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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:

The real meat of our hiring package comes from our benefits program.

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

Ways that I do this include:

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.

Beyond steps of service, drink making technique, and where items live, we also have a very structured system of checklists and manuals for how to complete jobs. Every single role has an exhaustive opening and closing checklist that must be filled out, dated, and initialed at each shift. These checklists are contained in a binder that also has pages for well location maps, backup liquor shelf maps, and weekly side-work checklists.

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.

a person pouring a drink

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.

Research is another way that we encourage our staff to broaden their professional horizons. Group trips to local bars and breweries, either on our educational meeting days or on the semiannual group trips, are a great way for our staff to taste new cocktails and spirits, observe different methods of service, and hopefully learn some new techniques.

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

It’s significantly easier to retain great employees than it is to hire and train new ones.

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.

Key Takeaways