07 December 2021, by Angus Winchester
Bar Staff: The Power of Experience
What lessons can we learn from the pandemic for the industry? Why should we create experiences for our guests? Angus Winchester finds that Experience on many different levels is what makes a good bartender or bar owner successful.
An Industry that Creates Experiences
In my consultancy and training sessions I often start off by asking bar and restaurant owners and managers what business they are in. Not the drinks business I say as they are not producing the brands that we sell. Nor the food business as they are not growing plants or livestock to sell on. Nor the cocktail business because although they may sell those they are just a facet of their business along with music and chairs and lighting. And they most certainly aren’t in the music, furniture or lighting business. No, the best operators understand that they are in the Experience business where experience is a verb that means “to feel (an emotion or sensation)” because they create an emotion or sensation within their guests.
Creating a Sense of Being Welcome
Service is what we do to people. Hospitality is how we make people feel about themselves while they are in our care. And to make people feel something we must create an environment where we control as many factors as we can. It starts with being brilliant at the basics from being aware of who is walking through their doors by use of one of the various CRM systems available today or by creating great systems to communicate to the staff why guests come to your bar in particular.
More than just a Pretty Scenery
By creating, training and executing amazing steps of service and having rigorous Standard Operating Procedures then the stage is set to be able to make service seamless and for the staff to shine. Yes, you need good drinks and yes, the environment must be well considered but I have lost count of the number of experienced operators who say that they overspent on interior design initially and underinvested in the staff. While an “instagramable” feature may well create free Marketing opportunities, what really counts are the human characteristics of feeling welcome, comfortable, important and understood and that guests like to spend their time there.
Lessons from the Pandemic
The second part of experience that is vital for our industry’s success is that of “an event or occurrence which leaves an impression on someone”. The events of the pandemic have surely left an impression on us and we need to learn from it – even if it (hopefully) never happens again. We have learned that the ‘powers that be’ (politicians) can be a useful and necessary lifeline. Therefore, we need to be better at engaging with them and lobbying them from here on. Other industries were far better placed to interact and convince them that they needed help. We definitely need to learn from this lesson.
Rethinking Old Business Models
Also, the draining away of our employees as they realised the toxicity of the traditional models of pay and management support when dealing with pandemic related issues shows that we need to rethink the business model that we have relied on for far too long. In particular, the management of pandemic issues, from dismissal to dealing with demanding and aggressive guests, were crucial here. It is important that we regularly show employees how valuable they are to the business and treat them accordingly. After all, we are all interconnected. The pandemic has shown us how fragile some of these links are and that they need to be strengthened and protected – from supply chains to supporting smaller producers.
Age Discrimination in the Bar Industry
The last part of experience that is thrown into sharp relief for me as a 52-year-old with over 30 years in this business looking for a new challenge is “the knowledge or skill acquired by a period of practical experience of something, especially that gained in a particular profession”. We can argue about how racist or sexist our industry is but at the cutting edge we are certainly ageist. Many people seem to think that our guests want to be served by young, hip, gorgeous people and so they avoid older and more experienced staff – which is not the case.
The Advantages of Older Bar Staff
From the older employee bringing less risks than younger ones (less daredevil behaviour, less short-term staff churn etc.) to having more self-knowledge and more multi skills learned over time the older members of the workforce – and not just our workforce as we have to look beyond our industry – has the ability to fill the gaps rapidly appearing and also enhance our operations.
The Most Brutal of Teachers
As we approach the start of another year and we consider our New Year’s resolutions we must take time to consider where we are and where we want to be. We have endured a terrible and life changing events and we must learn from them. Our industry has long been associated with adaptability and resilience. However, we should not let this drag us down, but always remember the quote from C.S. Lewis: “Experience is the most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”