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Community Spotlight –Russell Burgess

By Wesley Emmott

Russell Burgess is an industry veteran and Managing Director of Wet & Dry, an event bar service. With 25 years of experience and a passion for cocktails, he provides for a variety of events, from house parties to global brands.

Wesley: How did you get into hospitality?

Russell: When I was finishing my A-Levels I started going to the bar, was there often enough that the bar team were like “why don’t you come and start barbacking here?” I did, and I just fell in love with it. It was a rock and roll dive bar in Soho, I was 17-18 and it was amazing. I never really looked back.

W: What was the first cocktail you learnt how to make?

R: The first cocktail I’d have learnt would probably be the tequila slammer which was tequila, lime juice and champagne although because it was a dive bar we just used soda water. You’d put your hand over the top of the sturdy rocks glass and slam it down, then drink it in one go. So I guess you know that literally constitutes a cocktail, it’s not the most subtle cocktail, should we say?

W: What’s your favourite thing about your job?

R: Where do I begin? My jobs differ on a daily basis. I’ll be sitting down doing spreadsheets and logistics for an event one day, then I’ll go live the next day. I’ve worked in different countries. In the last month alone I did a wedding in Portugal, an engagement party in New York and a brand event in Edinburgh. I think it’s the fact that it changes frequently; different venues, different countries, working with different teams and then obviously doing all sorts of different stuff so yeah it keeps it all very lively, very fresh.

W: What has been the biggest challenge in your career and how has it been overcome?

R: I’d probably say starting my own business because when you start out, you’re bartending and you don’t really think about the business side of it so much. For me, it was a creative outlet, the social element I really enjoyed as well but I wasn’t really sure how much it would progress. I guess that changed going into management and having to realise the business side more, then obviously starting my own business.

W: What sort of advice would you offer to your younger self?

R: I would have said “get some kind of training on business acumen” whether that be a GCSE business class, A-Levels or something. I studied English, History and Chemistry. These are solid choices but doing something a bit more business-minded and learning about VAT, National Insurance and that side of it would have benefitted me a lot.

W: In five year’s time, how would you hope to have evolved yourself or your career?

R: No 3AM finishes or late night stockouts. Hopefully, I can grow my company and delegate. It’s something that I’m not actually that comfortable with, I’m quite hands-on myself but you then find yourself doing the smaller things and missing some of the bigger things.

W: We talked about the first cocktail you made. Do you have a favourite drink or a cocktail that you like to make the most?

R: I’ve always said that when someone asks you what your favourite cocktail is it’s like asking who your favourite child is. I would say it’s horses for courses; on a hot summer’s day something maybe simple, spritzy, gin and tonic-y, on a cold winter’s night a hot toddy or the like but I suppose my go-to thing is in terms of spirits, it’s rum. For fear of being stereotyped, you know, I’m of Jamaican heritage and I do love my rums, you know, Jamaica makes some of the best rums as well.

W: What is the most important aspect of your job?

R: I think being able to think on your feet is all-important. The job calls for various different things at various different times so being able to roll with them, get stuck in when need be; as I said mopping floors, changing bins then sitting down in board room meetings pitching to big jobs the next day so being able to be quite chameleon-like and switch between different roles with ease.

W: How do you relax?

R: With my children, my daughter’s a year and a half, my son’s four so we’re just spending the day and I’m in a park with them… it’s the most relaxing thing, then my guilty pleasure is awful television, something where I can just sit there, do nothing and switch my brain off to a little bit. Sleep’s something that doesn’t really happen to me at the moment so yeah, a little bit of crappy TV.

To find out more, visit the Wet and Dry website here.