What are the best tips, tricks, must do’s and don’ts for managing and running a successful bar, as well as serving customers?
For this round-up, Bar & Restaurant asked 10 bar operators, bar managers and bartenders from across the country for their best kept secrets.
Here’s what our panel of bar pros had to say:
Ashley Kane, Director of Operations for Stove and Co. Restaurant Group (Al Pastor, Good Bad and Ugly West Chester, Stove and Tap, Revival Pizza Pub), Philadelphia, Pa.:
“Surround yourself with people you trust and hold your standards with staff firm. This is a tough industry but ultimately consistency and accountability are how you build great teams.
“The bar is a stage, so give people a show! This doesn't have to mean flair bartending – it can be speed, humor or even thoughtful conversation. I always tell my staff if people just wanted service, they would sit at a table. A bar is meant for more – find your niche and lean into it.
“Stories sell booze! While you should always know your product, keep a few anecdotes on deck to ‘wow’ your guest. It's also the easiest way to get your staff interested in the product.
“Ensure that hospitality is at the heart of every guest interaction. We share so many experiences with our guests; it's absolutely essential that we go above and beyond to exceed their expectations.
“With that said, the final secret is to protect your staff! This business can be unforgiving and one thing I will never allow is for my staff to feel disrespected in any way. I will protect my people at all costs, and they know that. If you take care of your people, they will always take care of you – and the guests!”
(Ashley Kane is pictured above)
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Andrew Hueston, Company Director for Restaurant Aleksandar, Philadelphia, Pa.:
“Bars and restaurants can have some very dynamic personalities and can be tough to manage. Respect and manners can go a long way, especially in high stress environments. Remembering not to snap at people or let emotion get the best of a bumpy situation has its own challenges. It's important to treat my employees as well as I treat my guests.
“Managers should work hard to support their employees; your own work ethic is the best example you can set for someone. It may seem obvious to state this, even downright corny. It's because of this philosophy that I have never had trouble staffing a concept, bar or restaurant, even in today's extremely thin labor force. Remember, a happy staff is a creative staff!
“Always target brand spending! It may seem obvious to some, but a large percentage of major liquor, beer and wine brands or vendors have marketing budgets with objective to spend. This is especially important at the beginning of a bar or concept going into business. Start-up costs can cripple early profitability. It can be hard to navigate what distributors and promo companies represent what brands, harder even in more states with strict liquor laws. That $200 a month brand spend may not seem like much, but it can be the boost you need to cross the line into a good and profitable operating cost. Many of these brands are eager to spend and help their partners lower their cost of goods to push more marketing vectors.”
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Mike Goodwin, Owner of Crazy Uncle Mike's, Boca Raton, Fla.:
“For smooth operations and to boost morale, I like to lead by example. It sounds like a simple thing, but I do not ask employees to do anything I wouldn't do. When they see me pitching in and helping out during busy times, they do not complain or say no when they are asked to do something. Working alongside employees creates a great spirit of camaraderie.
“When we are expecting large groups in the bar or restaurant, we stack the reservations so that all of the orders do not go in all at once and overwhelm the staff.
“Since the pandemic, some bars and restaurants have started relying on automated services, such as ordering from a tablet or checking themselves out at the table. We have chosen not to go this route, because we want to provide our customers personal service so they can relax and have everything taken care of when they are treating themselves to a night out.”
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Ilya Alter, Bar Owner and Operator of Jackie American Bistro, Washington, D.C.:
“Make sure you don't create a bar longer in actual feet than you need. An oversized bar without proper staffing does not feel cozy. Similarly, an oversized bar with too many bartenders is happening only when there is a big crowd. Otherwise, it feels overstaffed. Measure before you order the bar!
“Think through storage for all aspects of bar service, even down to the very mundane such as coasters. Remember that carrying wares from afar to begin service every day translates into higher labor costs. This solved an issue for us, because servers can handle more tables when they do not have to walk across the room for tableware and glasses.
“Decide on glassware. A proper glass is always welcome by a knowledgeable customer. If glassware routinely gets stolen, it means you did something right about your glassware branding! To help discourage lost glasses, offer several styles for sale.
“If your layout allows, remove glass washing away from behind the bar and into the dish pit. In our experience, this allows bartenders to have more room and makes behind the bar less chaotic.
“Make a pact with yourself never to do shots with regulars or your liver will have to retire early! We celebrate toasts with water.”
