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Bar-Specific Training

Modern restaurants have embraced staff training programs as an essential tool of the trade. Ongoing front-of-the-house training can improve sales, smooth service, and raise morale. But opinions vary on the effectiveness of including bar staff in mandatory trainings. Bar schedules pose logistical challenges, and few managers find the performance benefits to be as pronounced among bar staff.
Stiff resistance from bartenders has an influence as well, as trusted senior staff plead years of experience or long hours as rationales for skipping “basic training.” The truth is they have a point. Training sessions designed for servers are not as effective for bartenders; however, that’s not a reason to let bartenders off the hook. Rather, it’s a solid rationale for implementing bar-specific staff training.

 

Punching Up Performance

Bartender performance and customer service can improve dramatically with training tailored to the bar. Providing expert-level beverage knowledge raises morale and sales. Practicing hands-on skills boosts self-confidence and efficiency. Coaching on bar-specific service issues can avoid common glitches and build a loyal clientele. Best of all, regular bar-staff training asserts management authority over that semiautonomous fiefdom that is the bar—without a doubt, the most important real estate in the front of the house. And if the bar is not working for you, it’s working against you.
Success or failure depends on bar staff as they greet guests, make drinks, take cash, and stock spirits. When bartenders are team players, every aspect of the operation benefits, from costs to customer service. But carelessness behind the bar can sap the lifeblood of a restaurant. Bartenders out for themselves can even jeopardize the business—actively, by subverting systems for gain, or passively, by abusing their power. Dedicated bar training is most welcomed by bartenders who see their success as tied to yours but is scorned by those with baser motives.
Traditionally, bar management has emphasized scrutiny over leadership, monitoring spirits inventory and cash. In this new age, however, restaurants are learning to value “human resources” and to invest in the people who meet customers eye to eye every day. Systems and controls are essential but aren’t enough to maintain a well-run bar.
Bar-staff training can provide needed tools for your most critically important employees. Next time you look around your restaurant, ask yourself whether your bartenders could benefit from an infusion of knowledge, skills, and team building. Then ask if you can afford not to give it to them.


Practical Training Tips

• Plan for maximum one-hour sessions. With fewer participants, groups move quickly.
• Schedule less-frequent classes. Try once a month to start.
• Prep your space and have materials ready 15 minutes before beginning.
• Start promptly. Waiting isn’t fair to those who come on time. Keep latecomers afterwards, or have them make up the lesson.
• Take steps to avoid being interrupted. Specify work attire, silence phones, and forbid distracting outside food.
• Use trainings to obtain valuable feedback on what is and isn’t working behind the bar. Make note of reasonable suggestions for consideration.
• Treat sessions as “work time” to convey professionalism. Staff must be paid for time spent in training sessions in accordance with the law.

Hands-On Lessons

Many bartenders are quick to tune out traditional lectures. Active approaches to learning will improve attention, participation, and retention.

• Role-play service scenarios. Act out recently witnessed “bad” bar service and role play possible improvements, paying particular attention to body language and word choice. Make good service a matter of pride.
• Practice psychomotor skills. Use a digital kitchen scale to test free-pouring accuracy. Time a defined task such as muddling a perfect mojito, mise-ing a bar guest for dinner, or ringing a tab for a party of ten. Offer small rewards for the best scores.
• Recognize talent. Pick a frequent-call cocktail, and have each bartender make one. Set up an independent panel to choose the winning drink blind, which will become the new house recipe. Have its maker lead the group, demonstrating the technique to be followed by all.
• Turn classes and tests into games and puzzles. Party games such as “Who Am I?” and “20 Questions” can be easily adapted to wines and spirits. Alternatively, use free online educator tools to generate crossword and word-search puzzles around beverage terms and clues.

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