18 April 2022, by Angus Winchester
What makes a perfect Bar Team?
A bar doesn't work alone. It depends on the right team. But how do you create the perfect team and what do you need to look out for to keep guests coming back? Tips from Angus Winchester
When I first moved to work as a bartender in New York in the 90s I struggled to find work. Not because I wasn’t a great bartender – or so I was convinced I was – but because employers asked me one questions that I could not answer to their satisfaction: How many customers would I bring with me if they offered me a regular nights work?
Attract regular guests
You see, in those days the knowledge and the skills that we admire today were considered not nearly important as the way you made guests feel and how many guests would visit a bar because you worked there. Like DJs you had to have a following of loyal guests who would visit bars specifically because of the bartender – not the drink or the ambience.
Bartending then and there was a more personal and intimate experience fuelled by conversation and free drinks given to regulars. Bartenders did not work five nights a week in a single venue but instead plied their trade on single nights at five venues (if they were lucky) as no guest would visit the same venue too many nights each week.
The growth of the bar team
Fast forward 20 years and when asked what he thought was one of the greatest changes he had experienced in the New York bar scene he had so effectively revitalised cocktail legend Dale DeGroff replied: “the growth of the bar team” as no longer were the great bars bastions of bartending gunslingers but now were staffed by dedicated teams of front-line staff who together bought coherence, consistency and higher levels of expertise.
Cohesion and team spirit
“Team work makes the dream work” has become a popular – though slightly hackneyed – phrase in modern hospitality and in the new normal its crucial to understand and excel at creating a successful team. Many people these days in bars and restaurants refer to the people they work with as “family” but I would argue that they are not a family but a team – a (hopefully) high performing team that unlike a family can be created and tinkered with through time and may be a tight unit but unlike a family an every changing one.
So what's the best way to build a team?
It of course starts with the members and the shared values those members have. I have mentioned previously – and stand by – the idea of having written core values that are the characteristics and beliefs that the team members share. These are the qualities and ideas that all team members have or aspire to and ensure that here is shared mindset and belief system regardless of skillset or role. Your team consists of people and not equipment and just because they work well at one venue does not mean they will work well at yours if they cherish different qualities and values. Get your core values agreed upon and use them at every turn from interviewing to celebration to day to day business practices.
Each role is important
Secondly, consider the roles necessary to execute your business as you need it. Bar teams are not just the bartenders but also servers and bar support (barbacks and Back of House prep) and each role is vital. I work currently with an operation that encourages staff to do all three roles as required but I have very quickly gleaned that while all-rounders do exist that some are far better bartenders than servers and vice versa. That some can be relied upon to put as much effort into bar backing as they do in more glamourous roles while some just go through the motions. Create clear role profiles and expectations and define the skills and attitude needed for each position and train them relentlessly.
It all comes down to the right leadership
Plus of course let’s not forget the vital positions played by the manager/coach and team captain. After all, a team only delivers as much performance and commitment as the manager exemplifies. People are more likely to leave other people than their job – in other words, they are more likely to quit if the interpersonal relationship is not right than because of the working conditions.
Recognize and leverage individual strengths
Thirdly, consider individual performance and strengths and balance them with the needs of the business. If you have five bartenders then you have a “best” bartender and a “worst” bartender based around the criteria you define and you should build and schedule accordingly. On some nights raw speed may be the defining quality you need. On quieter nights personality or creativity may be the most necessary skill. Ensure that the needs of the business and how you define them are clearly understood and that everyone knows what they need to do to reach the standards you set.
You never stop learning: Offer training and coaching
Finally, ensure you have proper training and coaching in place to help and develop the team in its entirety. While its common to focus on the newer and less skilled team members as they are easier to identify and also seem to need more help never forget the top performers. One of the most common things I hear from “good” staff these days are they leave their jobs due to the fact “they aren’t learning any more” which sometimes is rubbish. They may not be learning “new” stuff but they are learning how to do the key bits seamlessly and subconsciously. Although often it’s because the manager has taken their eye off the ball and ignored the top performers.
A strong team for the best guest experience
People say that there is no “I” in team but the fact remains that “we” is stronger than “me” and that to create an amazing experience for your guests that generates a sustainable and profitable business for staff and investors alike takes a group of people, aligned and inspired by common goals and with a shared vision and tools to match.