A chat with bartender Tom Egerton of Potato Head.
Already at the age of twelve, inspired by his older brother practising flairing with a Malibu bottle in their backyard, Tom knew what he wanted to become. 17 years later they’re still both in the trade of bartending. Unfortunately neither of them ever became very good at flairing.
“After food waste, carbon footprint and plastic became part of the conversation in the bar industry. We reviewed how much waste our (relatively small) bar was producing during service and worked out the immense carbon footprint we were creating every night. Since then I’ve moved on to larger venues, but the idea of shrinking green circles, minimising waste and being aware of our place in the carbon economy has become a driving force in how I work as an operator”.
Tom works for Potato Head an Indonesian hospitality and lifestyle company. He’s based in Hong Kong but does support and development across their outlets in Singapore and Indonesia. Currently he’s at their mammoth beach club in Bali. Where they have scaled up an environmentally conscious and sustainable drinks program for a venue that can serve 4000 drinks a day. To re-thinking every step to become more sustainable seems like a tremendous amount of work and falling back to old habits sounds easy. This made us wondered; what keeps him motivated?
“Seeing the hard work and innovation people in the bar industry all around the world are putting in to their bar programs and being more environmentally and socially conscious in their operations inspires me to live by the motto ‘drink good = do good’. We work to minimise the carbon footprint of our produce and spirits, to buy local, recycle and repurpose food waste and ensure we have an understanding of where our waste goes after it leaves our venue. In our largest venue, Potato Head Beach Club in Bali, 98% of the organic waste goes to free range pig farms where it is used as feed, so the nutrients go back into the carbon cycle instead of being lost to landfill”.
What’s the biggest challenge?
“Packaging and perception. For packaging, up to 50% of the weight shipped of a product is left in the empty glass bottle once the spirit is gone. On average only a portion of recycled glass can be reclaimed, so a lot of the carbon footprint of any alcohol product comes from what is essentially window dressing. How do we maintain brand identity in the future and reduce weight and material that needs to be recycled?”
“We live under the perception that something from the other side of the world is inherently better than something produced locally – outside of appellation control, why can’t you produce something on par or of higher quality locally to replace something shipped in order to reduce carbon footprint?”
When we ask him about some easy hacks to inspire others he continues “Try and get an understanding of where you are in your carbon cycle – where does your produce come from and where does your waste go? How much is recycled? Is there a local urban garden you can contribute green waste to for compost? Removing straws and reducing plastic is a great first step, but what comes next? One of the best current examples of understanding where a bar exists in a green cycle is ‘This Must Be the Place’ is Sydney; their current menu concept is ‘This Must Be the End’, based around the concept of bunker bartending – aka how would you make drinks if our current agricultural model and food preservation ability failed us? How can you balance drinks without year long access to citrus? How do you sweeten without processed sugars? It’s a great thought process to investigate what grows within travelling distance of your venue and how that relates to your drink program.”
Tom leaves us with one last piece of advice he wished someone would have told him when he was in his 20’s that really sums it up well. Working sustainable also includes working sustainable with a bars most important asset, the bartender. “If it feels like an injury, it probably is. Don’t shrug it off and stubbornly work through the pain – go to a doctor or physio before you do yourself lasting damage. Torn muscles, dislocated fingers and broken bones in the hand might be a bravado-filled story at the time, but you’ll feel those old injuries ache for the rest of your days. If you want to be a bartender for life, you’ve got to look after yourself.”
Want to know more? Watch this video about The Green Hustle.