Two Wednesdays ago, I attended the Collectif 1806's Athenaeum event focusing on bar management and professional development. One of the speakers was Jackson Cannon, partner of the Hawthorne and bar program manager for Eastern Standard, Island Creek, and Row 34, who focused on team building from the hiring through the promotion process. Jackson began by explaining that when running a team, hiring is key.
The first aspect in hiring that Jackson focuses on are the observables especially during the interview. This includes basics like eye contact, a good voice, properly dressed, on time, brings a second resumé, initiates niceties, overcomes moments of awkward, tells a clean joke upon request, and wants the job. He also appreciates being mimicked; he gave as an example when he was interviewing Hawthorne bar manager Jared Sadoian for a bar back position at Eastern Standard, Jackson gestured over the resume and told Jared that his academics-laden resumé showed nothing the indicated that he should be hired; Jared repeated the hand gesture and explained that nothing there showed that but explained why. Indeed, the act of mimicking demonstrates as an intuitive innate understanding of others can take many different forms including nodding the head and smiling. One word that sets Jackson off is the word "mastered" when talking about themselves for we should always be learning; he does not disqualify a candidate for using that word about themself, but he does not take it easily and will relentless ask questions. Moreover, in elaborating on a candidate being able to overcome a moment of awkward, Jackson dropped-threw his pen across the floor and went to fetch it and returned with the question "What were you saying?" to demonstrate how he tests a candidate after cutting off the interview mid-sentence. In determining if the candidate can serve the team via roughing them up and seeing how they respond can include walking off to use the bathroom without excusing himself, checking a person's story in real time (such as by text message) to see how they react, etc. This helps to assess how the interviewee might handle slight misbehaving since it happens at a bar all the time and to see if they can handle it graciously.
A typical interview question of Jackson is "Tell me a time you violated the rules of the house because you thought it was the right thing to do in better serve the guest?" This question looks for leaders who can act morally within a zone where things get blurry, and it sets the candidate up in so many ways to uncover aspects about themselves. Fidgets is a positive habit that took Jackson a long time to understand. We use the term ADD and obsessive compulsive in a non-clinical way all the time, but attention to detail and keeping busy with the hands are good signs for a responsible bartender. Jackson related interviewing Bobby McCoy at Eastern Standard and watching him tweak things in front of himself; Jackson later had the epiphany through another interviewee who explained that her fidgeting was the need to always be doing something with her hands. It turns out to be a great thing to find in a candidate and cannot be taught. It is not essential, but having a bartender like that on the team is a good thing.
Second, Jackson covered intangibles on the resumé that may have nothing to do with what we do, but it can give a bigger picture of the work history. These include having two years at each job and not one and not putting unrelated jobs on the resumé. In terms of the exceptions to the latter, military service is a positive since it demonstrates good work ethic, teamwork, and success within a regime. Furthermore, seminary work has its pluses as roles that are philosophical and spiritual can aid in the job. In fact, it is great if a candidate can relate their academic degree to the service industry; about 9 out of 10 candidates studied something other than restaurants via the C.I.A. or Johnson & Wales. Hearing how the candidate transitioned from that academic path to the restaurant industry can give further clues about them. Also, working for a chain restaurant like Legal Seafood and the Cheesecake Factory is actually a good thing for they offer full educational programs and great benefit packages to promote long term culture, and the employees at these chains will weed the weak employees out. So working at one of those places for two years or more says a lot about how ready they are for working in your restaurant's culture.
There are also many ways to weed out candidates including testing their attention to detail such as putting instructions on how to apply within the job ad. This can include providing an email address (instead of hitting reply to the ad) or insisting on a subject line. Athenaeum speaker Rick Dobbs interjected that he will ask a question in the ad like "what is your favorite cocktail and why?" to see if people provide an answer since this can cut out half the applications. Of course, a customized cover letter with the resumé is very important especially if it can demonstrate that the candidate did their homework and knows about the restaurant, chef, and the food. Not too much but enough to get past the weeding out process.
The third step is to stage the candidate to show them what a day in the life is like. This working interview barring sociopathic behaviors is not a make-or-break for hiring. During this stage, Jackson looks for basic restaurant movement, curiosity, desire to please, and restraint in what they can get involved in and what they cannot. Finally, try never to offer a job on the spot right after a stage to allow both parties to think about it and want it to proceed. It should be like dating where one does not want to wait too long but ought not go too fast. Moreover, asking the candidate about their experience during the stage might gain you some insight into your own operation, and it will allow you a look into the candidate's observation and articulation skills.
In managing a roster, you do not need five point guards nor all pitchers. The goal is diversity in experience, gender, background, and skills, and leverage in the combinations with nurturers, hotshots, students, and teachers. Gender is pretty binary and is something to consider the balance behind the bar in choosing the best candidates for what the bar needs at any one time. Jackson has been impressed by the Apple store and their unbelievable diversity that makes retail seem not like traditional retail at all.
Once the candidate is hired, Jackson feels that they are owed all the confidence and support to make them succeed; unless of course if you feel that you made a mistake, then let them go instead of trying to ride things out for a while. Promoting bartenders into management helps not only to make room for new staff but to provide someone who can nurture the new staff. In having general managers and assistant managers who have been bartenders, they can play that part in bringing up the rest of the staff. Kicking staff up or out ought to be faster in order to be better for the industry as a whole as well as the individuals in question. Advance people and never make yourself irreplaceable.
In terms of scheduling, Jackson feels that a manager ought to fight for overtime despite the government making it tougher with overtime taxes. Make the case to the general manager and owner that a full time bartender often works 8-10 hours of overtime each week; four 12 hour shifts is normal, and the restaurant gets so much back in return for the overtime and treating bartending as a profession. Jackson prefers to put out two week schedules (or even up to a month of scheduling) even if it requires some shuffling of shifts. This allows some patterning of the days off so there are not too many closes in a row, there are two days off in a row, etc. as well as planning out different combinations of staff. Jackson found set schedules to be difficult due to needs, event bookings, and events in the neighborhood (like baseball games), and this allows request time outs (R.T.O.) to be honored if provided with enough time. If more than one employee puts in a R.T.O., Jackson takes a preference to advance notice and to providing reasons with higher seating for family, educational opportunities, charitable events, and ways to represent the restaurant. Indeed, do not ask anyone to work a schedule that you would not work, but do not apologize for a tough stretch if everyone has what they need. Only apologize when you truly mean it.
Collaboration is important as anyone can have the best solution for some problem, and make sure that you shine a light on the author of it. Make sure that you reply all -- you cannot send it to too wide of an audience. Draw the staff into mixing for the generation of the menu, and give constructive feedback with one or two suggestions but do not do it for them and let their fix happen. That staff member might make it work a different way than the ones you suggested, and you need to let that happen. Include the staff and ask for their input; you are nothing without the whole team's buy-in. Teach them the cost of goods (C.O.G.: the cost of what you paid for the ingredients and divide by what you charge for it); it is important to know as a bar manager and to teach all of your bartenders.