As the drinks flow and everyone seem to be having a blast, it is easy to forget that the show requires a team effort. It also requires many people with different personalities to work together in an environment that is likely to be adrenaline-fueled (and alcohol-influenced).
How can bar managers manage this level of pressure and keep everyone happy? How can they prevent the entire thing from exploding if a shift gets too hot? To find out the best ways to ensure a happy, healthy, and collaborative workplace culture, we spoke to four managers who oversee over 40 employees.
1. Give the tools your bartenders need
Eric Lincoln, General Manager, Employees Only New York City: “To keep them satisfied, you need a place to meet all their needs. These needs may vary from one night to the next, bar to bar, and team to team. They could include specific glassware, basic tools for bar, refrigeration, clean uniforms (our bar team wears bar jackets), lighting, POS system, etc. A workspace that isn’t working properly can ruin a staff member’s spirit more than a broken computer. I want them to feel comfortable walking in, not worrying about anything but having a great time and drinking great drinks.
2. Set clear expectations, but be open to receiving feedback
Mike Shain, General Manager, Porchlight New York City: “The moment that you shut yourself down is the moment when you lose trust in your team and they won’t follow you.” Although we have very clear expectations, feedback is always welcomed. Although I confess that I do not have all the answers, it is important to get feedback. This creates trust and a positive team environment that makes everyone feel great about their workplace.
Brad Smith, Latitude 29 New Orleans Bar Manager: “We have created an exceptional staff through clear expectation. We also provide training. The pre-emptive strike reigns supreme when it comes to dealing with challenges.
3. Take care of changes
Mike Shain: “We are very fortunate to have a solid, professional team behind our bar. There have been times when I had problems with bartenders in the past. These issues usually revolve around changes, which can be difficult to manage when many are at work. This is true for any career. It is crucial to implement changes correctly. Everyone must know about new cocktails well in advance. We start with the bar staff and brainstorm new ideas before deciding which ones will make it onto the menu. We then tell the rest of our team about them, so they don’t get caught by surprise when the menu changes happen. While change can be great if handled correctly, it can also be dangerous and difficult to clean up.
4. Create an outlet for creative freedom
Mike Shain: “I believe that the best way to keep our bar staff happy is to get them involved.” We are fortunate to have a talented team. Many of them are also creative outside of Porchlight. They are artists, writers, performers and musicians. Bartending is another outlet for their creativity. They can have creative freedom while they are here, which gives them the opportunity to be involved and gives them ownership of the program and allows them to showcase their talents. Two happy hour cocktails are offered, which change each day. They are up to the lunch bartenders to create them. They are always a big hit, and we have yet to make another one.
Michael Neff, Holiday Cocktail Lounge’s Beverage Director: “I strive to give what I wanted as a bartender, which is creative freedom and autonomy. When someone walks into the bar, they don’t have to say, “Michael Neff makes great drinks.” I want them to say that the bartender who served them great cocktails. Instead of imposing many policies about how we do our job, our staff is all professionals. We generally start with “Be great bartender,” then define what it means and then go back to the basics.
5. Remember, everyone has a bad day — even management
Michael Neff: “Bar groups are made up of people, and people don’t always get along. They can be fragile, both emotionally and physically. They can have bad days and make poor choices. We try to be compassionate to their personal and professional lives while still maintaining a high level of professionalism.
As leaders, we are more susceptible to the same pitfalls. However, our mistakes are magnified because they are sometimes unchecked and can hurt the whole team. Although honesty is the best way of dealing with these issues, it cannot be easy. It’s something that I try to do every day, with different degrees of success.
6. Keep it “Tight, Light and Simple.”
Brad Smith: “The bartending work at Latitude 29 can be the most difficult you’ll find. Each cocktail is an uphill task that requires precision and speed. If we don’t keep things lighthearted, this can make it very intense.
7. Do not forget where you came from
Brad Smith: “Be curious, knowledgeable and humble. Be clear. Keep in mind that the reality of a bar is not as simple as putting booze into a cup. Hospitality is the key. This environment fosters healthy, happy collaboration.
Michael Neff: “Remember who you were in your early career, and strive to be the manager you wish you had.”
8. Respect each other
Eric Lincoln: “We’re a family.” This is a clichéd statement, but it is true. Family members will have different opinions and personalities. This helps to keep the tensions from spiraling out of control and allows for mutual respect. Our family has many cultures, and everyone benefits from the other’s experiences and creates bonds.
9. And if All Else Fails…
Eric Lincoln: “Staff drinks. Respect must be shown at all levels, in all seriousness. Each person must appreciate the contributions of the other.