Five Questions with PDT's Jim Meehan About Talent, Training and Time

Image: Daniel Krieger

Jim Meehan, author of the The PDT Cocktail Book and the James Beard award-winning Meehan’s Bartender Manual, will share his passion for our industry in a motivational and informative keynote at the 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas. The keynote, "Your Work Family: Hiring, Training, Mentoring & Motivating Your Team for the Long Haul," taps into Meehan's 20-plus years' experience in the business.

He first entered the hospitality business in 1995, working his way through school at the University of Wisconsin at Madison as a bartender. In 2002, made a bold move to sharpen his skills, moving and taking jobs in bars and restaurants in NYC. Among the venues at which he worked are the famed Gramercy Tavern and the Pegu Club.
He opened PDT (Please Don't Tell), a hidden cocktail lounge accessed via a phone booth inside the legendary Crif Dogs in the East Village of NYC, in 2002. By 2009, both PDT and the masterful bar manager won Spirited Awards at Tales of the Cocktail. PDT was recognized as World's Best Cocktail Bar and he took home American Bartender of the Year and World’s Best Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail. The NYC speakeasy won the first-ever James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program in 2012.  
On March 25, 2019 at 1:00 p.m., Meehan will share how his leadership approach has evolved from leading by example to motivating colleagues to realize their potential.

We’re excited to have you as our opening keynote at the Nightclub & Bar conference. What do you hope attendees will take away from your keynote?

I’m excited to be there! I hope attendees will leave my talk inspired to reinvest in their most important resource: their colleagues.

You've switched from being behind the bar and managing PDT full-time to working more with your consulting brand, Mixography. When you first meet with new clients, what questions are bar owners and operators asking and what questions should they really be focusing on?

Most of the projects I’ve consulted on over the last ten years are openings where there’s an expectation of a long-term work relationship. It’s really hard—and expensive—to “reset” what’s already been started, so collaborating with operators at the earliest possible development stage is key for me. At that time, you’re able to weigh in on the concept and buildout, as well as to set goals for the business. These are the three most important elements from the outset, presuming you’ve already got strong leadership in place to oversee day-to-day operations. 

With minimum wage rising, employment at an all-time high, and staff today looking for a sense of purpose in their work, how should operators focus on attracting and retaining great talent while managing labor costs?

Without giving it all away before my talk, my “open secret” to attracting and retaining staff is taking a vested interest in their well-being away from work. Once operators have their own matters in order, taking time to get to know what challenges their staff members face before they punch-in will help position both parties to meet and exceed their responsibilities on the job.

Read this: Trailblazer and BrewDog USA CEO Tanisha Robinson to Deliver Keynote at 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show

As an employee, sometimes just knowing your employer is on your side is enough, while other times, management going above and beyond “the call of duty” can be the difference between making it through a rough patch or not. Like all interpersonal relationships, the investment needs to go both ways.

I believe that you ignore the issues your staff brings to work at your own peril as an operator.

Speaking of staff, if you could offer some tips on how bars should rethink their training programs, what advice would you give them?

This may not jive with what you’re hearing from most elite operators, but I believe that most training programs go too far today. If you boil down our industry—and life for that matter—it all comes down to problem solving; and sadly for operators, the best way for an employee to learn is to make a mistake. 

So instead of trying to protect your organization from any and all reasonable, non-malignant errors or misjudgments from its employees—I’m talking about bars here, not air traffic control—I think we should be spending more time fostering environments that push our employees to challenge themselves to grow; which means making mistakes and learning from them.

Read this: How to Keep Customers Coming Back

I also think that as managers we should spend less time talking and more time listening to our staff—both new and old—who often have great ideas of what works but aren’t consulted. As for the technical stuff, it’s literally all out there on the Internet now. We should be pushing our staff to educate themselves and showing them where to look instead of spoon-feeding it.

I’ve switched my management philosophy around to promote a culture that rewards independent, self-sufficient, accountable staff members who only come to me when they’ve exhausted their problem-solving resources, and I’m grateful for it. My teams appeal to a broader consumer audience because we have more than one way of approaching everything we do. 

All great teams take direction from a strong leader but many operators find themselves constantly stressed and borderline (or actually) workaholics. How can they start to regain control over their time to live a healthier lifestyle without negatively affecting their leadership or teams in the long run?

You need to pursue a life away from work. Start with a fish, upgrade to a cat or dog, then try dating, church or SoulCycle. When you have something you really enjoy doing outside the industry or someone you really relish spending time with, you’ll get your work done so you can go home to be with them. I’ve found that having kids has made me incredibly selfish—in a good way—about the time I spend at work.

Read this: What is Customer Service?

With this said, I’ve never met anyone in hospitality management who works 40 hours a week; so if you want that type of life, this isn’t the industry for you. If you don’t love people, hospitality is going to be a really tough career path. The good news is that if you’re a workaholic who is stressed out most of the time, you’ll have plenty of company in the hospitality business.

I should also point out that just like the staff, managers go through rough patches, which affects their leadership abilities and the team at large. The key thing to do when this happens is to make your co-workers aware of what’s going on and why, and ask for help. Chances are if you’ve helped co-workers get through rough patches, they’ll be empathetic and help you too. 

Bonus Question: What books or productivity tool would you recommend to check out this year?

There’s this green book….

Editor's Note: You mean this one:


A post shared by Jim Meehan (@mixography) on


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