Comhnall Ferguson – General Manager at The Blackbird

Boasting one of the best beer gardens in Edinburgh, The Blackbird is a sunny oasis to the Tollcross locals. Meet the man now running the show, Comhnall Ferguson.

Although missed in the formal interview, Comhnall is soon to be expecting his first child with fiancé Daisy to go along with their puppa Loki.

Meet Loki,

Background

In Dundee, I worked in about six or seven different places to get experience before I started my first management gig. I was at university studying my fourth year in law at the same time I was doing this first managers job - then finished my degree and thought I never want to do law again in my life.

It was as soon as I finished uni that I decided that I didn’t want to do that, I want to work in bars.

Social Interactions

That’s something hospitality really helped me with - I was never socially competent but then you find yourself speaking to 100 people every day. Though sometimes on a weekend it’s kinda nice to just not to not speak to anyone in a whole day as well.

Owners at The Blackbird

Colin (Church) and Martin (Luney), they spent their whole lives as managers with the Montpellier group. Both were General Managers for the company and one day they just jumped round and said, “Well this has been great but the two of us can do it better.” So they teamed up and opened a bar/restaurant down in Stockbridge called Hamiltons about 11 years ago - that took off like a hit.

Edinburgh as a city

People are relying less on the tourism and the heritage of the city and trying to do things that are quirkier - things that are just a bit more fun. The whole tourism aspect of things is changing, the Old City thing is going to the back and with the Fringe festival comes everything else with music and arts, the whole kind of culture side of the city instead.

Food and Drink in Scotland

Edinburgh has always been the flagship in Scotland in terms of cities for food and drink. I think from  2000 - 2010 it went through a rapid growth in the industry but I think it’s now slowed. Everyone in the industry is constantly looking out for new bars and things and I rarely see a place that opens up here now that catches your eye. So I think it’s hit a bit of a stall. Especially with Aberdeen, Dundee, Stirling - I think theres so much going on in Scotland outside of Edinburgh now that something needs to happen here.

Is product important?

My person opinion is that it’s not important. Here’s a good way to put it; it’s extremely important if you know what you’re talking about - if you know this industry back to front. If you know a niche in spirits or certain beers - obviously its very important to you because it’s a vested interest.
For someone who works in this industry I think it’s very important, that goes without saying but I think for the customer who doesn’t really know an IPA from a lager I don’t think it matters. You still get a lot of people who just want to go for a pint and not speak to anybody.

What is then?

I say if it’s kind of divided up, the product you’re getting it makes up about 5% of the experience. Price you’re paying for it probably makes up another 5%, and then I think the next bit is just customer service and atmosphere.

A pint of Innis and Gunn can taste 100x better if its served properly with the right music, the right temperature and the right lighting. It makes all the difference.

The first thing I look at when I walk into a bar is lighting, the music that’s playing and the way the venue is laid out. It’s just an experience thing. Atmosphere and customer service, undoubtedly.

Customer Service

I think even if you look from bar to bar, too many people nowadays are too obsessed over hipster beers and what’s popular in beers nowadays - but you could get that one beer in ten other bars in Edinburgh and it might even be cheaper.
Certainly here and a couple of places I’ve worked; our focus before anything, before absolutely anything the customer comes first. If you don’t have a steak and the customer wants a steak, go out and find them a steak.

Micro-chains in Edinburgh

I think that’s the perfect balance for me; grow enough of the business so you have two or three venues and not so far that you lose control, that you can’t be hands on with a venue. But I think, it’s a bit of a catch 22 because places as they grow they will undoubtedly lose that homeliness and customer appreciation. It’s a near impossible balance to get to be commercialising your business and remaining customer appreciative at the same time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *