BRINGING YOUR A-GAME AS A BAR MANAGER
Behind every successful bar is often a happy, thriving team. Take inspiration from Australian Bar Manager of the Year Ewan Stroeve as he shares his experience of managing a team.
How long have you been working in the bar industry?
I’ve been working in the industry for over eight years. Like so many of my colleagues, it began as a way to pay my way through university, meet people and have a bit of spending money. I quickly became enthralled with the craft and my passion just increase as I moved across different and better bars. I got my first bar manager role when I was 23 at a bar called Shady Pines Saloon and I’m now General Manager at the award-winning Bulletin Place.
Describe your management style.
Our bar is extremely democratic, and I think my management style reflects that. Every staff member has input into our service, training and bar training. Any grievances and problems are generally resolved openly and fairly. Any new ideas, exciting projects and plans for the future are discussed with genuine interest. I like to think I treat everyone equally and involve them in the decision-making process. I respect every one of my staff members to the upmost degree. They are my family.
Describe the type of manager you have worked well under.
I remember really becoming passionate about cocktails, winning a few competitions and having our creative director hand over control of the cocktail menu to me. I felt like I’d met the expectations he had of me and was being rewarded for my hard work – despite me trying to make a "Kimchi falernum" one time… Revolting!
During your career, have you witnessed any major shifts in the industry?
The major shift I’ve seen is a movement towards a more considered and open dialogue regarding physical and mental health. We’re no longer the bartenders of old, partying as hard as our customers. This is a tough career. It can come with physical fatigue but can also be incredibly challenging psychologically, particularly when we’re not looking after ourselves.
Management teams are tackling this in several ways. First and foremost, we are witnessing the growth of hospitality wellness, where free yoga, fitness sessions and counseling programs are becoming the norm for staff. However, what I would like to see more of is bars ensuring that staff are not only paid fairly but that they are not worked to the bone over long, unlawful working weeks. It seems a little shallow to offer a free boxing class and still expect your full-time staff to come back and work 60 hours, when they’re legally supposed to work less!
How important is it to provide a safe, supportive place for staff?
It is imperative. Ethically speaking, it is your obligation to make sure staff are supported, free from harassment and abuse, and feel safe when doing their jobs. I’d consider this a moral duty of care that extends well beyond hospitality and bars. You’ll also retain the staff you want if you look after them well. There are so many brilliant bars out there so treat your staff well, or they will naturally go elsewhere.
There is an investment involved in this as well – financially and personally. I’ve got staff who love photography, so they look after our socials… Staff who are mad about wine, so they help curate our lists. Identify staffs’ passions and help them develop them.
What steps have you taken to achieve this in your venue?
Bulletin Place has a core team of seven people. We all have different ambitions, different levels of experience, different stories and histories. We’re also lucky in that we all really, really get along. We often go for lunch and dinner as a team and spend time out of work together. More formally, we try to make time every six months to sit down with each staff member individually to chat about their performance, how they feel about what they have achieved and where they would like to progress to next. I’d like to think my management style is open enough that anyone could always come to me if they felt unsafe or unsatisfied.
How do you train and inspire your staff to provide top quality service?
There are several sections at Bulletin, each representing a level of progression. Every staff member starts on the floor, regardless of their level, be it Tim Philips or Alex Kratena! You nail the floor and move onto the next station. This continues until you become a bartender. By this point, you know the place like the back of your hand, you know every classic and are ready to produce your own daily menu.
This is supplemented by a monthly training program where we bring in industry experts to train us on topics, or just do our own study and presentations.
We also study and map out the seasons, visit growers etc… An example is when we went out to forage along the river in South West Sydney, or to visit Australia’s first indigenous rooftop garden. All these methods are a way of keeping people creatively engaged and ensuring that when they reach the next level of their progression, they feel supported and ready.
What advice would you give to other bar managers to help better their team?
There isn’t a one size fits all solution. There are so many venues - big and small. Every staff member has a different story, attitude, different ambitions. They are motivated and driven by different things and approaches. Remain flexible, be caring and humble, and be susceptible to change. Be open to the likelihood that people know more about certain things then you do. Be ready to learn from them as much as they can learn from you.