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How to keep your bar team happy

Atmosphere is everything in the world’s best bars, and it’s not just about the music on the sound system or the slickness of the interior design. The talent behind the bar is crucial to creating and maintaining a sense of warmth and a welcoming environment. It stands to reason that if your team are having a bad day, your guests will notice something’s not right in the air – and probably in their glass, too.

It’s precisely this fact that makes effectively managing a bar team so important, so how do you foster a culture of happiness and satisfaction? And is it a skill that comes naturally? World Class bartender Dre Masso, food and beverage consultant for Potato Head, says not. ‘When I was 23 the owner of a venue presumed I’d be good at managing a team. I wasn’t!’ says Dre.

‘I wasn’t given any training or education, so at first I had to learn from my mistakes. Over time, I’ve learnt that it’s really effective if you can include everyone on the team, from bar back to manager. Letting them all have a voice and be part of the project is really beneficial.’

World Class Global Cocktailian Lauren Mote is keen to stress the importance of guiding your team as well – and that means you can’t be everyone’s friend all the time. ‘I have always led by example, and coaching and mentorship is the heartbeat,’ she says. ‘Working for me – and with me – has its tense moments. I am incredibly high-energy 100% of the time, and I expect everyone else to be, too. My attention to guest service and perfection is paramount, so my expectations are very high.’

With standards high and reputations at stake, communication is all-important.Kaitlyn Stewart, World Class Bartender of the Year 2017, and bar manager at Royal Dinette in Vancouver, always makes sure her team knows what’s expected of them. ‘There are a lot of moving parts to a bar team, and it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page,’ she says. ‘This goes for everything from classic cocktail recipes, to execution, to speed of service.’

Lots of moving parts means lots of opportunity for conflict, and it’s natural to expect team relationships to be put to the test at times. So what’s the best approach to resolving problems when they arise?

‘The job is tough – you’re on your feet for several hours, it’s physically demanding and public facing,’ says Lauren. ‘As a manager, it’s best to keep a watchful eye on each team member, and address any issues right way as these things can affect the business and the overall health of the team. We want to make sure each team member is looked after.’

Making sure your staff have the chance to engage with each other in a non-work context has its benefits, too. But while you’d probably gravitate towards a cocktail joint if you spend your days selling insurance in a grey office block, it can feel like a bit of a busman’s holiday for a bar team. As Dre explains, work and play needn’t be mutually exclusive.

‘When I was in Indonesia, we wanted our bar team to be familiar with the style of international service you get in somewhere

like London, but for a lot of them it was something they couldn’t afford, so we made a point of taking them out on a weekly basis to bars we thought were important. 

That way they got that first-hand experience and could broaden their knowledge while having fun at the same time. In other situations we would get away from alcohol altogether – let off some steam by going paintballing or bowling, things like that.’

Outings and activities aside, it’s ultimately small, practical changes that can have the biggest impact on the wellbeing of your team. Making sure staff have access to nutritious meals, planning shift patterns so that everyone gets a fair amount of time off and encouraging 

creative empowerment are just a few of the small managerial practices that can make a big difference.

Encouraging engagement with the local community can have benefits, too. ‘All the staff here have interesting lives outside of work’, says Kaitlyn. ‘Some people are involved with the local farmers markets, community centres, you name it. I think it's super important to get involved with the community.’

As Lauren explains, helping your team to understand their part in a bigger picture is perhaps the simplest and most rewarding thing of all. ‘There is no feeling quite like charity and giving back. We all feel blessed to do what we do for a living – it’s good to stay humble and realise each day that you’re still living someone else’s dream life. Words and actions to live by.’