STAFFING 101: HIRING AND KEEPING THE BEST BARTENDERS
While staffing in the hospitality industry has always had unique challenges due to the transient nature of many food and beverage workers, these difficulties have been magnified by recent staffing shortages. With a large number of hospitality employees having decided to leave the industry completely, employers are now fighting over an increasingly smaller pool of available labor.
Top bartender, Laura Newman, gives her top tips on how to overcome these challenges and ensure you are still finding great staff.
HOW TO INTRODUCE A FOOL-PROOF HIRING STRATEGY
As the co-owner of two fully-staffed bars, I firmly believe that investing a great deal of resources into hiring, training, and retaining great employees makes more sense for us in the long run than putting minimal resources into new hires.
By investing more in our employees from the outset, I’ve found that they’re more likely to stay with us for over one year, put more effort into their training and development behind the bar, and fit in better with our team.
MAKE THEM AN OFFER THEY CAN’T REFUSE
1. Competitive pay:
In order to provide this, your payroll associated costs do go up, so I encourage all new bar and restaurant owners to factor the cost of this into their budgeting before they allocate money to any other area of their new business.
Hourly rates will vary in different countries, however, in US and UK bars like Revolution, they offer staff discounts and performance bonuses in addition to their average pay.
2. The benefits package:
- Well being - You may also want to look at offering gym memberships or a monthly reimbursement for leisure activity.
- Expensed Trips - I also take all our staff on two all-expense paid group trips per year, and each staff member gets to go on one all-expense paid individual trip each year. These are tied to either visiting a convention or bar-related event or visiting a new city and spending a few nights visiting different bars and restaurants for research and development.
- The small perks – Transport reimbursement for staff whose roles involve driving beyond their work commute, paid time off, and an educational reimbursement: if an employee applies for an is accepted into a program that I deem beneficial to their continuing industry education, I pay for the program and their travel costs.
TOP TIP: An employer who isn’t sure which benefits to offer should look at similar jobs available in their area on different hiring platforms (Facebook, Indeed, or your local version) to see what other employers are offering; at the bare minimum, you should match what other local employers are offering. However, in order to retain employees, I’ve found that offering benefits that go significantly beyond those found at similar local jobs helps us keep our staff from being lured away by jobs with superior benefits.
THE FIRST STEPS TO TRACKING DOWN THE BEST TEAM
- Explore existing network and job sites, including current employees, to find people who are interested and would fit into your company culture. Job aggregating sites can be helpful too, however they can present a mixed bag of experiences, goals, and attitudes. This network can also be helpful in providing references, which are crucial to making sure ahead of time if someone will be a lasting addition to your staff.
- Check in with previous employers and coworkers for a more honest and thorough overview. Checking someone’s social media is another way to find out a lot about someone and how they interact with others – a good way to test if you feel comfortable with this person representing your company, as it’s often used as a platform to share their passion for the industry and creativity.
- The interview and initial hiring process are crucial to assembling a great team of employees who will stay with your company long-term. A successful, well-structured interview sets expectations and the tone for employee/employer communication off the bat. I’ve found through our experiences working for other people (and from speaking to peers in the hospitality industry) that expectations not being met is a big source of employee unhappiness, so I try to be as transparent as possible during the interview process.
Ways that I do this include:
- Going over documents that most employers only show people once they’re hired, such as handbooks, guides, etc.
- Involving staff that are not in an ownership or managerial position in the interview process.
- Setting expectations for the 90-day probationary period that new hires go through. During this period, they can decide if working for us long-term is something that they’re interested in.
HOW TO BEGIN THE INITIAL STAFF TRAINING
Providing all new staff members with extremely clear, updated, and easy-to-access training materials (as well as deadlines and expectations) during their new hire orientation is crucial for getting them up to speed as quickly as possible.
All new employees, regardless of their level, start in floor and support roles. As all our non-managerial staff - including those who have “graduated” to bartending - have at least one non-bar shift a week, it is vital that everyone is trained to do every role in the building. A common mantra among our staff is that everyone does everything – if you see a coworker struggling, you’re more capable of helping them if you know every element of the job inside out. While new employees are getting settled in roles serving, efficient bar stocking, and doing prep, they are conducting independent study in preparation for required written tests; study materials are included in their orientation packet.
