BEST IN BUSINESS: BAR MANAGEMENT LEARNINGS FOR 2021
Recent events have changed how we do business, with venues forced to adapt quickly and adjust to new norms. Four experienced bar managers share their response to challenges so far and what key learnings they will be taking into the new year.
ELISSON DIAZ & HUMBERTO MUNHOZ, OWNERS OF O PASQUIM, BRAZIL
We closed our bar for 100 days. The venue has since reopened with a reduced capacity of 40%, alongside other adherences to guidelines and measures.
For our staff, we implemented the standard daily protocols e.g. temperature measurement, symptoms checking, etc., equipping staff with PPE, as well as providing awareness training for staff on how they could better take care of their wellbeing and their families.
In addition to new seating layouts and social distancing measures, we accelerated our technology. We invested not only in digital menus accessed by QR code but also in self-ordering and payment online. Something that would probably have taken two years happened in just a few months!
DONNY CLUTTERBUCK, MANAGER AT CURE, NEW YORK
Our venue was forced to close on March 16th. As a manager, I had to respond quickly to turn a high-standing inventory into money, whilst taking care of the team and venue.
In order to survive, we looked at additional revenue streams and got to work on a pre-diluted cocktail batch delivery menu as well as to-go single-serve cocktails.
Like many bars, once reopened we instituted a variety of new procedures that included changing our venue layout, ensuring staff and guests fulfilled health and safety measures, and also an expansion of our outdoor spaces.
How our team feels is really important to us, and we regularly check-in and ask for their feedback. Michael Bailey, one of our servers at Cure shared his thoughts on how our approach has changed recently.
"Working in the service industry pre and post covid shows a lot of extreme differences that were very difficult to become accustomed to, but once used to them, they didn’t seem so trivial. We do things now to which I consistently say, "why didn't we do this before?". I think we can only succeed further from here, and that these new guidelines will only make restaurants safer and more successful.”
CAMDEN HAUGE – OWNER OF VARIOUS VENUES, SHANGHAI
I’m the owner of four venues in Shanghai, China. My team and I were some of the first in the world to be thrown into a time of uncertainty when last January businesses in China were hit with mandatory closures. Without knowing when and even if my spots could successfully recover from the closure, I started thinking about what kinds of concepts could ride through this crisis.
Coincidently, a tiny venue on the street became available and it seemed like a divine sign to move beyond the fear and doubt and focus on how to move forward. I drafted my top-level team members in to start helping me flesh out the concept and four weeks later, as most other venues were also slowly reopening their doors, we opened Lucky Mart, a neighborhood highball bar + ‘konbini’ (Japanese convenience store) on a busy street in a popular Shanghai area.
LUKE WHEARTY, CO-OWNER OF BYRDI, MELBOURNE
Byrdi has been closed for over six months after only five months of being open before lockdown. Melbourne has had some of the hardest lockdown restrictions in the world and it has really had an impact on local businesses. Once the initial shock wore off, I took matters into my own hands and started to think about how we could adapt to the situation.
Bottled cocktails were something we offered even before we had a physical space, so it seemed only right that we turn all our attention to our bottled cocktail and retail offering. We created an online store and started Melbourne home delivery shipping across Australia. It’s definitely something we’ll continue to offer even after the restrictions are lifted.
TOP OF MIND FOR 2021
It’s hard, if not impossible to predict what will come next in this ever-changing climate, but one thing I have learned is that that’s ok. Another shutdown might find us really owning the cocktail batch and digital happy hour kit service. A reduction in seating capacity restrictions might make us lean further into price-fixed ticketed service and pairing dinners. We can’t project long term, but we can set short term plans and goals and be flexible along the way. I’ve definitely learned to embrace being agile in my approach and decisions.
The wellbeing of our team and the comfort of our current guests are more integral to longevity than the immediate satisfaction of the few. In 2021, I’ll feel much more confident in doing what is right for our team and our guests and so should you, don’t be afraid to set your rules and stick by them.
Be smart in how you source and order for your venue. By ordering products based on your previous week’s sales, except for predictable peaks you’ll be in a good place to control costs and ensure that you turn a profit. This is especially important now more than ever.
ELISSON & HUMBERTO
We’re ready for the challenges 2021 has for us and there are three main areas we’ll be most focused on. The first is taking care of our employees’ well-being and training. Without them, our business would never succeed. The second is to explore takeaway & delivery. While closed we tested some initiates in partnership with Diageo Brazil (e.g. sending customers a kit for preparing cocktails at home with our recipes), something we’ll explore further this coming year, alongside creating a more attractive menu for in-home consumption.
Digital will continue to play a big role in hospitality beyond this crisis. We will definitely be making use of this while further expanding our offering by allowing customers to order (and pay) using their smartphones.
By taking on a new business during the crisis we have learned a lot, particularly around the importance of efficiencies. The pandemic has forced us to become hyper-efficient with our concept, space, staffing, menu design/sourcing, and operations and in 2021 we’ll continue to use our resources in the best way possible.
Last year also taught us to lean into new customer needs. In a time of crisis, preferences are replaced with new needs. We designed our new bar, Lucky Mart, to be cheap n’ cheerful, community-based, and delivery-friendly in response to this. In 2021, we’ll continue to listen to and respond to customer needs as they evolve.
During the crisis, much of the chatter I was seeing in support of bars and restaurants were in relation to those venues that were more of a ‘brand’ than just a space selling food and beverage. This year we’ll be looking to build and extend our brand while staying true to our core values.
As we get ready for the year ahead there are certainly a few things I’ve learned in 2020 that I will be applying this year. Being open and honest with the team has been invaluable, we always have been, but being transparent will continue to be a focus for us. We’ve never been so reactive, and I personally have embraced a flexible mindset that’s helping me adapt to unique situations. We’ll definitely be operating in a more agile manner throughout 2021 and beyond, to build a stronger, more resilient business long term. Above all, I’ve seen the benefit of having a positive mind. Personally, I am already an eternal optimist but I guess throughout the coming year it’s something I know will stand me, my team, and the business well - you have to believe in yourself and your abilities.
- Safety comes first, take all necessary precautions to ensure this.
- Staff wellbeing is more important than ever.
- Invest in technology and digital to offer customers the best experience.
- Operate efficiently and use your resources as best you can.
- Be agile and have a flexible mindset in order to adapt to unique situations.