Mixing It Up: Anna Sebastian, Head of Brand, Served® Drinks
Kicking off our autumn series of F&Be interviews, we are excited to feature Anna Sebastian. Over the past 15 years, Anna has worked her way up from handing out flyers and hosting club nights to managing the bars at some of London’s most established and esteemed hotels. Now, as Head of Brand for Served® Hard Seltzer she is taking her expertise, marketing savvy, and cocktail skills beyond the bar, while also giving back to some of the communities hurt most by the pandemic.
Hi Anna! Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from?
Well, firstly, thanks so much for having me here! I am currently in a new role as Head of Brand for Served® Drinks, a hard seltzer owned by Ellie Goulding! I’m from London, specifically south London.
We find it so inspiring to see the path of a person’s career, but it helps to start at the beginning. What was your first job?
My first job in hospitality was handing out flyers in Leicester Square for a bar that no one wanted to go to. After that, I worked in a lot of bars and clubs at night, whilst working in PR during the day before landing a job at The Savoy in 2010 for the reopening.
What steps have you taken in your career that brought you to where you are right now?
My career has been so varied from military training, working in nightclubs and independent bars, public relations, F&B operations in 5-star hotels, and now branding. I still draw on the experiences that I had 15 years ago and use them today. Everything feels interlinked, which is why the connections you make stay with you for life. As clichéd as it sounds, you just never know who the person you meet today will be to you in the future.
You were bar manager at The Langham until recently, and before that the Beaufort Bar at The Savoy, but it looks like you got your start in marketing and PR. How did you make that shift from marketing to management at such iconic bars?
Operations had always been part of who I was. I always loved the buzz and the feeling you got when you walked into the room and everything was perfectly linked together—from the lighting to the music to the table and chair configuration. PR and Marketing gave me an amazing perspective and I was lucky to be taken on by Anne Kapranos [of Kapranos Public Relations], who taught me so much about the industry and how to make something commercially successful. I made the full-time move into operations when I realized that I didn’t want to own my own PR company and had gotten as far as I wanted to go. I saw that The Savoy hotel was reopening and thought it was a great opportunity, despite not really understanding the importance of The Savoy at the time.
You are currently head of brand for Served® Drinks, a new hard seltzer company. First, I must confess, what is hard seltzer and how is this different from, say, vodka and soda (or any other spirit)?
So, hard seltzer is one of the largest growing drinks trends of the last 10 years. Essentially, it is alcoholic sparkling water flavoured with fruit. It is already worth £4 billion in the US and set to be worth £600 million in the UK by 2025. The thing that sets Served® apart from a lot of other hard seltzers is that we lead with a sustainable foot. We use wonky fruit that otherwise would have been chucked away and extract the flavour by infusing it into Served® Pure (a quadruple distilled neutral grain spirit) and also sparkling water. We also give 5% of our profits back to environmental causes while partnering with some great brands and hospitality venues to drive forward our mission about being more sustainable in what can be a very unsustainable environment.
How did you get involved with the company?
I’ve actually known the co-founders since I was 20 years old, when I used to work in nightclubs and they used to be regulars. We had lost touch but connected again when they approached me at The Langham to create a cocktail together. I really loved the brand. I know how hard it is for small brands to have a voice and platform, so I wanted to work with them. During the lockdown, I did a bit of freelance work with them, so it felt like a natural and exciting move.
What is your specific role as “Head of Brand”?
My role is so varied—as a start-up, we are all doing a bit of everything. It could be anything from organizing photoshoots, drinks content, sales for the on-trade events, collaborations, and overall brand positioning. As we grow, the team we will be developing the culture internally, which is really exciting.
Well, looking at your photos on Instagram…the food, the drinks, the venues… it’s hard not to want to hit the town. You are like a one-woman revitalization programme for the London hospitality sector. Do you ever sleep?
Ahh, well, I do enjoy going out and visiting new places—I like to call it market research! I think it is so important to know the industry that you are in, inside-out, plus it is really inspiring to see what other people are doing as well! When it comes to sleep – I do, of course, I just don’t need a lot of it!
The past year has obviously been really challenging for everyone in the hospitality industry. I also know from your Instagram and a recent editorial in The Caterer that you have been involved with the charity Under One Sky, which was been helping feed the homeless during the pandemic, are you still involved?
I am still very much involved and was really grateful for the experience during lockdown.
How did this come about?
At the beginning of lockdown, I was actively looking for something to do and just put it out to the universe. As with a lot of things, when you do that, usually something comes your way… and it did. It was very humbling and eye-opening to see how desolate things were during the pandemic. When everyone was asked to stay at home, there were some people that didn’t have a home to go to. I met so many people from the hospitality industry that had fallen through the system and had been made homeless as a result of being made redundant or not earning enough furlough to survive or pay rent on their house.
What are you hoping to help change in the hospitality industry for women over the next year, 5 years, 10 years?
I think it’s important to make the industry more sustainable and a safer place for women, especially when travelling home late at night. But I also think it is about representation, especially in higher management positions, so we get to a point where people don’t get asked “how does it feel to be a woman in hospitality?”!
When creating a new seasonal drink menu (or trying to come up with new ideas and uses for Served drinks) what are some of the steps you take? Do you prioritise seasonal ingredients, trends, or liquors?
Seasonality is great as it means we can use products that are readily available to us without having to import things from across the world. There are always exceptions of course but having these restraints means we are forced into being as creative as possible within the environment and season. I also think it is about knowing who you are making or creating this drink for. It is easy to make a drink for yourself, but it is about knowing who the consumer is and making it accessible for them.
Do you have a signature/favourite cocktail to make? Do you have a favourite cocktail to drink?
Hard question!! I love vodka martinis and also margaritas (on the rocks) to drink. Making drinks, I love using wine in cocktails as it creates a really delicate and interesting flavour profile– something like the Corpse Reviver No1 is a great drink. (*see recipe below)
What do you think is the next big trend for cocktails?
I think it is all going to link back to provenance, producers, and where the ingredients have come from. There is a big call for transparency at the moment and the need for alcohol brands to be open—about where everything is from as well as how they treat their staff—is really important.
Reflecting on your career on both sides of the (literal) bar, what are some key skills or traits that would help women interested in entering the industry?
I think that being adaptable is one of the most important things—being open to change and development. The landscape can change pretty quickly and we need to be able to make things happen at short notice. Also, it’s important to know your values and what your mission in life is—it is really easy to attach yourself to a place, but you will never be able to reach your ultimate goal by doing this as it will stop you from growing.
What are your top 3 service tips for dealing with high-end clientele at a world-class hotel bar?
Firstly, to have an impact on anyone, you need to know what they value. When you know what is important to them, you can tailor the experience to them.
Empathy – understand what that they want, but also what they need.
Finally – find some comfortable shoes to wear!
Other than Served® hard seltzers, what are your top 3 can’t-live-without items in your personal liquor cabinet?
Ruinart Blanc du Blanc Champagne
Grey Goose Vodka