Recently, there was a thread on Reddit’s bartenders forum where a user inquired about “any tips on how to impress my manager behind the bar,” and I interpreted the manager as both general and bar. Moreover, I took the ideas from what I gathered as both a bartender and as someone running a bar program. I replied with a list of ten suggestions that was so well received on Reddit, that I posted a screen capture on my Twitter. That was successful with the likes of Erick Castro reposting it, that I decided to expand on them for the USBG National web page, and I am reposted an edited form of the article here (you need to be an USBG member to access the site). While some of the material was sourced from personal experiences and seminars I attended, many of it was actually written down a century ago in William Boothby’s Ten Commandments in his American Bar-Tender book.
1). Take initiative. Do things without being asked.
During a talk at Boston’s Thirst event, a story was related on a
barback asking a bartender, “Why are you mad at me? I do everything you
ask.” To which the bartender replied, “Because I shouldn’t have to ask.”
Learning to anticipate, being on top of things, and putting out fires
before they start will transmit a degree of mastery to any manager more
than follow through on any series of simple requests will. Some jobs
seem thankless like polishing the back bar’s bottles on a slow shift,
but it will gain a lot more notice than being observed chatting with the
servers at the pass or, worse, surfing on your phone.
2). Guest before ego. Hospitality first. Praise and feedback will hit the manager’s ear.
At my current restaurant, the owners’ described our role as being the
guest’s advocate and finding out ways to make their night the best for
them. Sometimes nothing will make a guest happier than a simple beer or
vodka soda and not the latest sour-hoppy beer or recent craft cocktail
creation. Some of my most recent vocal praise has come not from beer and
cocktail drinkers but from abstainers who were so pleased that I took
their mocktail requests with such respect and down to the seriousness
that I took the garnish.
3). Complain less, offer fixes and improvements more.
This is something that I was horrible at when I first became a
bartender and I annoyed my first bar manager to no end. Sometimes I was
right in complaining, but many times my timing or tactics in approaching
the matter were wrong. Complaining might feel cathartic but it will
cloud your work persona with a bunch of negativity. Coming up with
suggestions or solutions to issues will add value though. And it is
important to remember that trying not to complain is not the absence of
4). Take shifts, never call out. Consider being on time for a
shift as 15+ minutes early. Use the time to read books about booze or
hospitality; be available to chat or help out.
Boothby’s rule #1 was to be on time if not earlier to make sure that
you have used the facilities and set up your station before the shift. I
would take it even a step further and be available to help the previous
shift, to aide the managers re-arranging the tables for an event, or to
talk about the bar program and your days off. If not, read. Or at least
be there and relaxing on your last opportunity to use your phone. Not
having your phone visible during your shift is actually a great way to
impress your managers, and I did not even include it in the original
list. And certainly Boothby was not prescient about such matters.
5). Don’t do anything shifty. Stay sober. Take responsibility and learn from your mistakes.
My first bar manager when I started to work for him listed a mere
handful of rules, one of which was “do not steal from me.” Some
establishments would consider drinking on the job theft, so the two are
linked in my mind. Boothby eloquently had his rule #6 as “Sell all the
liquor you can, but use as little as possible yourself.” Drinking on the
job is obviously nothing new, but if you truly consider bartending not
just a job but your occupation, keeping a level head is crucial. The
manager on duty can always tell when the bartenders are “a little off”
that night even if they do not report them. And even if drinking on the
job is part of the bar’s accepted culture, many managers report how much
more work they have to do when their staff is a bit inebriated (usually
this is mentioned when the drinking instigators move on and the manager
now has an easier job).
6). Keep the bar top, wells, bottles, the rest of the bar,
and yourself clean. If you have time, clean. Spend out of work time on
your hygiene and appearance without going too fancy that is.
About six of Boothby’s commandments regard cleanliness ranging from
“See that your finger nails are always clean and your person presents a
tidy appearance” to concerns regarding bar top, floor, glassware, and
tool neatness. Keep in mind that our business is to deliver food and
drink that is going into our guests’ bodies, and their first view of the
establishment’s cleanliness and care will be your bar and your person.
7). Don’t push an agenda over a guest's desire of a product
you sell or can mix up. Managers hear more about unhappy guests than the
One of the Redditors commented “On 7 - a rule of thumb is you hear
from 10 times as many unhappy guests as happy ones. It even seems
conservative based on how quick people are to complain now.” Whether or
not they speak to the manager, many guests will speak to the Internet on
Yelp or other social media outlets to describe a minor slight more
frequently than they will a minor good deed; on the flipside, it often
takes a lot of hospitality and luck to be name-dropped for good service.
8). Respect your co-workers behind the bar. Respect the host,
servers, cooks, and the dishwasher (especially the dishwasher). Don't
be a dick. These are your family that will have your back if you treat
them right and stab you in the back if you treat them wrong.
At Gaz Regan’s Cocktails in the Country, he teaches a lot about
mindful bartending -- the total awareness of everything around you from
what your customers, your fellow staff, and even the kitchen are doing.
Set your intentions for the evening; “I want to make a lot of money
tonight” is not as important as “I want to be of service to my guest”
because that will set things up such that the money will come naturally.
Mindfulness can start with focusing on communication. Whether you are
at work or running errands in town, ask “How are you today?” and wait
for a response along with eye contact. Perhaps not when you are in the
weeds at the bar, but start when it is slower. And not just the guests,
but consider the dishwasher, the barback, and others who may not get
noticed in life. Communication is a two way street but stop and listen
to what people have to say. Of course, I can just hark back to my first
bar manager who summed it up with “Don’t be an asshole!” after hearing
about a tiff I had with a server over ticket time when I was weeded. He
was pleased when he had heard that I had apologized when things slowed
down, but he made me think about getting to that point in the first
9). Mentor the barback with kindness. Remember that one day
they may be your peer. It allows the bar manager more freedom to get
other things done including mentoring you.
Since I got my start as a barback and I vividly remember how well
some bartenders treated me in addition to how horribly others did, I
developed a sensitivity to developing proto-bartenders with kindness and
teaching them the ropes. It always gave me a joy to hear the two
barbacks on the weekend shifts arguing over who would work at my bar.
But the most meaningful moment was working a New Year’s Eve at the
upstairs bar with a bartender who I had a great relationship from his
barback days. We had both each other’s back and respect in ways that I
have to attribute to my time spent with him months before. He was not
the once-barback now junior bartender, but my teammate and friend.
10). Represent your establishment wherever you go. Act appropriately. News travels.
As I described in my Tips for Tales of the Cocktail
article, act like your potential future employers, employees, and
guests are watching. Similarly, you represent your current establishment
everywhere you go, so act with dignity and try not to do or say
anything negative or hurtful. Remember, you are a public figure. Treat
others with kindness, for how you behave shows a window not only into
your soul, but it projects the sense of hospitality one can expect in
your bar or restaurant.