Monday, July 22, 2019

:: staff bonding of the day ::

Adapted from an article published on the USBG National site November 2016.

The owners of one restaurant I worked at for better or for worse look to me as a role model and as a bridge between the bar staff and the rest of the front of the house. For the first many months after we opened, there was a decent divide between the two that was unfortunate since we pooled the house. We the bar did not help run their drinks and they did not help us with washing and polishing the glassware, for example. While not optimal, things moved along for a while until we came up with ideas to bridge the gap.

One of the solutions was to have the drink of day that one of the bartenders would come up with and explain in great detail to the servers. Some of the bartenders used this as testing grounds for new recipes that made my job easier to include them in the next menu change, so this was an added benefit. But even teaching servers about classics turned out to beincredibly useful since it gave them a better groundwork for drink basics and began them asking better questions. Classics afforded us the opportunity to explain drink families, cocktail and world history, and drink making theory. It paid dividends when the servers would sound more intelligent in their recommendations to their guests which in turn made the bar program shine since we were being utilized better. To include the servers even more, I would take requests for spirits and then narrow it down whether they wanted to learn about a straight spirits drink or a citrus-driven one. It kept me on my toes, but it allowed me to suggest things that either they or their guests preferred at the time. The whole process proved a great way to introduce the staff to more modern classics, and many of these became staff favorites to recommend like the Division Bell and Fort Washington Flip.

Another great bonding mechanism and a good way to learn about my coworkers was to begin asking the question of the day either at the slow part at the beginning of the service shift or in the middle of a lagging moment. I found that it made the less senior ones such as the server assistants feel important when you call them over and ask them for their input. Moreover, there was no playing favorites here for everyone gets asked.

Here are six of our most successful questions of the day:
• What non-aquatic bird is your favorite and why?
• What childhood viewed movie (seen 10 years old or before) that you revisited as an adult (18+) that is your new favorite from that era?
• Who is your favorite person at the circus and why?
• What is your favorite salad green?
• Which is your favorite imaginary or mythical creature and why?
• Which of the bottles back here would be your first grab in a bar fight?
I was reminded of the value of this exercise when I was too distracted to think up and ask a question, and some one inquired pleadingly if there will be a question of the day. Some of the questions are still being debated to this day especially the melee weapon bottle question, and Rick Dobbs of the Last Word had fun with it on Facebook after I told him about it when he visited Boston. Feel free to add your own question ideas to the comments below.

On Sunday nights at that location, the business and hence the money were lower, but it became one of the more fought over shifts. In one way, you can feel like you are at your guest-pampering best due to the amount of time you can spend with the guests, and it did not hurt that management and the kitchen have started sending out bonus dishes to make the nightmore pleasurable. But adding a theme greatly helped. The summer before that one, we did a theme of Yacht Rock Sundays that made the two Sunday night servers with a great interest in that musical genre rather happy. We began wearing Hawaiian shirts (actually, due to those nights, I continued to do so on other nights as my wardrobe has expanded) and I conjured up a special drink menu each week of 8 drinks or so named after the songs. For the 2-3 new drinks each week, I solicited requests from the servers as well as the kitchen, and there was definitely an excitement to see whose drink name won out that week. Would it be Chef’s epic duet of Kenny Loggins and Steve Perry’s “Don’t Fight It” envisioned as a Gin Swizzle or would it be one of the servers request for a drink named the “Danger Zone”? Another popular Sunday was Cowboy Sunday with a soundtrack laden with Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton and with cowboy shirts and other accouterments to add accent. Even without a dress up aspect, a theme like Sinatra Sunday can change the way the restaurant feels especially if your playlist is otherwise typically in a narrow range.

True, I have been part of bar staffs where drinking behind the bar was the major form of staff bonding, but that definitely left out the servers. And the establishment I just described was not the proper one to have those sorts of safety meetings that seem to work better at industry and party bars. Since none of the above acts include drinking (other than tasting the drink of the day), the management had generally been behind each of them. And they were pleased with the greater ties between the various aspects of the front of the house and how well it has translated into a more pleasant experience for the guests.

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