They’re one of the fastest growing companies in the UK. They’re synonymous with the hospitality industry, and seem to win awards in almost every field imaginable. If there’s an award to be won: Living Ventures or their Co-Founder Tim Bacon have won it. You’ll struggle to walk around Manchester and not find a venue that LV either own, or have owned in the past.
There seems to be so much love in and around the media and business world for such a successful and innovative company. Why then, is it practically impossible to shake off the feeling that almost everyone that isn’t LV: whole heartedly dislikes the company and everything they stand for?
The easy answer is to instantly spurt out the phrase: “they’re just jealous,” it’s ok if that’s your answer. I don’t think it’s enough though. I get that success is enviable. I understand that people will always covet what you have, and Living Ventures certainly have an extremely large amount of things to covet, is it possible that almost every single person is just jealous of their success?
It’s a possibility, but it’s one that I don’t think is ultimately true. There will always be people that are just plain and simply envious of the success, but the heart of the problem could lie within the company itself.
First and foremost: Living Ventures trained me. They’re the ones that gave me my first insight into the industry, and I have no doubt in the world that I would never have gotten my foot in the door of hospitality if it wasn’t for the training and opportunity they provided me with. It would be a complete disservice to the company to not mention the inexplicably amazing training they offer and provide. They invest a lot of money and time into new recruits, and most of the time it does show.
I bought into the thought process and views that the company practices. I can still tell you the five minute long company ethos off the top of my head despite leaving over two years ago. I still get annoyed when I see beachballs and I can never properly listen to The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” again without trying to offer someone a refill.
I’m not the only person who had bought into LV. It’s pretty much a rule that you’re never more than 15 metres away from someone who has been trained by Living Ventures. Why, if people get offered this great training and a fantastic chance to work for what The Times awarded “9th Best Company to Work for” in 2013, why then are there so many ex-LV employees littering the bars and restaurants of Greater Manchester with nothing but a tale of heartbreak and disdain from their time with Living Ventures?
If we start from the moment the training ends, we might be able to get a better grasp of the situation. All LV employees are picked and trained to be the friendliest and most helpful faces that could ever have possibly existed, and why not? Everyone wants their hospitality team to be hospitable and friendly. That stirs up some issues for people. The fact that people are trained to be friendly. I mean, training someone to be friendly? It isn’t exactly something you can put on a CV: “I was trained to be friendly” it might be an ok thing, but for some people it brings up the issue of robotic service and a lack of empathy and personality.
Knowledge is also a valuable thing, and is most definitely something that can be taught. However, LV seem to only train the knowledge needed to succeed in their particular venue and to their particular menu. I’ve brought up the issue of people needing to take it upon themselves to broaden their own horizons in a previous post, so I have to admit that it cannot sit solely on the shoulders of LV.
Another issue that some people bring up, is the “LV Specs.” Living Ventures have an extensive collection of cocktails at every single one of their venues, perhaps with the exception of The Oasthouse. It’s not these specs that people have any gripes with, it’s the infamous “Top 100” list that is pretty much company universal. It’s supposed to be a collection of 100 classic cocktails that every bartender will and probably should know how to make, the only issue is that they seem to be predominantly written with Gross Profit at the forefront of thinking, and only actually serve as a base template for an original classic, with further research needed to actually make some of the drinks the way they were supposed to be made.
Some people will often joke that LV trained bartenders only ever know the “classic LV cocktails” and not the actual way in which a cocktail should be made, I’ll partially agree because when I left, I had to learn a lot more about the drinks that I thought I already knew how to make.
I’ve mentioned before that a lot of people have the opinion that Living Ventures have had a huge part in the perceived drop in good quality bartenders with a passion for the job*. It does seem as if bartenders are only trained to a standard that is beneficial to the every day procedure of their venue, and not a standard that would be beneficial anywhere else. I.e: If a bartender was to be working in a bar in the NQ and was offered a job in another bar in the NQ, they would slot straight in and require no changing. Some people are of the opinion (myself included) that ex-LV bartenders do not have this luxury, and require different training. That’s a different argument, but one that does still incite resentment.
*Edit: A previous version of this article did not fully explain the issue of sole venue bartenders and was confusing. It also failed to incorporate that it is opinion and not fact. It has since been amended.
Do not get me wrong, Living Ventures is home to some highly skilled members of staff, and has been in the past, but a few good grapes doesn’t make a vineyard.
Then there’s the tipping procedure that is well documented throughout the company. Specific tipping procedures can vary depending on venue, but one thing that doesn’t wholly seem to change (with the exception of Manchester House, which is a law unto itself) is the concept that 50% of ALL card tips go directly into the company’s pocket, with a lot of places then giving 10% to the bartenders on shift (don’t even get me started on how little tips some bartenders in some venues can make…that’s not an issue with LV specifically.)
The official word is that the tips are shared out equally amongst the team that helped make your visit extra special. I can’t say exactly where and how the money gets spread out, I’m merely speculating, but my guess is that it goes towards buying fake palm trees for their annual celebration of their higher level staff.
No-one ever gets into hospitality for the amazing rates of pay, but, sometimes you expect your pay to maybe go up just a little bit over time? LV are well known to only offer pay rises to employees that pass certain expected criteria. For example: As a bartender, I was on £6.50 an hour for two years and was told to only be expectant of a 50p an hour pay rise if I correctly learned at least 90 of the top 100 cocktails by memory, and literally nothing else would deem me worthy of that extra 50p.
I wasn’t a model employee, not everything I did was deserving of a pay rise. I’m not being delusional here. I had my moments when I probably didn’t even deserve to keep my job, I’m not on trial here.
However, this is certainly a reason that some people have an issue with the company, people do need to show that they are deserving of being paid more, but, when a wage doesn’t increase at all, when it doesn’t account for inflation or loyalty or an increase in skills, it can sometimes be hard to keep the faith.
I’m purely using my own experience as a reference point, I’m in no way bitter towards the company…promise.
Without trying to just rip LV a new arsehole and with actually trying to be objective, as I previously mentioned: their training is out of this world. It’s honestly the best in the business and cannot be rivalled. They open a door for people in the industry and give them the necessities to survive in the world of service and all things hospitable. They annually put on company wide staff parties which are seriously THE most fun you can have with your clothes half on. The LV Cup (or Clifford Hill Cup) is another annual event that is as fun as it is full of free booze and food.
Their management training programme is also a thing of legend. Within LV it takes approximately a month or even more to train up an entry level Duty Manager. It’s intense, I’ve witnessed it. A week on the bar, a week as a server, a week in the kitchen and numerous weeks as an actual manager in training. It’s something to behold and again, signals a huge investment from the company.
They pay for some employees to take part in WSET courses designed to further advance their knowledge in Wine. Every October, Blackhouse restaurants support BreastCancer Care for breast cancer awareness month. Every christmas their venues collect donations for annually chosen charities. They hold numerous benefits for charity. Living Ventures does its part to be a force for good in some parts of society. They’re not all objectively bad.
LV do the right things in the public light, their concepts are brilliant, their menus please almost every tastebud, their staff are trained to a high standard, they tick all the correct boxes in helping the community, yet there will always be that issue of dislike and disdain that stems from the knowledge of the inside workings of a company that is so large and well known.
There are issues with almost every company. Living Ventures just have the misfortune of being at the size now where theirs are better documented and well known. It’s not an issue of jealousy: it’s making an example out of one of the bigger bullies on the playground.
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