Congratulations on Becoming Bar Manager! What Now?

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So, you’ve proven yourself and earned the position of bar manager. Congrats, superstar! Do you have any idea what’s expected of you? David Alan of Patrón, Justin Elliott of The Townsend, and Michael Sanders of drink.well. have the inside information you need to become an outstanding bar manager.

It’s a good idea to keep in mind that there isn't just one way to do things but you need to at least have a plan and solutions in place.

"There are few businesses more chaotic than the hospitality business," says Elliott. You will have an easier time as a bar manager if you’re the type of person who likes to fight chaos, and being a problem solver will make you a more valuable asset.

The following is trio’s best advice for succeeding in your new role as bar manager.


One of the most effective solutions to chaos is communication. As Sanders says, however, “The problem with communication is the assumption that it exists.” Bearing that in mind, you need to have a grip on top-down and bottom-to-top communication. Putting systems in place tends to be difficult at first but once you’ve got them implemented they’re easier to manage and evolve. Create your policies (communication policies, management policies, etc.), put them in place, and keep your employees informed. Alan, Elliott and Sanders warn against coming up with policies on the fly.

Instead, develop an employee handbook. Take the time to think of as many policies as you can and load your handbook with them. Rules, policies on comps, policies on social media, dress code, rules about expected behavior, cutting off and/or removing customers… Leave no stone unturned. If you’ve made it to bar manager you’ve more than likely worked in a few bars: mine your experiences to help you create policies and your handbook.

The Townsend also uses a weekly newsletter to bolster communication and keep employees informed. Upcoming events? They’re in the newsletter. Are there employees on vacation? That information is in the newsletter. Made changes or additions to policies? You know it’s in the newsletter. There’s also a daily data sheet that employees are expected and required to check and initial upon clocking in. The data sheet brings employees who were not around at the start of service up to speed for their shift.

Speaking of meetings… Yes, they are incredibly important. However, good bar managers know that they can be overused. You need to respect your employees and respect their time. Be mindful of the frequency of your meetings, along with their duration. Elliott has manager meetings and project days every 2 weeks. The trio doesn’t believe that meetings and memos should serve only to correct mistakes or bad behavior. Rather, there should be compliments and good news included as well.

Good communication is regular. Alan, Elliott and Sanders suggest weekly memos, daily data sheets, and pre-shift meetings as the most effective tools for sharing information with your employees. There are also a number of digital tools at your disposal, so take advantage of their power and convenience. Elliott and Sanders both like Wunderlist Pro ($4.99 per month) for its ability to help users make checklists, assign tasks, and attach documents to tasks. Elliott also uses Dropbox for Word documents so he can share notes with employees about what projects people are working on. Of course, good communication is also consistent. Avoid changing the days that schedules are posted, newsletters are sent out, or payroll is released.


Chaos doesn’t only affect communication. Anyone who has worked a shift in a bar or restaurant knows that cleanliness can be threatened by the chaotic nature of hospitality venues. A dirty establishment simply cannot be accepted as the norm. Cleanliness enhances the guest experience, and every little thing is important.

The use of thorough checklists with cleaning tasks is possible the most effective tool for maintaining cleanliness. As a bar manager, you must be diligent and you must enforce the checklists. To make sure tasks are completed at times that make sense, add times to the checklists. You should also update them periodically to make sure all of the tasks are valid. This ensures that employees believe the checklists are reliable and relevant. In terms of what should be included on the cleaning checklists, don’t assume anything is common sense or too small. If it isn’t on the checklist, it’s likely it won’t get done. Put everything on your cleanliness checklists.

When it comes to who should check the lists, the trio says the closing manager should do it. If an employee doesn’t initial or sign the checklist, they didn’t do it. If they did sign or initial it and the task wasn’t completed, they should be considered a liar. That is where the handbook containing the policies you created comes into play. One of your policies should be that employees are not to give false information to management or owners, which would include signing off on checklists that were not completed.

If you have to – and you may – explain to all of your employees why checklist tasks need to be accomplished. Give them context and purpose to ensure they take their tasks seriously. One of the best ways to do this is to tell them, “This must be done because of [insert benefit] to you/your coworkers/the business.”

Comps & Shift Drinks

Everything – everything – should be categorized as either a comp, a spill or a sale. Elliott, who is operating a “young” bar, says that they have a fairly “freewheeling” approach to comps. He feels that giving things away is important for building a customer base and longevity. He says that their comp policy may change down the road.

Sanders also feels that comps are good. They’re all recorded so they can be accounted for, including the reason the comp was given. However, if the comp isn’t rung up he considers it theft. He suggests considering a comp policy that lists what specific item or items can be comped and giving your staff the authority to give them away. In Sanders’ opinion, comps should be thought of as part of the marketing budget. Of course, there needs to be a value to them or it makes no sense to give anything away. Make certain your comp policy is clear so that if comps are misused, it's theft… and have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to theft.

When it comes to shift drinks, Sanders and Elliott have different policies. Sanders doesn’t allow any employee to drink on the job. Instead, he buys everyone a shift drink at the end of their shift. He also doesn’t allow guests to buy drinks for his staff. Tastes, however, are permitted.

Elliott allows what he calls “booze family meals.” When a manager says the staff is to gather together, they have a shot. They’re allowed two of these shots per shift. In Elliott’s opinion, the shift drinks are a team-building component. They toast the house, take their shots, and go back to work. Bar managers account for the shots and if the rules are broken, the offending employee is terminated. As Elliott puts it, “If you freelance, we’ll be mailing you your check.”

Money Management

More than likely, this is the first thing you thought of when it came to your brand-spanking-new role as bar manager: the money. It is critically important that you know your costs so that you understand the value of every item you purchase. This includes your liquor costs, true liquor costs (liquor plus consumables), labor costs, cocktail costs (spirit, mixer, garnish, pick, etc.), and comps. A purchase journal can help you manage and understand costs, make predictions for future purchases, and understand the value of what you’re ordering.

Part of managing money is managing vendors. Make sure that you vigilant when checking invoices. Delivery invoices must match what you ordered. After all, you can’t expect if you don’t inspect. Take your time and crosscheck your order versus what was actually delivered. The trio recommends checking vendor prices once per week to see if anything you purchase is increasing in price. Let’s be honest, your vendors are necessarily going to tell you about increases. Make sure what you were told is what the cost actually is when checking invoices.

Again, congratulations on your promotion to bar manager. Cheers!

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