Being able to effectively manage a bar is not a
skill you’re born with, or even an ability garnered
working as a bartender. Hands-on bartending
experience is certainly beneficial, but it teaches
you next to nothing about being an effective
I am living proof. I accepted my first job as a
bar manager after having bartended for 8 years.
It soon became apparent, however, that I was
grossly unqualified for the position. My bartending
experience helped me to initially establish
standards behind the bar, but it had taught me
nothing about inventory control, profitability
analysis, or how to ensure the establishment
stays out of legal trouble.
I proceeded to do two things that saved my
job. I started to read everything I could find on
beverage management. While most of it had
an academic bent and jived little with how bars
operate in reality, the material did introduce me
to accepted business concepts and practices.
I also reflected back on the managers for
whom I had worked. One former manager was an
outstanding motivator and created an excellent
working environment for the staff. On the other
hand, he often undermined his authority by being
overly friendly with his employees, typically
Another manager I respected was an
unyielding, unsmiling “number cruncher” that
seemed to know everything about how the
operation was performing, but was incapable of
relating to us as people or engendering our loyalty.
As a result, the bar suffered excessive turnover
and our staff defied policies and procedures at
Over the ensuing two decades I’ve come to
realize that there are three directives managers
need to consider inviolate to have a productive
career. The first is to never forget for whom
they are working and that they owe the house
unfaltering loyalty. Secondly, the staff deserves
to be treated with respect and impartiality. And
finally, managers need to ensure that their bar
offers the clientele great tasting drinks at fair
prices and that they’re served responsibly.
Success Factors For Bar Managers
No one can make or break a place like the
manager. It takes a lot of savvy to manage a food
and beverage operation well, and frankly not just
anyone can pull it off. Between the owner(s), staff
and clientele, there are numerous agendas for a
manager to deal with every day. Suffice to say, it
takes more than being dynamic and outgoing to
be an effective manager.
To that end, here are the top things a bar
manager needs to master. While there are likely a
hundred specific things to keep in mind, here’s an
easily digested list to start the process rolling.
• Market Knowledge — Businesses don’t
operate in a vacuum. A good manager knows
his or her market, knows the competition and
what they are doing and responds accordingly.
A business where the clientele knows more
about what’s going on in the market than the
management, is a poorly managed business.
• Maturity — Managing a bar or restaurant
is an emotional challenge. The stress of working
in a socially active environment can prove too
demanding for some. While it might seem like a
party atmosphere, do not lose sight that you are
managing a business.
• Sharpen Your Pencils — The
fundamental objective of the business is to
generate profits. You therefore need to diligently
monitor any factor that impacts profitability, such
as the bar’s cost percentages, labor costs and
staff productivity. Master the numbers and you’ll
be well on the way to becoming indispensable.
• Shrinkage — This innocent sounding term
refers to losses due to theft, waste and spillage.
Shrinkage is capable of chewing up a bar’s gross
revenues to the tune of 20-30%. Preventing
losses attributable to shrinkage requires keen
observation, effectively monitoring costs and
safeguarding the bar’s inventory.
• Legal Eagle — If you play the game, you
better know the rules. Between health codes,
liquor laws and fire codes, there’s a lot to know
and what you don’t know can prove costly. While
carding guests may not be time efficient, serving
a minor can have disastrous ramifications. So too
will serving someone to the point of intoxication.
When in doubt, don’t serve.
• Treat People Like Guests, Not
Customers — It’s crucial that the staff
appreciate the distinction between the two.
Guests are catered to and should be made to feel
welcome and appreciated. Customers are warm
bodies with money in their pockets. Treat the
clientele like guests and they’ll return regularly.
• Creativity — A great manager needs to
embrace creativity. Whether it’s creating new
house signature drinks, happy hour appetizers,
or some off-the-wall promotion, every business
needs an innovator, someone unafraid to risk
trying something novel.
• Educate — What your staff doesn’t know
can undermine your efforts. Enhance their
professionalism by ensuring that they are well
informed about the products that you stock,
mixology techniques and professional service
standards. Your investment of time and effort will
pay huge dividends.
• Sense Of Humor — What with putting out
fires, handling customer complaints, and dealing
with the employee-related problems, managing
a food and beverage operation can be extremely
stressful. A good sense of humor can help take
the edge off most situations, and helps everyone
involved better cope with reality.
Article Courtesy of Robert Plotkin