An Interview with Peppermint Bars

If the body is a temple, then the average festival-goer must have a borderline pathological penchant for desecration. Whether you treat festivals like the modern equivalents of Sodom and/or Gomorrah or just like to chill out on the grass with a cider, Peppermint Bars can satiate that thirst via its plethora of unique bars. Founded in 2003, Peppermint Bars has grown to become one of the two largest mobile bar operators in the UK – a one-stop shop for bars and catering services of all shapes and sizes. Its innovative approach to staff is mirrored by one of its collaboraters – the cashless payment app creators iZettle – whom Festival Insights interviewed last week.

Festival Insights checked out Matua’s space at Bestival – conceptualised, designed, and constructed by Peppermint – and caught up with Peppermint Founder & Director Adam Hempenstall afterwards to discuss how that partnership came to be, whether all of their bastions of beer are brand-based, and how the industry has changed in the last decade.

Festival Insights: The Matua area at Bestival was beautiful. How did the partnership between the two of you arise?

Adam Hempenstall: Matua approached us with a desire to get into the festival industry, and so we brought their brand to Bestival, Camp Bestival, and Love Supreme Jazz Festival. Their spaces there were designed and constructed from the ground-up by Peppermint, and we also came up with the idea for the Matua Sessions. We’ll be introducing Matua to more festivals next year hopefully.

FI: So is a lot of Peppermint’s work brand-centric?

AH: From our point of view that’s just a small part of our business. Matua was a brand-led endeavour, but the mainstay of our business is operating large volume bars at the UK’s biggest music festivals. We do upwards of 30 – 35 shows every summer, from the Isle of Wight all the way up to Scotland. In fact we ran all of the official bars for the Commonwealth Games for two months, and worked with DF Concerts up there for the Glasgow Summer Sessions.

FI: What is the creative dynamic like between Peppermint and its clients? Are you usually granted a lot of autonomy when it comes to determining the aesthetic of the spaces you construct?

AH: A lot of the time we’re granted a lot of creative freedom. Sometimes brands will approach us with a very specific brief in mind, sometimes we’ll have to sit down with our clients to discuss what’s going to work for them, and other times companies will simply approach us and ask us to help them get onto the festival circuit. We had that latter conversation with Aspall Cyder about six or seven years ago when they were still a small, family-run business. They wanted to get their products into supermarkets, and thought that the festival industry would be a good avenue to take in order to achieve that goal. We helped them put together the Aspall’s bar and now you see them in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, all over the place.

We enjoy working with niche brands too, or maybe those who have a huge presence abroad but currently lack a strong foothold in the UK, like Aperol for example. We operated the Aperol Spritz bar at Bestival, as well as the other 22 bars there. Bestival is probably the most complex bar operation in the UK, since others either have very simple mass bars or they split management duties between a multiplicity of different bar operators. We took nearly 1500 staff over to the Isle of Wight for it, upwards of 25 arctic lorries and 10 road going tankers. We were onsite for around a month; it was a huge undertaking.

Peppermint and iZettle have worked together on numerous UK festivals.
Peppermint and iZettle have worked together on numerous UK festivals.

FI: A lot has changed since Peppermint’s inception. Would you say there has been a paradigm shift in the festival industry within the last decade?

AH: Yeah, a lot has happened over the last decade in both the music and festival industries, and obviously they’re intertwined. I think one of the reasons festivals have grown so exponentially is that record sales have concurrently fallen through. Musicians make most of their money through touring and merchandise now.

At the same time, there’s been a push within the festival industry to provide more non-musical elements – whether it’s in the form of eateries, bars, or types of entertainment. If you asked people ten years ago what percentage of their experience was dependent on the bands it’d probably be around 90%, where as now it feels like a 50/50 split between the music and everything else. Boutique festivals aren’t exactly mainstream, but there’s more of a demand now for things like gourmet food, craft beer, bespoke installations, and unique experiences.

FI: I read on your website that you were the one responsible for growing Peppermint’s workforce from under 10 to over 10,000 active members. Are there any particularly unique initiatives you’ve taken to entice and retain so many employees?

AH: We handle all of our recruitment in-house, the reason being that we can offer our employees numerous career progression opportunities. You can start out with us serving behind the bar on a voluntary basis, and within two years you could be working in Senior Management. That kind of thing doesn’t happen with agencies.

It’s been our ethos from the start to promote internally, and as a result we have a hugely loyal workforce. Some of our employees are on their eighth season with us, and they’re only working for maybe three or four months of the year. To have that level of staff retention with such a seasonal job is quite amazing. We strongly believe that if you invest time and effort into people they will reward you ten times over. We make sure they’re comfortable and well fed and even host a staff party at the end of the season so that we can celebrate our achievements together with our own silly award ceremony.

FI: What are Peppermint’s plans for the 2015 festival circuit?

AH: We expect to be working with the likes of British Summer Time, Bestival, Secret Garden Party, and Boomtown Festival. We’re pitching for a number of high profile events for next year too. We’re excited to work with smaller boutique events too because that creative, left-field stuff is what we really enjoy doing. Building bars in trees or in the middle of lakes is always a fun challenge.