Is Bad Culture & Atmosphere Sabotaging Your Bar or Nightclub?

Image: Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

You would probably have no problem explaining the concept behind your bar or nightclub if asked. Between all the time spent planning it, discussing it with family, friends, partners, investors, banks, distributors and suppliers, and bringing it to fruition, you’re likely well practiced in delivering a succinct rundown of your business. The details behind your drinks, your food (if you have any), your approach to service, your promotions, all of those and more probably trip right off your tongue. So what about your atmosphere? Can you explain that to people? How about your culture? Workplace culture and so much more make up your atmosphere, and your atmosphere can either propel you towards success or collapse your dream. You need to understand your bar’s atmosphere because the initial impression it makes on your customers will set their mood and steer their perception.

Take a look at your staff. How are your employees behaving and interacting with one another and your customers? What’s their attitude? Their behavior affects your atmosphere, which affects your customers and your business overall. A staff that is invested in the success of your bar will work well with one another. They will push each other to be rock stars and provide the best possible service and customer experience. When bartenders, servers and barbacks are on their game they exude an upbeat energy, an infectious liveliness that permeates the 4 walls of your business. When your customers are surrounded by that sort of energy they would describe your bar as having a great or an excellent atmosphere. This is one major reason that a healthy workplace culture is so vital to your success. Fail to hire the right managers and create a hostile work culture and negative energy will hang like a dark cloud over your bar, damaging your atmosphere, failing to inspire customers to return, and draining your bank account. Put in its simplest terms, if your staff isn’t having fun at work then your guests won’t have fun.

Now take a look at your customers. What sorts of people are seated at your bar or standing around? Do you see familiar faces? Do the new faces look happy? If your staff isn’t warm, friendly and welcoming you’re likely not going to see customers you recognize. People aren’t going to come back to spend time and money at your bar if they don’t receive at least good service because they won’t feel as though you or your staff value their business. Conversely, if your staff only makes an effort to provide excellent service to the regulars then new customers will feel alienated and probably cut their visit short, never to return. A healthy workplace motivates your employees to engage with your customers positively, making everyone feel welcome and appreciated. When customers feel as though you and you staff appreciate them, they come back to spend money.

While you’re looking around your bar, take a good look at the uniforms your staff wears as well as the furniture, lighting, décor, and other design elements. Does it all match your concept? Your customers will detect a disconnect whether they can put it into words or not. To avoid having your guests feel as though something is “off,” which will negatively impact your business, you need to go all the way and fully realize your concept. From the fonts chosen for your signage and menu to your colors and beyond, your success relies on how closely you pay attention to the details. Make sure your venue is clean, even if it’s a dive bar. A dive is supposed to be comfortable, not unhygienic. What type of music is playing? Who controls it? You also need to update your concept from time to time to avoid appearing as though you’re behind the times. The competition is fierce and you don’t want to lose market share because people perceive your bar to be irrelevant regardless of theme and concept. Just as important, hire people who understand what your bar is about. At least one of your interview questions should involve asking candidates to explain your concept to you or whoever does the hiring.

As you can see, there are myriad factors that create and contribute to your bar’s atmosphere. Workplace culture is massively important and we’ve also gone over how various design elements make an impact. That’s plenty for you to focus on, analyze, and adjust. But before we go, let’s take a look at one more thing: What is there for your customers to do at your bar? Are their games to play, televisions to watch, bands to listen to, educational experiences in which customers can immerse themselves? It’s alright if your bar is designed to inspire relaxation and conversation – many bars are conducive to just that. Just keep in mind that, generally speaking, customers are out and about and spending time in bars to unwind and decompress from stressful workweeks. Providing them with entertaining distractions can go a long way to creating a loyal customer base that spreads the word about your bar’s excellent atmosphere.

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