Reviewer attributes and recruitment
Words by The Pinnacle Guide founders
Who our reviewers are going to be is a huge conversation and probably the majority of the emails we've received so far are from people around the world already asking to become one!
Which is great! As a quick recap as to where we are in the process - it's becoming pretty clear that self-nomination will be the first stage for bars who would like to be considered for a PIN. There will then be a screening process to ensure that each bar is meeting the (still work in progress) minimum level of excellence. It is at that point that an anonymous reviewer will go in. And just so we're clear - no - not just one reviewer once... several reviewers several times.
So - just WHO should these reviewers be?
The panellists agreed with each other that of course peer to peer reviewing would lead to informed decisions, but the debate hotted up when adding in the wider drinks industry and then... consumers too.
There's real merit in using people from across the trade, be that bar owners, bar managers, drinks writers, consultants and even brand ambassadors. The panel agreed that the honour of becoming a reviewer should ensure that standards are kept - and a sworn statement against bias of any form was considered enough at this stage. However, The Pinnacle Guide is more than an industry initiative and as such - including "normal" people within this group of reviewers was something that the panel considered could be a real asset to the process.
After all - The Pinnacle Guide is aiming to elevate the industry to more and more discerning drinkers so a blend of people reviewing may give a broader lens to things.
Whoever these people are, they will have to have undergone training to become a reviewer, and then passed a test at the end of that training. Everyone was in firm agreement that the training module will be imperative to good results for the guide as a whole. The joy of the modern world allows this all to be completed online which is one of the main elements that will allow a global expansion plan as quickly as we're aiming.
One point that was raised was that interviewing these people face to face (well - zoom to zoom) would give a much clearer steer to us as organisers as to their suitability. While this sounds like a big undertaking - if it makes the process that much better - then it is certainly time that needs to be factored in. We're here to make this the best it can possibly be and we were in whole-hearted agreement with our panel that this feels like time well spent.
We discussed how long people should remain a reviewer - two years was the majority vote.
We discussed how many bars reviewers should visit - two a month was again a clear majority. Twenty-four bars a year hopefully sounds manageable - and we actually hope pleasurable!
When discussing fees or reimbursement for expenses - it was a more mixed response... While we acknowledge that if you work in the trade there may be expenses that are "claimable" elsewhere - this certainly wouldn't be the case for those outside of the industry.
A point was made in the comments that if we're tasking people with a specific job (rather than choosing your favourite places you've already visited) - then that should be paid work. However, others made the argument that simply having these expenses covered was more than enough. As always - transparency is key to this and so a fair average across markets will just need a watchful eye. Also a fair allocation of venue visits - so the five-star hotel bar with drinks prices to match are evenly split across each team of reviewers.
Retaining anonymity was considered paramount to the success of The Pinnacle Guide and the panel unanimously agreed a "one strike and you're out" policy. This does prompt the question though; where is the benefit for these reviewers if they can't advertise their status within the trade. Community seems to be the solution, and so access to the global network of reviewers was discussed, alongside an alumni - or greater responsibility (and so visibility) once your judging tenure is up.
All in - this was a fascinating chat with some of the very best and most widely travelled in the business. We can't wait to start recruiting...
As always - we're here to put your opinions on record as we shape and formulate The Pinnacle Guide. If you have any feedback to this conversation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll come straight back to you.
Sandrae Lawrence, a lifestyle journalist and editor and one half of The Cocktail Lovers together with her husband Gary Sharpen, a former advertising creative director. Together they share the cocktail love through their eponymous magazine, podcast, website, events and consumer workshops.
The Cocktail Lovers podcast was voted Best Food & Drink Podcast at The Publisher Podcast Awards 2022 and is shortlisted for Best Broadcast, Podcast or Online Video Series at the Tales 2022 Spirited Awards.
As well as writing and publishing The Cocktail Lovers Magazine, their editorial work and expert comment is published in many many media titles and they are regularly asked to judge competitions around the world.
With over 20 years' experience in hospitality, he's held positions at Der Raum in Melbourne and The Tippling Club in Singapore which then led him to open a consultancy business - The Cufflink Club in 2009 tending to clients in Bali, Vietnam and Korea to name but some. In 2012 the physical embodiment of his work was opened in Tales nominated high volume cocktail bar The Cufflink Club.
The bar sold in 2017 to Harry's Bar Group after 5 years and this led on to more venues, Vasco, which sold in 2018 and a restaurant - Cure in Singapore which has just recently retained its Michelin Star status.
Joel moved back to UK in 2018 and founded Seven Tails Distillers - with Arnaud de Trabuc, Banks Rum founder and former Chairman of Hine Cognac. And very delicious it is too...
Leah van Deventer
Leah van Deventer is an award-winning drinks writer, WSET educator and consultant based in Cape Town. She's a regular competition judge and lends her expertise to various industry panels, most notably being an Academy Chair for the World's 50 Best Bars and committee member for the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards.