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A successful venue isn't just about delicious drinks and food, it is also dependent on the people. So how do you create a great working environment that maintains amazing staff? Madeleine Geach, Leadership Coach and Head of Culture at Hawksmoor, looks at how to create positive culture in the workplace.

Culture at First Glance

Someone once told me about their first day in a new bar job. Before any of the usual induction you might expect, her manager met her at the bar. It was a busy weekday evening service, plenty of customers in the house and the small team were working hard to knock out drinks. “What do you see?” asked the manager. Answering this question taught the new bartender and her manager everything about the culture at this bar they needed to know. I’ll explain why later in this article.

What is Culture When it Comes to Bars?

But first, what does ‘culture’ of a bar actually mean?

Culture – in this context - means the norms of how people behave at work. You can think of these norms as the “character” of your bar. If they were a person what would they be like? So, for example, how do people speak to each other? Treat each other? Delegate work? Manage the team? Respond to mistakes? Cope with a busy service when you are short staffed?

You can think of culture in two ways:

1) Culture as intended. If you are bar owner or manager setting the culture of your venue what are the values, standards and behaviours you want people to aspire to?

2) Culture as experienced. What do your employees actually experience? What do they see hear and feel on a daily basis working in your bar?

The bar I mentioned in my (true!) story above had really nailed their working culture. Their intention - to be a friendly, happy place to work where you could develop your skills – was clear and obvious for the new bartender to see. The bar team were pitching in and helping each other out, enjoying themselves, the managers were supporting their team rather than barking orders at them and there was some 1-1 barback training going on in the corner. The intended culture and the actual culture married up.

How to Build a Positive Culture

So how do you achieve this? The key is to define what culture you want, implement practical steps to bring this to life and get feedback on whether it’s working or not.

As a starting point, no matter what culture you want to establish, bearing these four points in mind:

1. Codify it – create and communicate a culture manifesto which outlines the culture you want in your venue. This might include 3-5 values you want to define your workplace.

2. Hold yourself to higher standards – if you are a leader in your bar you need to walk your talk and role model the behaviours and standards you want to see.

3. Give feedback – reinforce the positive and challenge the negative. Every time something happens that fits your culture celebrate it. And pick up and react when people behave in a way which doesn’t fit.

4. Listen – find out what people like most about working at your bar and build on this. And if their actual experience of work fits with the one you are trying to create.

The Business Benefits of Building the Right Culture

Building a positive culture isn’t just about the touchy-feely stuff. It has clear benefits for your business. The first is talent attraction: word will spread about your bar(s) being a good place to work and as a result more people will want to work there. You will have choice from a bigger pool of talent to hire. The second is retention: talented people will want to stay with you. This also means less hiring, onboarding, and the stability of having a strong team who know what they are doing. The third big benefit is engagement and its knock-on effect on business. A positive culture means happier employees. And happier employees provide the best hospitality – genuine, warm, no fake smiles! Your customers will keep coming back for more.

A Culture Checklist

Below is a guide to use to grow a positive culture in your bar with some practical examples on how you can achieve this. You may take the ideas here or use it as a template to plan your own unique culture.

Culture can sometimes feel elusive – both defining what it actually means and how to go about creating it. Hopefully we have demystified it and provided a practical framework for growing a positive culture in your venue.

5 Key Takeaways

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