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Jarrod Fox and Taylor Lintz, Managing Partners of TailGate Outdoor Sports Bar, Brooklyn, N.Y.:
“At TailGate Outdoor Sports Bar, our best-kept secret in running a bar is listening and learning. Our top priority is catering to our customer's and staff's wants and needs. Since we opened during the COVID-19 pandemic to fill the void of getting together and socially distancing, we understood from the beginning that we couldn't be great at everything. But we can always pledge to try to enhance the experience and do better. We hold weekly meetings with all our staff to run through the weekend shifts – what went well, what didn't, how it could be different next time, etc. – always listening to our people to see what works and doesn't.
“Additionally, we want to lead by example. No task is too small for us, either. If the bar is open, you will find us there. Whether we are slinging it behind the bar, running drinks to tables, seating reservations, or simply being a helping hand because we are understaffed. We are dedicated to showing that we care and appreciate every customer, team member, or friend that makes TailGate Outdoor Sports Bar what it is today.”
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Rachel Roedershelmer, Bartender from Wings and Rings Cincinnati, Ohio:
“The most important thing is listening to your guests' needs and building relationships with them. If they request something, do what you can to make that happen for them and you'll have lifelong regulars.
"I memorize every guest and what they drink; I know where they like to sit at the bar and who they like to sit by during any sporting event. I like to introduce my patrons to each other since they all live in the same community, and it gets them involved with each other. I am there to not only work but to entertain them as the bartender and treat each guest like they are my only guest when I am talking to them.”
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Kate Dundon, Bartender at The Brass Tap Craft Beer Bar – Carrollwood, Tampa, Fla.:
“As a member of The Brass Tap team since 2014, I’ve made the resounding realization that if you create a great workplace, you’ll be rewarded with great work. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability, as can be seen in our most recent recognitions in both FSR magazine, and The Business Journals.
"While our heart is in craft beer, our mind has always been on our guests. Being leaders in the industry, we know to always treat our employees as we would our best.”
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Kiri Rostad, Bar Director of The Blue Ox, Lynn, Mass.:
“In my opinion, the secret to running a successful restaurant comes down to two things: trust and training. Building a strong foundation for new employees means being thorough, clear, and free of any ambiguity. If you ensure proper training, combined with consistent communication, it allows you to trust your staff to follow through. While working at one of the most formative restaurants I’ve ever worked for, I was told by the owner that he wasn’t a ‘babysitter.’ He said he didn’t hire incompetent employees and so he trusted them to do their jobs consistently, efficiently and effectively. This environment created expectations that we all felt it was our duty to live up to. I’ve kept that with me ever since and do my best to lead in the same manner. Having trust in both your ability to properly train, combined with trust in your staff to perform, is, in my opinion, the building block of any successful team.”
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Alessandra Rocchi, Beverage Director of Felice Locations – New York City, Brooklyn and Long Island, N.Y.:
“Having a robust beverage program, a skillful and curious bartender and careful management are all imperative in creating a wonderful bar experience, but it is the everyday interaction between the bartender and the guest that creates the magic needed for a successful bar. I always make sure to have a great bottle of champagne. When the occasion to celebrate presents itself, you always need to be prepared. These are the moments guests remember the most and we don’t want to disappoint.”
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Ricardo Camacho, Partner and Executive Chef for Añejo Restaurant Group, Philadelphia and New York City:
“As partner/operator of a few restaurants with a large tequila/mezcal program, there are many things that I've learned over the last 13 years but what sticks out is investing in staff education. Figure out the mission for your bar program, find bartenders that believe in it and reinforce it with immersive education. You want to create passionate spokespeople for the product. While the regular educational snippet from a brand ambassador of a certain spirit is a good start, we like to take it a step further by sponsoring trips to Mexico for some of our more senior bartenders to visit tequila distilleries and mezcal palenques. The immersion that takes place is something that leaves a lasting impact and helps it all make sense. It helps everyone realize what we're doing is something much bigger and it needs us.”
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Plan to Attend or Participate in
Bar & Restaurant Expo, March 27-29, 2023
To learn about the latest trends, issues and hot topics, and to experience and taste the best products within the bar, restaurant and hospitality industry, plan to attend Bar & Restaurant Expo, March 27-29, 2023 in Las Vegas. Visit BarandRestaurantExpo.com.
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