Busy bar with two bartenders serving guests

Scheduling your team to optimise peak performance

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

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When looking at increasing overall revenue, most operators will look at increasing sales during their quieter periods.  They might schedule a quiz to bring people in on a quiet Monday night or put a drinks discount in place during the early evening in mid-week to try and get their guests in earlier.  

However, the best operators in the world approach the task of increasing their revenues fundamentally differently. Instead of making their quiet periods busier, they look to make their busier periods more efficient.   

 Peak trade 

The bar is at peak trade when there’s continuous service with no downtime between transactions, and all bar team members are working at their maximum capacity.  Increasing your sales velocity during this period is incredibly valuable.  

What peak trade looks like in different venues will vary. 

In some cases, it might be guests queuing 4-5 deep at the bar, and for others, it might be all the bar stools and tables full during a formal cocktail service. Using your sales data, you should be able to identify a revenue cap for your peak trade period. That is the point where each bartender on each station is working flat out and is physically unable to perform any faster or serve more guests than they currently are. This revenue cap is most easily expressed as a per-hour figure.  

For example, between 10 pm and midnight on a Saturday night, a three-station bar might take £2000 per hour, broken down as station 1 taking £800 per hour and stations 2 and 3 taking £600 per hour each. Most operators will focus on speed to increase this revenue cap figure, trying to get their bartenders to work faster and faster before looking at efficiency. The top operators reverse this: speed is a function of efficiency, so if you can improve efficiency, speed will increase.  

How to identify barriers

Identify and remove any barriers to fast and efficient service to improve efficiency. Simply asking your bar team what things slow them down during that peak trade period is a good starting point. Additionally, sitting and observing your bar team working during peak trade will help you identify things slowing them down.  

Doing this regularly and reconfiguring your bar setup accordingly is better still. Even if your bar is set up perfectly, consumer tastes change, menus get updated, and products and equipment change, so constantly re-evaluating your setup will ensure you minimise blockages to fast, efficient service.

Three simple, low/no-cost changes

  • Shrink your bartender's work radius.  The two-step rule suggests that everything a bartender needs to make every drink on the menu should be within a two-step radius of their workstation. If a bartender has to take more than two steps to reach a product or piece of equipment to make a drink, relocate it so it’s within easy reach.  
  • Standardise your bar station layout. Standardising your bar station layout means that your bar team will become familiar with operating efficiently within that standard setup. No adjustment is required depending on which bar station they’re working on, and they’ll increase their speed and efficiency.   
  • Provide extra support during peak hours.  Providing extra support during peak hours will reduce blockages to efficient service. Glassware will be restocked more quickly, ingredients that run out will be replenished, and ice wells will be refilled more quickly. By scheduling extra support staff, you’ll improve the efficiency of your bar team and enable them to serve more efficiently.  

These three changes each support incremental improvements to efficiency, which, when combined, will aid more efficient and faster service, pushing up the revenue cap your team hit during peak trade and making you additional revenue.  

That revenue is even more valuable as these changes don’t impact your fixed costs except for providing additional support staff. 

Measuring bartender performance 

What makes your best bartender better than your worst? What are the criteria you use to schedule staff for the busiest shifts? 

Some operators will allocate shifts based merely on staff availability.The best operators will measure their bartender’s performance and schedule their best team to be in place during their busiest, most profitable shifts.The ranking criteria will vary depending on the business, but things like pouring accuracy under pressure, speed of drink production and quality of drink presentation should all be considered. 

Implementing a ranking system 

Whether you employ three bartenders or three hundred, you will have a good, better and the best team member. Measuring your bartender performance and creating a ranking system formalises what you know anecdotally already. Creating a tiered ranking system is generally a cultural shift for any business.  

Some staff will resist creating a straight meritocracy; for that reason, it’s often easier to start with a two-tier system, but a three-tier system ultimately works better.  When you implement a ranking system, it should be clear to the whole team what is required to move up through the tiers (speed test results, pouring accuracy results, presentation scores, etc.).  Higher-ranked bartenders should be rewarded for their superior performance.  

Performance scheduling

In addition to ranking your bartenders, you need to rank your shifts in terms of their profitability and identify which shifts require your strongest team to be in place. Once you’ve performance-rated and ranked your team and identified and ranked your most profitable shifts, you can start performance-scheduling your bar team so that your best team members are on the bar for your busiest shifts.   

Performance scheduling does require some nuance; your best staff will occasionally want a night off from your busiest shifts, and other absences will also factor in. To facilitate this flexibility, implementing a system where bartenders can only swap shifts with bartenders of the same or a higher rank will help keep your busiest shifts well-covered.   

In addition, implementing performance targets for your busiest shifts and sharing them with your team will also help galvanise performance and get them working together towards a common goal. Linking these targets with a bonus structure will help you implement and drive peak performance gains.  

Key Takeaways

  • The world's best operators approach increasing their revenues by making their busier periods more efficient rather than their quieter periods busier.   
  • Increasing sales velocity during peak trade is incredibly valuable as your fixed costs have already been met. 
  • The top operators should focus on improving efficiency rather than improving speed (which will improve due to increased efficiency).
  • Make three simple, low/no-cost changes. Shrink your bartender's work radius, standardise your bar station layout and provide extra support during peak hours. 
  • To drive efficiency during peak trade periods, implement a performance ranking system for your bar team and schedule your best team to cover your most profitable shifts. Combine this with targets and rewards, and you’ll optimise your team's performance when it most matters.  

The best operators in the world use performance-based systems to improve their operational efficiency and profitability when they know they’ll be at their busiest.  A crucial part of these systems is identifying a revenue cap and tailoring strategies to increase it and boost profits. The key to this approach is to put efficiency first, not speed; this is the path to generating higher profits and a more successful business.

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