our chapter grow while also managing my markets and executing Absolut events.
What would you like people to know about USBG membership? What can bartenders in areas without a USBG chapter do to form one?
I think people have the opinion that USBG is just for craft bartenders but that is not true. We are a bartenders’ guild. Regardless of whether you work at a neighborhood dive bar or speakeasy behind antique shop walls, you are a bartender and we have something to offer you. We even have members who are cocktail enthusiasts and simply enjoy spirits and want to learn more. Our USBG events are always balanced to embrace different interests. Educational events, parties, trips… We pretty much cover it all.
To start a chapter there is actually a Chapter Start Up Community on USBG.org (in the Governance tab) that has all the information and point of contacts necessary to start a chapter. There is definitely a process but it is pretty user friendly. We just welcomed our newest addition to the family Greenville, South Carolina
Do you have any tips for operators when it comes to truly maximizing their relationship with a brand ambassador?
For operators I’d say to reach out and work together with your BA to help drive volume, visibility and get ideas on how best to sell their stuff. We want to always work with accounts to assist in driving sales and also the understanding of our brands.
If there’s anything different, what can bartenders do to maximize the relationship between a brand ambassador and the venue for which they tend bar?
I think with bartenders it’s really about training. If bartenders understand the brand then they will be confident pouring it and more likely to recommend it to a guest. Bartenders can ask their brand ambassadors anything about a brand and expect to get a clear answer.
Is the relationship between a brand ambassador and a venue limited to operators and bartenders?
Not at all. Anyone at a venue with an interest in Absolut has my full attention. I’ve often found the most questions during a training will come from servers or bar apprentices.
People make mistakes. What are some of the things operators have done or do that you wish they wouldn’t?
I think it’s a mistake for operators and venues to look at a brand ambassador as a way of saving a business. If your bar isn’t making money, then it’s more often than not operational and would need to be fixed internally. Brand ambassadors can definitely help a business thrive and are an asset to a solid team.
Can you share anything with our readers about exciting new products they’re going to want to get their hands on?
Oh yeah! Absolut Lime is the largest launch of any product from Absolut in long time and joins Citron and Mandrin as our core line. Our flavors are made using the same One Source production method as Absolut Original, meaning Absolut controls the process from seed to bottle, all in the small area of Skåne in Southern Sweden. Our flavors utilize natural extracts and contain no sugar. Lime oil can be tricky but utilizing the extraction process we can take exactly what we want from the lime peel to create a smooth, bright, citrusy and very mixable expression of Lime.
We’ve pointed out before that brand ambassadors are often exposed to and educated about trends before they really take hold. What are your predictions for what we’ll see and what will be hot in 2017?
I’m seeing a call back to simple cocktails. No more 7-ingredient monstrosities topped off with some type of unnecessary foam or molecular technique applied to a cocktail without purpose. I also noticed the use of chickpea water (or aquafaba) being used in some bars in place of egg whites. I’m not typically a fan of egg whites in my sours as they tend to be over used and can have that wet dog smell or lead to a chalky taste. Chickpea water gives you a nice, tight foam that has none of the drawbacks and you can serve it to your vegan guests.
Is there anything you want to share with our readers?
I think the only thing I’d like to add is that the vodka spirit category has an amazing amount of variety in terms of flavor, history and cocktail applications. I feel that as bartenders come up in the industry, they overlook vodka when they are studying. The differences between Eastern versus Western styles, different source grains, cultural traditions and productions methods make vodka a very intriguing but often overlooked spirit category.