Lucia Montanelli, is the award-winning Head Bartender at the Dorchester Hotel, and the UKBG London Hotel Bars Chair. We sat down with Lucia, to learn more about her story, her numerous accolades, her journey from Italy to one of the world’s most decorated venues, and her ideas for the Guild and our members.
As with many Italians, Lucia began her career in hospitality at an early age. At 15, she started work in her hometown of Viareggio, in Tuscany, at The Club American bar and The Best Western Grand Hotel Royal. While holding down both positions she worked her way up to Head Bartender.
Italy’s hospitality culture is world renowned, but unlike the British sector a greater number of young italians see it as a long-term prospect, and forge impressive career paths.
“In Italy, the bar is the most popular and most loved social space. Whether it’s coffee, a cappuccino or apertivo – it’s where we meet,” Lucia says. “I would even say ‘the bar’ is the most representative place of Italian culture. They’re our second home.”
What attracted you to bar work – and what kept you in the industry?
Definitely the social and conviviality aspect of it.The number of people and the various personalities you are able to meet during your workday is both the attraction – and the challenge! I have always loved to work in an environment where I’m surrounded by so many people, being able to make people happy. The atmosphere you can find in a bar working in a bar – it’s the magic we bartenders bring with us.
What have been the greatest challenges you have personally faced in your career?
The last year has probably been my most challenging. Becoming the Dorchester’s head bartender has been a major step forward in my career. Re-inventing myself, and evolving into the role of being able to build a team around me, and servicing the cream of five-star venues has been formidable. I’m constantly learning and developing my vision of what hospitality can do.
How and why did you get involved with the UKBG?
I used to take part in many AIBES (Associazione Italiana Barmen E Sostenitori) competitions during my time in Italy, Italy’s bartender’s guild. When I first arrived in London, the first thing I looked for was it’s sister organisation – and I found UKBG. The first-ever UK competition I took part in was the Young National Bartender of the Year back in 2014. I placed second, and since then, I took part in almost every UKBG competition I could – and won a lot of them!
Since I’ve known it, the UKBG has always been a very welcoming environment, open to anyone passionate about bartending. The most significant changes I saw happened under our former president, Salvatore Damiano, who helped bring the organisation back into the fold with the IBA. Our new president Claudia Carozzi, is embracing the challenge to modernise the guild further, build our networks, making the organisation more accessible and present across the whole country – not just the big cities. Their work on bringing us into the digital age, is also fundamental for us. We also have an important role in safeguarding and collating the history of our sector – and observing our rich history and heritage.
What do you see as the key role that UKBG needs to play in the lives and businesses of British bartenders?
I think the UKBG has to become a trusted point of contact between bartenders and businesses. We need to continue to develop opportunities for our members to grow in their career. And we need to do this through any educational tool that becomes available to us – like our partnership with The Mixing Class, which offers WSET courses available at discounted prices; our free access to the Small Batch Learning platform and Spirit.Ed. These are a great start – but we can do more. We need to continue building our reputation with beverage brands and sponsors – because ultimately, thanks to their support, we will be able to develop new projects. And of course, our competitions have to become an opportunity to grow our network, and also increase awareness for the career diversity of the bartender trade.
Prior to the pandemic, what do you think have been the problems facing the sector that have persisted and may continue to persist after the pandemic is over?
The minimum wage. Average bartender salaries remain extremely low. The biggest part of our salaries is still the service charge. The cost of living in the UK is rising year by year and now after Brexit things are getting worse. With the pandemic, many foreigners left the country leaving the industry with a desperate need of skillful people – but many wages are not high enough to attract demand. We simply do not have enough people to fill the positions available.
Why do you think being a UKBG member is important?
The UK’s hospitality industry is made of many different people from all over the world. The UKBG is the point of contact between all of us – foreigners and british-born. Being part of a strong trade community is important – not only to meeting other colleagues, gaining crucial skills but also to be able to stand together as an industry to meet challenges. Professional associations give you the chance to evolve.