PUTTING THEM TO THE ULTIMATE TEST: LEARNING OUR COCKTAIL MENU
One of the biggest hurdles that new staff need to overcome at our cocktail bar is memorizing the recipes for all the drinks on our cocktail menu (there are currently over 60). My team and I operate at an incredibly fast pace, so staff need to demonstrate that they have all the recipes memorized before they can be scheduled for bar shifts. All new staff are given access to a Quizlet deck containing the names, recipes, builds, glassware, and garnishes for all our menu cocktails. We have an established series of testing that staff must pass in order to become eligible for behind the bar training and a higher percentage of pooled tips.
ROLES, RESPONSIBILITIES AND CHECKLISTS
Once staff begin their training, it’s important to establish bar roles and responsibilities and for our managerial staff to spend time with them. Other bartenders do supplemental training during shifts, which include bottle drills and recipe recitation. Our head bartender works with staff on their bar shifts until they are proficient behind the bar; finally, our beverage director works with staff to complete their final 5% or so of behind-the-bar training.
TIPS FOR DEVELOPING ONGOING TRAINING
Once someone is fully trained behind both our bars, their training continues, albeit in a more general way. I recommend weekly trainings - these trainings need to be mandatory in some form, or else you’ll develop two tiers of staff: those who are motivated to consistently attend trainings, and those who never do. A challenge in hosting these weekly educational sessions is coming up with content – we sit down as a team every few months to make lesson plans in advance, then set a calendar alert to come up with new plans once we’re almost done with the current list.
The management team and I also have a scheduled one-hour meeting with each employee every three months to discuss opportunities for growth, offer constructive criticism, and discuss their goals for the next year. We maintain a confidential set of notes for each session, which we revisit on subsequent meetings to see how each member of our staff has grown in the past 90 days.
I am a big believer in the idea of promoting from within - training our employees to grow into team roles and gain new skills. I like to encourage our managerial team to make the bars their own; I want them to feel autonomous yet supported in their work.
IMPORTANCE OF STAFF COMPETITIONS AND RESEARCH
Educational sessions can also mean internal staff competitions – in speed or cocktail development – or bringing in a brand rep or industry luminary (or someone who can contribute to their professional development in other ways: we’ve brought in physical therapists, accountants, and consultants) to speak to the staff.
We check our personal social media daily to get information on upcoming cocktail competitions or brand trips; we pass this information onto our staff in a timely manner and support staff with their applications, either by helping to proofread for grammatical and spelling errors or to taste competition-worthy cocktails with them and offer critiques. We want to continue boosting their careers in the industry by giving them as much support as possible.
THE BENEFITS OF TRAINING YOUR TEAM WELL
Our training program is rigorous – we understand that many, and perhaps the majority of bartenders, want to work somewhere where they can step behind the bar on day one. However, we are extremely transparent with potential new hires that weekly meetings and an intense, structured training schedule are a requirement for employment at both of our bars; this is part of what our employees sign up for when they choose to work for us, and their payment is the suite of benefits that we provide them. Fortunately, staff who choose to stay with our company after their 90-day probationary period are people who have bought into our bar culture and identity; they are enthusiastic and passionate about continually bettering themselves as beverage professionals.
FINALLY, ONE OF OUR TOP SECRETS FOR KEEPING THE BEST BARTENDERS
Many studies have shown that bad management is the number one reason why people leave jobs, which is why our management team's goal is to lead with empathy and kindness. Our written mutual respect policy, which both management and employees sign, codifies how staff and management speak to each other – and sets out guidelines for how to approach situations when this policy is breached.
Additionally, we maintain an open-door policy with management, in which management vow to make every attempt to make time immediately to discuss employee concerns in a confidential discussion.
- Attract new hires using competitive pay and a generous suite of benefits
- Ensure that the hiring process is thorough on both sides - set clear expectations for the employee and make sure you have a good understanding of the candidate
- Setting a good foundation is essential – implement a strong training program that covers all aspects of working in the venue and immersing them in the team’s culture
- Ensure to keep building on the training foundation by offering feedback to your employees and suggesting ways to improve in a structured manner
- Continue to nurture the potential of employees through training, creative opportunities and a good relationship between management and staff