Cocktail entrepreneur’s staff woes

Michael Butt co-founded Soulshakers with Giles Looker in 2001. He and his fleet of trained cocktail mixologists travel the festival circuit bringing tasty tipples to the mud-drenched masses. It’s a lucrative business with wet margins at 85 per cent, but it has its downsides.

“The biggest nightmare is getting staff to work,” says Butt. “If I take 150 people to a festival, and even one per cent of these fall asleep in a field with their trousers down, that’s a significant loss. At a bar, you can expect each cocktail barman to pull in around £1,500 on a good night. At a festival, they generate £7,000.”

Some festival bars keep their staff in line by scheduling monstrous 15-hour shifts so people are simply too tired to party afterwards. Butt has a softer approach to HR. “Our shifts are eight or nine hours, so our staff only work about 36 hours over a four-day weekend, bringing home around £350 plus tips.”

But beneath the kid gloves, Butt wields an iron fist, “We operate a ‘one strike and you’re out’ rule,” he says. “If one of your barmen thinks, ‘I have to start work in an hour. I know! I’ll drop an E. That’ll make me better with money,’ then they’re an idiot. And idiots are always idiots.”

There are some occasions when it’s not your staff’s fault, however. “There was one festival when someone got into our stores and spiked half my staff with liquid acid,” said Butt. “We had to close the bar. We lost money but I was more worried about my staff’s sanity. It was a total nightmare.”

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