• 10.-12. October 2022
  • Exhibition Centre Berlin

12 November  2021, by Jan-Peter Wulf

How to make a Bar Business consistent: Learnings from Sean Finter (and Mr. Pannou)

What makes a bar successful? Creative drinks, stylish design, talented bartenders? In the short term, perhaps. But in the long term, it's about something else entirely. Canadian Sean Finter explained what that is to the BCB audience in his talk "Bars built to last".

Sean Finter made it very far in the hospitality business very early on: After stints at the Hard Rock Café in Toronto and six years in the London restaurant industry, he opened his own bar-restaurant in Sydney in his late twenties. His business grew from zero to nearly 400 employees in eight outlets, and by the time it was sold, when Finter was 33, it had sales of $32 million. For more than 20 years, he has consulted with hospitality companies around the globe through his company, Barmetrix; to date, there are more than 8,500. 

All of this would never have been possible without Mr. Pannou, Finter told the audience, both on site and digitally, in an exciting, moving storytelling (which is best watched, written form can only begin to convey the feeling conveyed). 


Finter's Path to the Restaurant Business

Growing up in a small Canadian town of less than 2,000 people, Finter earned his own money from an early age - mowing lawns, delivering newspapers, helping out at the gas station. When his father became seriously ill, Sean was just twelve years old, and he wanted to start working at the local truck stop - something he had always dreamed of doing: "I couldn't imagine anything better! The owner was the aforementioned Mr. Pannou. A taciturn man of Greek origin. He only hired him when the young applicant brought him the answers to his questions in writing at the third meeting - only to pocket them unread. 


"Home away from Home."

Pannou instead showed him the "nervous system" of the house, the kitchen, and had a trucker give him his keys to show the boy the neat, tidy cab, the made bed, the clean fixtures, the photos of the family. Why? To make it clear to the boy: These men live in their trucks when they are away from home. And when they're on the road, places like Mr. Pannou's truck stop are their "home away from home." That's when he and his team provide their surrogate family. Good food, a warm room in cold Canada, yes - but most of all, he says, it's about humanity and appreciation. "Without this truck stop, I wouldn't be here today," Finter says. Years later, he says, when he traveled to attend his mentor's funeral, he could barely get through - trucks jammed the access roads for miles to pay their respects to the innkeeper with the big heart. 

Finter presented what he learned from that time and his subsequent career as a gastro-entrepreneur, and what he teaches many companies today in training and consulting, in the following, compiled here in short subheadings: 


Why does the World need your Bar/Restaurant? 

Why yours of all places, what makes the difference? Finter: Just one percent is the product or location, 99 percent is the people who work there. According to Finter, gastronomy is a playground for those who, like him, don't fit in elsewhere. It's a place where characters can prove themselves and show what they're capable of. 


Answer Questions (that Employees may not ask you, but that they're thinking):

Why do you deserve to lead me? 

What is your understanding of leadership? 

Why should I leave my existing job because of you? 

And also: How do you think people will describe you, as you are today, in ten years' time? (In other words: How do you want to have been?) 


Know your Target Groups

No gastronomic concept can be made for everyone; you need primary and secondary target groups. In the case of Mr. Pannou's Truck Stop, it was cap wearers (truckers and farmers) first, and families second - each of whom needed a unique way of being addressed. At the Hard Rock Café, it was many single parents and elders ("the cast aways") and blue collar workers ("blue collar").  


Money is Fuel 

Anyone who takes the risk of opening a hospitality business should be able to make good money from it - for the benefit of everyone involved. Finter advises looking ahead rather than looking back: Instead of the equation profit = sales - costs, rather use the equation sales - planned profit = accruing costs. Calculate for ten percent more margin - why not? "Do what you do so fucking well that price is irrelevant," says Finter's tip. The night before at Berlin's Chicago Williams restaurant (very popular in the bar scene), he reported, he experienced exactly how this works.   


Invest in Shift Management

One of the biggest industry mistakes, in Finter's view: not investing enough time and money in good management staff. "They make or break your business": no one is neutral, he said; either these people help (the employees and the company) or they cause harm. 


Establish Procedures before, during and after the Shift 

Line up in a circle for a maximum of four minutes before the shift and compliment the person next to you: What you appreciate about him or her. Does she he keep her cool, is he there for you in an emergency? During the shift: work to established standards that provide guidance. After the shift, a thank you and feedback questions from the team leader are good: Was everything okay? Do you need anything? What impressed you today? 


Hospitality is ... 

... the way a person (subconsciously) feels when they are in your company, according to Sean Finter's definition. No one wants to be invisible or unimportant when he/she is a guest, he said. She may be or feel that way at home or at work - but not here! Nurture Appreciation. Adapted from Maslow's pyramid of needs, he said, it's about first making guests feel safe, building on that to create a connection/attachment, and finally increasing their self-esteem.  


Learn to teach - and keep it short 

It all comes down to whether a team can deliver when the place is packed. And what may look like a family from the outside is actually an enormous performance. It can only succeed if everyone has internalized the company's definition of hospitality - and enjoys communicating it to guests. Briefings and trainings, Finter says, should be value-driven, short, entertaining and/or interesting. He himself has developed courses for topics such as selling with dignity, body language or dealing with angry guests that last a maximum of eight minutes.  

By the way, Sean Finter offered the audience to feel free to email questions to him. His address is: sean.finter@barmetrix.com