How to Find the Best Staff

It’s your bar.  It’s your vision.  You picked the location and décor, designed the menu, and selected the beverage offerings.  The financial risk is yours.  The success or failure of your establishment falls on you and you alone.  It is so very personal.

How To Hire Bar Staff

And yet, with some direction but no absolute control, you turn the whole thing over to some number and combination of managers and staff to execute.  This reliance on others can be uncomfortable but is nonetheless inevitable.  With so much at stake it is critical to populate your operation with exceptional performers.  Locating and identifying this potential is expensive and time consuming.  We spend inordinate time and money on a hiring process that frequently results in new hires that are average at best.  To help avoid situations where so much effort produces less than ideal results, here are some tips to help you to locate, attract and identify the kinds of great candidates you can trust with your vision.  Your success depends on it.


One of the reasons that the hiring process can be so time consuming is that everyone thinks they are qualified to work at your bar.  Everyone has consumed food, beverage and service and so everyone assumes delivery must be as easy as eating and drinking.  We know better but they don’t.  Posting a job opening will result in a lot of applicants who don’t qualify, regardless of the quality of the position description included in that posting.  The wider you cast your net (if you will) the more applicants you will get.  The more applicants you get, the more resumes and applications you will have to cull through and the more time consuming the process becomes.  Posting positions on internet sites or through social media is sometimes necessary but will result in a blizzard of applicants.

You should be shooting for fewer potential applicants likely to be qualified. Your best resource to accomplish this goal is your current employees.  Make them aware of openings and the characteristics you are looking for in successful applicants.  This knowledge combined with their understanding of your organization’s culture makes it likely that they will bring forward individuals more likely to fit your profile for success.  Allowing your employees to “pre-screen” results in a smaller and more qualified applicant pool, saving you valuable time and effort.

With such significant benefits associated with hiring based on referrals, it makes sense to encourage your current staff to make referrals.  An incentive program that rewards employees for referrals and then again at some point in the future if that referred candidate is hired and stays on for some period of time is reasonable and makes sense financially.


In order to attract quality applicants your establishment needs to have a reputation as a good place to work.  Especially by virtue of their schedules; cooks, servers and bartenders often run in the same circles.  They will talk about work and work environments – where staff seem happiest and where they are not. 

You should strive to be an establishment where staff are happy.  By virtue of their hard work and ability, talented food and beverage workers can choose where to work and will be drawn to those restaurants and bars that provide the best set of circumstances.  Lousy employees have many fewer choices and therefore must often work wherever they can get hired.

If you find that you are constantly attracting mediocre candidates, it may be that the working environment you offer is not one that excellent performers would choose.  That needs to change.  Recent studies have indicated that businesses that focus equally on their employees, customers and products are most likely to be leaders in their markets.  In general terms, your employee’s needs will be met at work if you provide them fun, fair and interesting jobs.  They crave agreeable guests, managers and co-workers; fair pay, fair treatment and a fair workload; interesting tasks and some input in decisions.  The best candidates will seek out organizations that provide jobs with these characteristics.  Your applicant pool will improve when your effort to make your positions include more of them.


Referrals and attractive positions help bring in the right candidates.  It is still critical that you screen applicants, using interviews to determine their appropriateness for your organization.  You can get so much good information through an interview, but most managers ask bad questions that result in the wrong information.  For instance, asking a bartender to recite drink recipes is a good way to determine if that bartender can remember recipes.  While it is important to assess the technical ability of a candidate, this can often be done by examining an application, through references or with a bench test.  Anyway, technical ability has been proven to be a predictor of competence, not excellence.

To determine excellence, an interview must identify the extent to which the candidate possesses the personal characteristics of outstanding service providers.  In one construct or another, research has identified these characteristics to be extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability.  The most effective way to identify these characteristics in an interviewee is to employ behavioral interview techniques, asking questions and looking for answers that provide insight into personality, not just technical ability. 

Questions designed to determine if an applicant is an extrovert might focus on socializing in groups and relationships at current and past jobs.  Questions designed to determine agreeableness should elicit examples about how the applicant deals with difficult managers, co-workers, and guests.  A conscientious individual will provide answers that focus on attention to detail and the desire to do well for the sake of doing well.  Questions designed to determine emotional stability should focus on difficult decisions and how they have been handled.

Keep in mind that there is much more information to be gained from an applicant than just from the specifics of the answers they provide.  For example, extroversion can easily be determined by how the interviewee carries him or herself.  Conscientiousness can be gleaned by evaluating how the candidate has dressed for the interview.  When I was trained as a bouncer, the head of security told me the best way to tell if someone was underage and using a fake I.D. was to ask them their zodiac sign.  I told him I didn’t know the zodiac signs.  He told me he didn’t either.  He was just looking for a reaction.  Behavioral interviewing should be about the questions and the answers provided, but also about whether the characteristics you are looking for are on display during the interview.

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