BUILDING YOUR CAREER IN THE BAR INDUSTRY
When it comes to career paths in the bar industry there is no fixed route. Your journey is shaped by the choices you make. So, we caught up with four industry experts to get insight into the roles and routes available and exactly how to get there.
THE CURRENT LANDSCAPE
A year ago, there were many opportunities at all levels and in all branches of hospitality but in today’s market, we can’t deny the effects the current situation has had on the industry. Direct entry into specialist functions is scarce and this will likely be the case for at least the next six – twelve months. Don’t let that discourage you, instead use this time to plan and decide where you want to go. This won’t last forever, and this is your opportunity to come out the other side ready to take on your next challenge. Stephen Waters MD at hospitality management school, Watershed gives us some insight into starting out in the industry and the roles that are available.
Aside from being a server, bartender, or bar manager, there are lots of other roles out there. There is an entire infrastructure/head office around these businesses where you can successfully build a career with the right skills and commitment - from brand ambassador to marketing to HR.
You can start in operations or go straight into a specialism such as marketing, but I’d recommend starting in operations and building your base there. If you’re hoping to go straight into a specialist function, be aware that (a) this is harder and (b) this can be difficult, and you can hit a glass ceiling early on.
It's worth doing your homework to understand what each specialist job role entails. For example, a role in the marketing function of a business can have responsibilities from proactive promotion to the creation of events and the management of private parties as well as the more obvious ones like social media management. HR is often perceived as a people-centric role when in fact it is mostly about legal from drafting and updating policies to maintaining employee records and payroll, and therefore involves some additional training.
In terms of building your career, you can move around but if you’re looking for a place to settle down, there are now plenty of first-class restaurant and pub companies that specialize in exactly this. These places can be a great way to learn how to build a business of your own, there are some first-class management and entrepreneur development programs now available in the industry. Typically, such a management program would enable you to be out of the business two or three days a month and you’d be attending a university accredited management program learning about good business practice. This, together with the hands-on experience you’d gained with your employer would put you in a strong position should you wish to seek funding to start your own business.
TAKE IT STEP BY STEP
Building a successful hospitality career can seem daunting, don’t let it overwhelm you. Instead, progress through stages until you get where you want to be. There are six key stages to building your career and I’ll share a little on each.
1. Know yourself - to thrive at interview and in the early stages of your career, you’ll need heightened self-knowledge. Ask your friends for their opinion. Remember, the self-knowledge we have accumulated by our twenties isn’t always exactly right.
2. Know what you want – understand what works for you. If your intention is to learn fast, consider finding a company with a robust management development program. The alternative would be to find what you want through experimentation. Work at six different companies, in any role, for two or three years. Employers are more amenable to this than you might think.
3. Get an interview - research your targets. Visit them, read their websites in detail, talk to people who work there. Together with a tailored CV spend at least an hour or two crafting your covering letter. Make it clear that you’ve been in and looked around. Tell them exactly what you particularly like about them and how you see yourself fitting.
4. Prepare for the interview – prepare until you can prepare no more. Be aware that different businesses require different competencies. Ask the interviewer for as much information as they can share ahead of the interview so you can focus on what they want to see.
5.Starting your new job - listen, offer to do extra, notice the culture, smile, dress well, make friends. ‘Seek first to understand before seeking to be understood’ as Aristotle said. Take every opportunity to learn whether via learning opportunities offered by your employer or those now widely offered by industry organizations and online.
6. Don’t forget why you chose this - you will read plenty about this being a wonderful career with many opportunities. You will also read plenty about the long and anti-social hours. As always, the difference is somewhere in between. Think about who you really are, do your research, approach strategically, settle down, listen, and learn. You can quickly find yourself working with some of the most interesting people you’re ever likely to come across.
LEARN FROM OTHERS
One important thing to remember is that you can learn from those around you and those who have gone before you. There are multiple routes you can take to building your career, depending on which career you have in mind, and you’ll soon discover that no two paths are the same, nor should they be. For instance, Grant Sceney, Creative Beverage Director at the Fairmont Pacific Rim joined the group as a bartender. Winning World Class Canada 2014 is just one of many successes that led the Fairmont team to craft the Creative Beverage Director role especially for him.
A one-month placement at the American Bar at The Savoy filled Alice Glayzer with passion and drive to succeed in this industry and that determination seen her quickly rise through the ranks from waiter, to host to supervisor.
World Class India winner 2019, Devi Singh Bhati began his career as a waiter. With support from mentors and colleagues, he rose through the ranks to become a world class bartender and beverage consultant.
We asked these experienced bars professional a few quick questions to gain an insight into their careers so far.
What was your first role in this industry?
I landed my first job in the industry as a bartender at my local pub while studying Hospitality and Tourism management. After completing the course, I got a job working at a 5-star resort on a private Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Since then my job has taken me to 35 countries around the globe.
It wasn’t until I was put ‘en salle’ (on the floor) as a server that I knew that is where I was needed and at my best. Starting on the floor was the hardest but best time, and the skills I learned there have helped me progress through the ranks from server to host to supervisor.
I started off as a waiter on a beach shack and then moved to a job as a bar back at a busy nightclub in Goa, India. I was involved in everything from cleaning the bar to garnish slicing and glass wiping. Starting as a bar back is the ideal way to progress within the bar and I’m forever grateful for that.
How did you progress?
Working in hotels has been key for me as they offer thorough training. Having mentors and close relationships with peers has also played a crucial role and helped me grow. Jacob Sweetapple was my Head bartender when I started for Fairmont and it was with his encouragement that I entered my first competition.
I was very determined, and I really loved my role - that passion fuelled me forward. I learned so much from my mentor, Declan McGurk, and the team at The American Bar and was fortunate to have the opportunity to fill a permanent position there. Surrounding yourself with great mentors and positive, talented people is incredibly important for professional growth.
I realized early on that one of the best ways to kick start my bartending/mixology career would be to compete in cocktail competitions. After three years of constant effort, I was named the 2019 World Class India winner and that opened a lot of doors for me.
Are there any new roles being carved out since reopening?
People are now taking on new or multiple roles and some are diversifying in terms of skillsets. We are empowering our staff to make decisions and become more invested in our success. Creativity is also a key factor. For example, a bar in Vancouver (after losing most of their seats), built a mini-golf course in the empty parking lot next door, and now hosts mini-golf tournaments and serves fun slushy cocktails. The person running it was previously a Brand Ambassador but had to adapt and carve out a new role in response to current circumstances.
I feel every establishment will now have a position for an on-site hygiene officer to ensure safety and hygiene practices are being followed. Rather than new roles added, I would say existing roles will now have more responsibilities and duties to provide the best customer service in the safest way possible.
What advice would you give to someone who aspires to build their hospitality career?
My advice would be to always be proactive at planning your next steps. Remember it’s okay to move sideways or even take a step down but always stay focused on your goals.
Be open-minded. Make the most of the opportunities you are presented with – you never know where they can lead you. During all of this remember to take care of yourself, learn to switch off after your shift – I find having a hobby helps.
This line of work is not easy, so it is important to adapt to and overcome all obstacles you face. Once you have nailed this, this is the most rewarding career in the world in my opinion.
- Start in operations and build your base from there.
- Understand who you are and what you want from the outset.
- Research the companies/ venues you want to work in and get a feel for what it's like to work there.
- Learn from those around you and seek feedback to develop.
- Don’t lose sight of your goals. Stay focused and committed.