Fearless! Bartender in the Middle East challenges status quo

Fearless! Bartender in the Middle East challenges status quo

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In celebration of Women’s Day, almost every company and brand, on this planet, prepares something special to share with the general public and loyal followers. This is an especially important annual event for women working in the hospitality industry. On that note, HN interviewed one young woman who for the past twelve years has been paving the way as a professional bartender in a male dominated industry. Through her passion and unrelenting desire to make a future for herself, she also became the Brand Ambassador for Bacardi Levant. Varia Dellalian commented on the role working women play in general, the challenges they face on a daily basis, the future they are creating for themselves as bartenders, her recent nomination as Bacardi’s Middle East Fearless person of the year and the initiatives one of her clients, Ferdinand Gastropub in Hamra is play in highlight the role women play.

What can you tell us about the difficulties women bartenders face in this industry?

Having worked as a barmaid for seven years, I still struggle to find women in that role. Though I know few who are fully dedicated to that profession, I however find it difficult to see women who take this profession seriously in terms of a career path. Nonetheless, if you put your heart and soul into it, you will come to the realization that this really is like any other job. After all, I started out from the bottom and ended up being Bacardi’s brand ambassador. It is hard enough for a woman to be taken seriously in any job. So, imagine being a woman bartender in the Middle East!

Though it has become more acceptable, three factors need to be present for a woman to succeed. The male employer/co-bartenders should be confident having a woman filling that role and knowing she can handle the responsibility. Here, women need to be treated as equals. The other element is deciding whether this job is a way to make money or a profession. The third and final piece is the opportunity the bar/country affords a woman in growing and progressing beyond that space.

However, my mission is not reserved to women, but men as well. Most of the men and women in this industry either do not take this job seriously and therefore have no plan and vision on how to take things to the next level and how. In other words, it is tricky to navigate this landscape as the available opportunities are not clear for most. This is understandable as even the idea of a male bartender hacking it in the Middle East remains a tricky proposition at best. Though Lebanon represents a good incubator of sorts, what we still lack is the right people who can usher and facilitate growth of this job, which has become a serious profession, at least internationally.

What can you tell us about Bacardi’s Fearless global initiative?

I did not even know that I was part of it because it is not a competition that you enter or apply for. The Bacardi values are, fearless, founder, family. Fearless means to challenge yourself, take risks and work with passion. Family is to treat all involved in the company as members of this extended family, to support the team and to improve and empower all its members. Founders is to find new challenges/new ideas and work on reaching those. All these cultural values came from Bacardi’s owner who created the brand in 1862. His dream was to create a family and make a legacy.

Every year we celebrate Founder’s Day on the 4th of February. In preparation, the company sends a mass email in October-November asking the employees to nominate someone from the network to one of the company’s three core values. I read it, but was uncertain what to do about it. By the time I had come to understand what all this is about, the deadline had expired. A few weeks later, while in a company meeting with all Middle East heads present, I was informed that there were no nominations made, except one, and to my surprise, someone from outside the region had nominated me. This however, I was told, does not imply that I will win. In total, 850 people throughout the global network were nominated and I was the only one from the region. Months later, after spending a very long day at work, I arrive home to learn, by email, that I had won the “Fearless” title from the Middle East. For each of the three categories, five people were nominated and I won this category from the Middle East. I later learned that the Bacardi MENA director was the one who had nominated me. The reason, he explained behind this nomination is because I am a woman in the Middle East promoting whisky, all of which, considering, is quite challenging. Especially that I hold presentations and workshops attended by 30-50 men…

What I am proud of is the support and faith that my colleagues and co-workers have exhibited, without which I would not be where I am today. After the results of this annual initiative were announced, the company posted the nominees on its Bacardi Limited Instagram page. I used this honor to further communicate and promote the cause of women working or thinking of entering the industry. In other words, when it comes to pursuing this profession in Lebanon, women can really build a promising future for themselves if they do so fearlessly. It is a recognition by the brand to highlight and promote their people. This recognition has motivated and empowered me beyond belief by fueling my passion for the craft and strengthening my commitment to the brand.

Ferdinand Gastropub in Hamra is one of your clients and a great platform that has been promoting women bartenders for quite some time. What can you tell us about the latest event it held in celebration of Women’s Day?

As Bacardi brand ambassador, Ferdinand Gastropub in Hamra is one of the outlets we are involved with. The co-founders, Riad Abou Lteif (head chef) and Walid Merhi (head bartender) are great proponents of women’s rights, which extends to promoting women in the bartending profession. During one of our meetings, related to planning the 2019 events calendar, an idea of how to best celebrate Women’s Day transpired.

The idea was to raise awareness and promote and encourage women working as bartenders. The event is also aimed at empowering and supporting women to pursue a job that still to a fairly large degree is not taken seriously, especially by men in Lebanon.

Ferdinand has a really great way of approaching people, which is unique. The founders do things differently and they are very aware who their customers are and build on those connections to empowers their people. The co-founders suggested inviting their wives to assist behind the bar. This exciting dynamic encouraged other staff members to join-in on the action and I am happy to report that it was a great evening.

In my mind, Women’s Day should not be an annual event, rather an issue that deserves everyone’s attention, especially when it comes to the hospitality industry of which they constitute a major part of. This will not only help in balancing the workforce, but also allow women to feel more comfortable in their element and in turn open doors that previously were not available to them.

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