How to Empower and Motivate Your Bartenders

Michael Tipps at the 2017 NCB Show
​​​​​​Michael Tipps consulting live at a Nightclub & Bar Show seminar. Image: Getty

Editor's Note: The following is the third in a series of blogs provided by the experts who have worked incredibly hard to make Spike TV's "Bar Rescue" reality program, starring Nightclub & Bar Media Group President Jon Taffer, such a success. The Bar Rescue Insider blog series will deliver tried-and-true tips and tricks to help bar owners, operators and managers solve common problems and increase their bottom line. The author of today's blog, bartender/mixologist Michael Tipps, began his career in food and beverage in New York City where he became the bar manager at the prestigious Soho and Tribeca Grand Hotels for Grand Life Hotels. It was here that Tipps was taught the essentials of classic mixology by Sasha Petraske of Milk and Honey fame. In 2008, Tipps moved to Los Angeles, partnering with David Foss to form Est1854 llc, a food and beverage consulting firm. Tune in to every Wednesday for the next edition of Bar Rescue Insider!

In my experience, the greatest challenge to finding the right bartenders and bar managers for your establishment comes down to knowing the owner’s needs and hiring the personality that best matches those requirements. Unfortunately, even the best staff members sometimes fail to understand their own skill sets.

Therefore, finding ways to inspire your bartenders is crucial. It is important to remind them that they are in a strong business position — an establishment’s financial success runs through the team behind the bar! Bartenders are, in fact, smack in the middle of one of the most profitable positions in the industry. No initial investment is required, and a 15 to 20% gratuity can be expected off the top of sales. That’s one beautiful perk to being a bartender. Bartenders reminded of this fact often experience an “ah-ha” moment.

Appointing a supportive head bartender or bar manager is key to inspiring the rest of your staff. Because bar managers sometimes feel torn between upper management/owners and the people they go to battle with every night behind the bar, I like to promote my best bartender to assist management staff and empower him or her to learn management skills.

A head bartender is much like a football quarterback. And just like in football, it’s important to first have rules and regulations in writing. Asking your head bartender/bar manager to create a list of standard operating procedures and implement a “Bar Bible” can be a great benefit. A Bar Bible can help establish procedures as well as accountability behind the bar. Creating a concrete, written document eliminates “he said/she said” infighting and allows your staff to focus on creating guest reactions and being in touch with your guests’ entire experience.

Daily pour challenges can make monitoring cost control a motivating and even fun activity, as long as the exercise is approached as a teaching tool and not a true “test.” Treat the challenges just like a football practice, focusing on accuracy and precision rather than a “right pour” vs. a “wrong pour.”

A good head coach often allows a quarterback to call his own plays. Bartenders lead the experience that directly affects your bar’s sales and sometimes require a bit more attention. Because people generally are hesitant to try new things, empower your bartenders to build trust with your guests. For example, let your bartenders help the guest make a risk-free choice: A bartender can say to a guest, “Trust me, I think this drink will be right up your alley — our new cocktail is awesome, and if you don’t like it, I’ll make you something else.” This kind of win-win proposition eliminates the patron’s risk, and 99 out of 100 times the guest will hop on board. Rest assured that these types of trust-building techniques help increase revenue and motivate your quarterbacks to truly shine.

Although spill checks are key to tracking waste when a drink is returned, bartenders — like most people — sometimes are afraid to admit an error in judgment. While your bar staff should know that wasted product is just as important as product sold, it’s also vital they understand that management supports well-intentioned mistakes as well as high sales. An encouraging environment helps foster honesty.

Always remember, a motivated bar staff can help bring your ultimate vision to life!

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