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As the night gets late and the drink orders keep coming in, we all know that having a close, happy and efficient team can help get you through that long shift and most of all make it more fun! Bar owner and operator Paul Mathew gives us some insight into how he helps strengthen his team.

The team is the most valuable asset your bar has. As well as being the face of the venue, they are the experts that customers turn to, the glue that holds everything together and the oil that keeps it running smoothly. Training on the job and developing people’s skills has an essential role in all parts of that.

Developing skills

Within our bars we have on the job training for all our staff that falls into four categories.

Firstly, the essential operational component for new team members – health, safety, hygiene, POS operation, rotas, responsible service. Secondly the technical training in the bar – product training, our recipes, specific equipment or techniques that may be unfamiliar to any new staff. Thirdly service training – the real art of hospitality that our customers expect (and the hardest part to teach). Finally comes management training for those who want to develop their skills to step up.

One of the biggest parts is technical training. We deal with hundreds of products behind the bar, and potentially thousands of recipes. Here training will be a combination of in-house sharing, with each new member of the team allocated a mentor, along with participation in group brand and category trainings. A brand ambassador might give us the marketing lowdown, but we’ll always taste things against other products to form our own opinions too.

We encourage everyone to know at least four things about each product – two about the brand and its story (for example Tanqueray No. TEN is named after the stills used in its distillation, tiny ten) and two about the flavour – which is learnt through tasting (this might be that Tanqueray No. TEN has a very fresh citrus palate and that in a martini cocktail, a particular vermouth or dash of orange bitters makes all the difference, but can vary for every member of the team). The brand story can be relayed to customers, while the personal opinions will be used to make recommendations and influence drink development.

As well as on the job skill development, training programmes like Diageo Bar Academy are another great resource that also allows our teams to interact with other bartenders and international experts and learn new skills. Training is a continuous thing and there is a wealth of information and tips on the Diageo Bar Academy website that our staff can refer to and keep up to date. There are always new products, techniques or skills to learn, and people are always looking for the next step up, so we like to feed that desire to progress and develop.

Team trips

As well as the more formal training processes, we have team trips to other bars as well as local breweries and distilleries – these can offer valuable insights as well as a chance to bond. However, I understand that not everybody can travel as much as we do, but that’s not to say you can’t take a look around your local city, for example visit a local market for ingredients, visit other competitor bars and see what they are doing well - never stop learning.

Team recruitment

The team creates the atmosphere in a bar, so it’s crucial that there’s a strong team spirit and that everyone is enjoying the job. When we are recruiting we try to choose people that we think will complement the team – we look for them to be talented, with a positive and hardworking attitude, but we also need to ensure that we have the right range of skills within the team. We want a balance of experienced staff and rookies, to ensure we are progressing the industry as well as creating high level experiences for our customers. When we hire someone we look after them like family, whether that’s helping to find them accommodation, organising team workouts (one of our team is a personal trainer), supporting them in cocktail competitions or just having an open door to discuss whatever problems they may come up against, personally or professionally.

And finally

Developing your team’s skills is vital to ensuring standards of service are met, but having a strong, confident and well-trained team is much more than that - it means a great work environment, efficient use of time and better staff recruitment and retention. We want people to grow in their roles and develop within the company, whether that’s from bar back to bartender, bartender to head bartender or manager to the person who opens our next venue.

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