Picking the Right Staff For Your Bar
The last time that I wrote about finding quality people for your staff, I talked about first creating a clear vision of the experience that you wish to offer. With that vision in mind, it becomes much easier to identify the traits that it will take to create a successful operation. But until you pin down a clear vision of what the bar is supposed to be, it will be much more difficult to consistently hire the right people.
With all that out of the way, now we can begin to examine some of the personalities and people that you will come across as you begin to hire bartenders for your new space. Of course, it is a given that these are not the only characters you will encounter, as you are filling your roster, but I have witnessed over the years that these tend to be the most common.
These applicants may not have much in experience, but they will more than make up for it with sheer tenacity and the will to please. They will probably have no experience with breaking down a service well or cutting off an over intoxicated guest, but show them how to do it once and they will never forget.
If chosen correctly this person can be a future star employee. The only downside is that it will undoubtedly take a while, no matter how much raw talent they have.
The upside is that they will do everything behind the bar precisely like you trained them. You teach them how to make a Daiquiri and they will make it exactly how you taught them every damn time. They also won't give you any back talk on technique or philosophy, but unfortunately they can take forever to train.
Noobies can be an incredible asset due to their eagerness to learn, but be prepared to spend a lot of time guiding them through the basics. However, this time spent training is often rewarded with a loyalty and enthusiasm that is difficult to match.
These bartenders seem like a dream come true. They are extremely adept at all the current cocktail techniques and recipes, and usually already have a following of dedicated regulars that will follow them from bar to bar. If all that wasn’t enough, they are also great at attracting attention from the media, which can help drum up business further. With all these attributes going for them there has to be a catch, right?
The catch is that many of these bartenders are doing so well with their careers that they are being pulled in different directions at all times. You might hire one to work at your bar four nights a week, only to find that they end up giving away most of their shifts. Also, they called in this past weekend, because they had to work a couple of parties for some hot new spirits company. This absence can also make it harder for the Startender to get on the same page as the rest of the staff. In addition, since they are not as engaged with day to day operations, it can be difficult for them to deal with seemingly minor changes around the bar.
The Startender don’t need much training and can make things very easy for the manager that doesn’t like to be too involved. One or two can be an incredible asset for a bar, but be wary of hiring too many unless you enjoy herding cats.
Pubtenders are the bartenders that have worked in beer and shot bars for years and are damn good at it. They can handle a roomful of drunks on St. Patrick’s Day, yet tactfully inform a guy that his credit card was declined, without his beautiful date ever noticing anything was wrong. These bartenders can’t just split up a fight without breaking a sweat, these bartenders prevent them from even happening in the first place. Yup, these pros are like the old characters that you see in classic cinema.
With the rise of craft cocktails over the years a lot of pubtenders have been attracted this side of the water. Much of this is due to the urge to learn something new, but a lot of it has to with the allure of greener pastures. Many of us came from this type of bar background and found that we particularly enjoyed craft cocktails. But just as many were eventually turned off by all the extra work, and the potential pay cut. For many pubtenders, getting their ass kicked for nines hours only to go home with less then they made on a five-hour shift at a dive just isn’t worth the hassle.
Initially, a good pubtender will need plenty of training on the drink side – especially in breaking old habits -- but they should be a breeze with everything else. Hiring a solid pubtenders can be one of the best decisions that you will make, but be certain that they are one-hundred percent on board with the program and understand exactly what they are getting into.
These are the bartenders that come out of the woodwork any time a new place with a good buzz is opening up, and they can always be spotted by their steadfast reluctance to leave their other jobs. Despite the negative connotation of their name, most Resume Builders are solid workers who are there to do a great job and help build a successful business. They join the team because they want to study under a talented mentor and help further their craft. The best ones are similar to wandering samurai looking to hone their skills under any roof they can learn.
The bad ones however, will show up for just enough shifts to say that they trained under “so & so.” Tenures as short as a month and a half are fairly common for these bartenders. If you are large well-funded operation, losing a trained bartender at six weeks in might not be a big deal, but for a smaller venue the shock of having to replace someone that you just spent weeks training can be a complete setback.
