If you’ve ever served during the after-work happy hour rush, then you know bartending is more of an art than a science. While you do need a vast knowledge of cocktail recipes, the ability to do quick mental math and an understanding of how to triage and work efficiently, the real difference between mediocre and top notch bartenders is defined by soft skills: personality, empathy and downright charm.
Going from bartender to bar manager doesn’t require a new skill set, just that you top up your existing repertoire. Whether you’re new to bar management or you’ve got a few seasons under the belt, here are some quintessential tips to help you make the most of your position and continue to excel.
Maintain Your Professionalism
Dynamics among bar staff are typically fluid and casual, but as a bar manager you’ll want to establish and maintain strict boundaries. Respect from your bar staff should be both earned and commanded:
Avoid gossiping with your staff and discourage it when you hear it.
Be approachable, but keep a level of professional distance. If the staff is talking about their latest bender or an annoying customer, it’s probably best to avoid adding to the conversation.
Above all, be friendly and trustworthy. You’ll find it easier to deal with conflict or enforce rules when necessary if there is a more professional relationship, but your employees are still colleagues!
Professionalism is crucial to being a leader. You want to create a healthy working relationship but not one that could cloud your judgement or detract from your authority.
Manage the Books and the Bar
Being a bar manager means spending more time at a desk than you used to. Schedules need to be made, books need to be maintained, menus need to be updated—all the behind the scenes work that makes a bar tick. But when you aren’t tending to those pressing matters, it’s a good idea to be visible behind the bar. Lending your hand in cutting limes or clearing glasses isn’t just helpful, but means you can keep a pulse on the bar or front of the house. This presence in back and front of the house helps you:
Better understand how to manage your staff.
Discover pain points of service (and think of new solutions).
Earn the respect of your staff while encouraging the same work ethic.
Being the boss means you work harder than everyone, not that you work less.
Continue Your Education
As a bar manager, you are basically a business owner: you run operations, manage staff, handle product offerings, oversee stock and update accounts/books. These tasks can be overwhelming and may require some additional training. If you are serious about your career and running an effective and efficient bar, you may consider taking a business or accounting course (or both), especially if you are new to the business side of things. These classes can give you the tools you need not only to maintain bar operations, but improve them:
Gain an understanding of the macroeconomics that impact every business.
Learn basic marketing techniques like social media management and building a brand presence.
Discover ways to better manage staff and increase productivity.
Continuing your education may seem like a daunting task, but a simple 6-12 week course taken online will give you a bona fide edge and increase your confidence. It is also sure to be noticed and appreciated by your superiors, especially when they can see the improvements in the bar’s bottom line.
Help Your Staff Grow
Spread that knowledge around! A surefire way to increase staff satisfaction, build your team dynamics and help your staff become better at sales is to focus on their continued education. Decide on a regular cadence for these educational endeavors: maybe hold weekly meetings for general housekeeping and minor updates, like a new menu item, and then hold quarterly meetings so staff can conduct tastings and learn more about the product they sell.
Invite brand reps to bar tastings so your staff can learn from experts.
Visit other establishments as a group and discuss what you do and don’t like about another bar, and how you can use that info to improve your own.
Make educational meetings interactive and fun by providing food and/or swag for your employees.
These meetings can also be a good time to give your staff some info on how the bar is doing overall—including what areas need improvement—and allow you to recognize staff for their efforts. Bumping the whole team’s bar and service education means you’ll have a staff that is more knowledgeable and emotionally invested in the bar’s success.
Own the Bar
The main difference between a bartender and a bar owner is a founder’s mentality. As a manager, you want to be cognizant of your professionalism, how you interact with staff/colleagues and ensure you establish and sustain appropriate boundaries. Treat every aspect of the business as if it were your own and roll up your sleeves to pitch in when help is needed at the bar, no matter the task. The founder’s mentality is also one that recognizes the need to continually learn and create opportunities for staff to learn as well. Bar managers are the leaders of their establishment and can make or break a bar’s success depending on how they carry themselves in the position.
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