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

06 December 2021, by Jan-Peter Wulf

Five Impulses for a Socially more Sustainable Bar Culture

When understood and realised in a holistic way sustainability means that social aspects are also taken into consideration alongside ecological and commercial ones. That aspects like waste reduction, energy savings and resource-saving operations are approached as a team, in dialogue with patrons, in the local environment all the way through to the global dimension. How does this work? Five impulses come care of Jan-Peter Wulf. 

 © Shutterstock

1. Fairness and Team Spirit form the Basis for Social Sustainability

It goes without saying and yet needs to be mentioned: Responsible and fair team spirit forms the basis. To keep and secure it – especially when the going gets tough or times get difficult – fixed rules and processes are very advantageous. Since every outfit works and “ticks” differently these rules cannot be generalised. But they might for instance include:

  • that (constructive) criticism is always expressed outside the shift and/or service hours
  • there are regular team meetings and one-on-one feedback conversations
  • respectful communication (e.g. following the principles of non-violent communication) is binding for everyone, including execs and owners
  • transparency in dialogue such as disclosing the economic situation, for example, to create an understanding for necessary decisions
  • definition of procedures if problems cannot be solved internally (e.g. by bringing in external coaches or supervision to prevent conflicts from festering)
  • trust-based transfer of responsibility (procurement, proxy etc.)
  • flattening hierarchies whereby “everybody does everything” while focusing on people’s individual skills (service talent, mixology etc.) at the same time
  • consideration for co-workers’ individual time needs (part time, childcare, paternity/maternity leave etc.)
  • fair, ideally equal and/or similar pay
  • promotion of diversity and inclusion


2. Health and Prevention Measures

Closely linked with the first aspect are health and prevention measures. Bartenders know and often experience this painfully: working behind the counter, shaking, bending over and lifting, carrying heavy loads as well as the constant night shifts take a toll on their bodies. So it is all the more important for bars to work out their own concepts for the physical and mental well-being of their teams. Factors here include:

  • ergonomic workplaces from the basic layout to such details as the positions of tools and bottles
  • availability of devices that reduce physical workload (e.g. table-top bar blenders rather than shakers)
  • standards for preparation, “mise en place” and tidying up after opening hours to minimise exhausting activities  
  • team workshops with physiotherapists on the ergonomic assessment and improvement of workflows, hand movements and strain intensity
  • supply of auxiliary materials: straightening garments, individual insoles or tapes for stabilising parts of the body (ideally also as advised by physiotherapy experts)
  • schedules that allow sufficient time off, several consecutive days, staff-friendly holiday planning as well as the possibility to take (unpaid) breaks
  • “healthy” jobwear made of organic, chemistry-free fabrics
  • no alcohol before and during the shift, unambiguous in-house rules for after-service hours  (alcoholic beverage yes or no, how much etc.)
  • regular one-on-one feedback on physical and mental health

More on the topic of health at the bar: Tips for a Better SECS Life by Tim Judge (Healthy Hospo).

3. Opportunities for Personal and Collective Development

Social sustainability also means providing all co-workers with opportunities and offers for both personal and professional development. Encouraging interests and giving your team the chance to be inspired externally increases motivation, confidence and skills – and this benefits the whole social fabric of the bar. Examples of such activities are:

  • opportunities to take part in training and continuous education  
  • as well as industry-sponsored events such as competitions, masterclasses or trips
  • joint paid visits, for instance to producers’ companies in the region
  • encouragement of job-related interests (specific beverage types, manufacturing of own products, sommelier classes etc.)
  • networking with friends’ bars/hospitality establishments for guest shifts, short internships and job shadowing also on an international level
  • also along these lines: allowing staff to take timeout on demand to create time and room for personal development

4. Involvement of Patrons in the Social Sustainability Concept

Bar patrons are also one component of social sustainability. The good thing is: politeness, friendliness and excellent, competent service all already form an integral part of “customer service” at a bar (unlike in many other sectors) – and when aspects like those listed below are considered the whole thing comes full circle:

  • barrier-free access (if possible flush) to the bar and sanitary facilities and/or assistive technology such as ramps
  • no language barriers (multi-lingual menu list and website, polyglot team)
  • transparency (e.g. useful information on product origin beyond the required statutory declaration of ingredients)
  • complimentary water supplied with the beverages
  • foregoing quantity discounts such as 2 for 1 schemes or Happy Hours
  • attractive, creative low-alcohol or soft drink alternatives
  • making the overall sustainability concept of the hospitality establishment (for more see here) accessible and understandable for patrons, e.g. making it downloadable in full from the website and upon request with all service staff able to provide answers
  • ensuring the bar is a safe space, e.g. by notices informing patrons that they can inform the staff in case of being harassed
  • definition and communication of “safe words” (making it easier for harassed patrons to contact the staff for help)

5. Social Commitment on a Local and Global Level

Last but not least, social sustainability also means consideration for the environment of the bar, on a regional and global level. Again, there are many ways of doing this:  

  • giving preference to local products by sourcing (beer, soft drinks, food, selected spirits etc.) and prioritising seasonal ingredients
  • cooperation with regional farmers and craft delicatessen producers
  • involvement in local initiatives (e.g. local hospitality associations, employers’ associations)
  • association work (e.g. Deutsche Barkeeper-Union)
  • making and maintaining contacts with neighbours to ensure peaceful coexistence and quick fixes for problems
  • support of local non-profit organisations (e.g. by donations or charity drinks)
  • use of fair-trade products (coffee, cocoa, tea, vanilla, spices etc.)
  • support of international social initiatives