Hiring a really good Resume Builder can be a good idea at some bars, since their schedules are often flexible and they can help you cover shifts in the schedule. But before you bring them on, I have found that it is best to be blunt about your expectations from the beginning, so that both sides know exactly what kind of commitment you are looking for.
Brilliant Jerks can be very similar to the Startender and on a casual glance they are often confused with each other. However, upon closer inspection you will find some key differences. Whereas a great bartender gains genuine pleasure from improving the bartenders around them, the Brilliant Jerk is threatened by others bartenders around them gaining any recognition.
They don’t like to share the limelight and they are usually incredibly difficult to manage. In addition they lack patience with co-workers and customers that somehow fail to grasp their genius. So how do these people still have jobs? Did I mention that their drinks are amazing? Despite their deficiencies in all other areas of bartending, the Brilliant Jerk has little trouble getting work, because their cocktails are just so damn good.
In a very small space the Brilliant Jerk can excel, since they will be isolated from a larger staff and casual guests that don’t understand what they are trying to accomplish. However, in a medium to large space, do the smart thing and just pay them to do your menu.
The problem with Lone Ranger isn’t that they are not great workers. If anything they have a wonderful work ethic, but they are missing one important thing: the ability to ask for help. If left unattended they will make all the syrups, batch all the cocktails, write all the schedules, do all the ordering, etc. They came only to work and refuse to go home until all the work is done.
This can be extremely admirable at the very beginning when the place is still getting its legs and every day presents a new challenge, but over time your bar can evolve into a situation where it is completely reliant on one person. No one else knows how to do anything because all the systems, recipes and processes exist only inside the Lone Ranger's head. Since there is effectively no teamwork in place here, the Lone Ranger will eventually burn out. Additionally, when the Lone Ranger leaves, the quality of the bar often leaves with them. This is because Lone Rangers do not specialize in creating long-lasting operations instead they only create temporary platforms for their talent.
Lone Rangers can make great assistant bar managers due to their strong work ethic, but it is extremely important that they learn to delegate and create effective infrastructure before they ever take on the burden of leadership.
FRIENDS & RELATIVES
With a good friendship often comes deep loyalty and shared goals. You may have known each other for years or possibly even decades, because of this so much of the communication that occurs between the two of you is non-verbal, since you have so close of a relationship. Due to this closeness however, other staff members may feel as though management is playing favorites for reasons that are perceived as non-professional. Did your best friend get promoted to lead bartender, because she was the most qualified or was it because she went to high school with you?
Whether or not favoritism was an actual factor in the decision, it can often be seen that way by staff and this is important to take into account when building morale.
On the flip side, it is often very difficult to discipline and correct those closest to us. The friend being corrected often feels that they are being picked on, and the one doing the correcting can feel like a jerk for having to be mean to their buddy.
This hire doesn’t always have to be a bad idea, but usually only if you already know their work ethic and are not in close proximity to them during day-to-day operations. However, be very careful about establishing set boundaries from the very beginning, so that both parties understand what is at stake.
These can be a very tricky group to deal with, as they are definitely not short on enthusiasm or a passion for the craft. They are knowledgeable about the product and the quite often have well-educated palates. They are fascinated by the classic cocktails that bartenders create and the magazine articles that they appear in. The only downside is that these aspects of bartending make up less than 1% of our jobs behind the bar.
The other 99% of our job is cleaning bathrooms, wiping down bottles, tending to guest needs, and otherwise running a viable business. All of the glamorous stuff that is read about in the press is something that will occur only after years of drudgery behind the bar… and maybe not even then. The grueling hours late into the night are not the sort of thing that make it onto the Food Network, which only reinforces the fact that so much of the bar industry is outside the reference of everyday folks.
Many great bartenders began by sitting on the other side of the bar. But before you tap into the inexperienced but enthusiast barfly, consider having them work a few trial shifts as a barback. If they excel at barbacking, then they might eventually become a strong bartender. But if on their first night they begin bellyaching about sore feet and staying out late, they probably won’t have what it takes in the long-term.
All characters appearing in this work are for sake of discussion. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.