CEO Adam Halberg has strong opinions about what Barcelona Wine Bar is and is not. The tapas bar brand is an experience made possible by empowering employees to customize every moment. Across the country, Barcelona’s approximately 20 tapas bars offer personal and personalized heaven for diners. So when Halberg was forced to focus on to-go on due to the coronavirus pandemic, he wanted to bring the company’s ethos into his diners’ homes.
Typically, said Halberg, his restaurants are able to create those one-of-a-kind experiences because he trusts his employees. Every restaurant has a slightly different menu spearheaded by the chef and based on what the local community is craving. Every manager has regulars they know by name who come in with requests — whether that's making an off-the-menu dish or creating a unique event. His staff comes up with creative solutions; this is their DNA, said Halberg.
To-go offerings were not part of Barcelona’s DNA before the coronavirus epidemic swept the country. Previously Barcelona would offer to-go for patrons who requested it; it’s part of giving diners the experience they want, but it wasn't a focus. The restaurants didn’t advertise off-premise, nor were they listed on any third-party delivery service, like Grubhub or DoorDash. The pandemic changed Halberg's focus, but not his approach.
“We had to take a look at the menu and ask, ‘what do we believe our guests will want at a time like this?’ What did we believe that a smaller team could execute at a really high level?” he said. The menu was “argued and edited, and what the restaurants have right now is a basic template,” not a decree, Halberg emphasizes.
“Just as always, the individual people running the restaurants, they’re the ones that are talking to our guests; they are the ones taking our orders,” he said. And they are now the ones adding dishes based on customer requests. There are bottled cocktails, where newly allowed, and simple dishes sought by parents of picky eaters. Managers are walking patrons through the 400-plus-bottle wine list and writing handwritten tasting notes to customers. Managers have brought meals to local hospitals to serve medical workers. In Barcelona's Charlotte location, employees helped organize food and drinks for an impromptu wedding celebration after the original event was canceled due to calls for social distancing.
“These are decisions that come from the quality of the people we have at the restaurants,” said Halberg. “This is not a corporate decree on how we do business.”
It’s not just Halberg's employees who are impressing him in this time of change and uncertainty.
“It’s really been heartening to see how not just our employees and our guests have interacted but the way that our partners, our landlords have come together to find creative solutions,” he said. For example, Barcelona is working with Wine.com on virtual wine classes.
“Some of these relationships that we’re starting to form with other companies might outlive the current crisis,” Halberg said.
Some things will not outlive the current crisis, though. Halberg doesn’t see Barcelona Wine Bar focusing on to-go after concerns over coronavirus have subsided.
“When this is over, people will still want to go out and meet old friends in person. People will always want to go out and fall in love with new friends in person. And our business is giving them a physical place to do that.” he said. “Our role remains being a hub of real personal interactions. I don't think you shake that piece of our DNA.”
For our most up-to-date coverage, visit the coronavirus homepage.
Contact Gloria Dawson at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @GloriaDawson