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Building a Better Bar Team

Considering the potential for good profits from your bar program, it is increasingly important to assemble a bar team that work well together, back each other up, and share responsibilities. Team building is not an easy task, and keeping a strong nucleus together may be even harder. From a bartender’s perspective, you’re lucky if you end up at a venture that goes on a long run before its hype fizzles out, it is sold, or it closes. For a bar manager, minimizing staff turnover is necessary for achieving steady profits.

Even though food is vital to a restaurant’s success, the bar is often the focal point of interest and buzz. For this reason, the bar manager must be someone with know-how and know-who and a person who can manage a diverse group of individuals. A bar team is most effective when it’s allowed to expand to its ultimate potential, which includes showcasing individual creative skills both inside and outside the premises. Ultimately, developing a top bar team is a delicate balancing act—managing personnel who value professionalism and security but also crave creative independence.

How do you go about putting together and managing an all-star bar team? Here are some suggestions:

Put a high premium on locating the best bartenders out there.

The bartending profession deserves the same level of respect in hiring as any other. Place a premium on experience, especially service in a wide variety of bar venues. “Come and go” bartenders are a dime a dozen, but those who continue on and accumulate knowledge of full bar service are the ones to seek out.

The profession of bartender is similar to that of a doctor or engineer in that it requires continuing practice over the years to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills. Bar patrons recognize and appreciate an expert bartender—in fact, in this new cocktail era, they demand one.

When you advertise for bartenders, require a minimum of five, eight, or even ten years of experience.

You quickly weed out the big talkers (and poor performers). If you advertise for only one year’s minimum experience, veteran bartenders will assume that you’re looking for youth and image, not knowledge or that you have no idea what you really want in a bar staff, and they won’t respond to your ad.

Take a team approach to the interview process.

The most experienced and insightful members of your bar team can help you separate the wheat from the chaff and, perhaps more importantly, select complementary and compatible players. They may be able to detect strengths and weaknesses among the applicants that you don’t see.

Select for schedule flexibility.

Consider a team made up of personnel who, collectively, are comfortable with full-time, part-time, on-call, seasonal, and temporary work. There are great bartenders out there who would love to work as steady extras. Planning for a flexible schedule will reduce the likelihood of suffering the headache of trying to accommodate an entire staff that is clamoring for four shifts a week.

Know when to cut your losses.

The bar manager must be comfortable with having to let an ineffective team player go in the bar’s “motion picture.” A smart manager gives new hires 30 to 60 days (a trial period for both them and the house) to warm up and play their part. If they fail to memorize their script, then it’s time to audition someone else for the part.

Avoid special treatment among your personnel.

 If a team member is kept on staff because of management favoritism or some other reason unrelated to performance, the preferential handling will slowly burr a hole in the morale of those who are doing good work behind the bar.

Schedule continuing training, and involve your staff in the education program.

Engage the staff in new product reviews; comparison tastings; service, security, and health issues; drink and mix preparation; and so forth. Encourage your team to enter drink competitions, and institute team performance standards with appropriate incentives. Applying inventive and clever work practices together will pay off at the register.

By hiring an experienced and knowledgeable team, you will put in place people with a strong level of commitment and intelligent communication at the bar, which is a real asset. In most cases the higher the level of truly experienced personnel you have behind the bar, the more consistent the drinks (both classic and original) and service. Your bar’s reputation will grow, which usually results in increased business volume.

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