Anyone in the hospitality industry knows bartenders are often among the highest earning staff members. The pool of applicants is thus large for both bartenders and barbacks (as a step toward bartending). However, owners and managers have to see beyond eagerness and assess applicants for responsibility, ability to communicate, attention to detail, and awareness of the position’s demands.
Attention to the lesser known demands often make the difference between excellence and real problems on the bar floor. A prepared owner or manager knows how to clarify job expectations during the hiring process and how to train bar staff to cover all demands of their positions.
The Hiring Process
Not all establishments utilize barbacks, and, even when they do, the responsibilities of bartenders and barbacks often overlap. Making potential employees aware of expectations in a carefully written position announcement can be the first step toward weeding out the unprepared.
Basic information in a job announcement should include: physical challenges (e.g., lifting heavy items and the stamina required for long periods on your feet); the communication skills required to interact with customers, relay information to the kitchen, and keep information updated between stockroom and bar; and the attention to detail required for keeping stocks refreshed, bottles filled, and barware in supply.
During the interview process, it’s important to convey the specific expectations of the job and to ask questions that encourage the candidate to consider lesser-known and less glamorous challenges of the position. A simple question, for example, such as “how would you deal with an angry customer?” can cull those uncomfortable with confrontation. Additionally, a tour gives the candidate a chance to understand physical challenges (i.e. distances, stairs, volume of business, etc.) and also offers the opportunity to introduce staff members so that you can assess the candidate’s communication abilities.
After you’ve found the strongest candidate, training becomes a vital next step in keeping a bar running smoothly. On an employee’s first day, provide them with a manual with rules, procedures, dress code, acceptable behavior, a code of ethics, drug and alcohol policies, food safety procedures, safety issues, and employee evaluation processes.
First day training may include bar preparation, how to communicate with customers, a review of the food and drink menus, introductions to staff members, bussing procedures for glassware and food service, and expectations for preparing garnishes. It is important at this early stage to emphasize inventory procedures: pour measures for drinks, how much garnish to use and amount of garnish an item should provide (how many slices from a lime, for example), when an item is in need of refilling, and how to record items used from stockroom. It will also help you protect inventory to train employees on point-of-service options and the additional charges to customers incurred by add-ons.
Both new and old employees require ongoing training for successful, safe, and profitable bar business. Training in occupational safety procedures, such as how to use knives, recognizing and preventing slip hazards, proper lifting of heavy items, dealing with breakage, and avoiding overuse injuries will help protect you from lost time for employees, lawsuits, and damage to property.
A good training program should also provide coverage of health and safety standards, such as handling glassware and food, proper storage of garnishes, hand washing, dish-cleaning procedures, storing cleaning items, and use of clean towels. Employees well-versed in safety and health issues prevent sick customers, on-the-job injuries, and health code violations.
The Pink Elephant in the Room: Drunk Customers
The last essential training for service employees, and the one they least want to consider, is dealing with intoxicated customers. While there are techniques you can encourage, it is crucial to require service employees to complete TIPS Certification (Training for Intervention Procedures). TIPS training covers state laws on alcohol service and ID requirements, offers valuable techniques for handling drunken customers, walks employees through scenarios, and provides records of your commitment to customer safety.
Some procedures you can reinforce as follow-ups to TIPS training are:
- Provide mentors for new employees to help them spot signs of intoxication.
- Make employees aware of “hot spot” events, such as holidays or local occasions.
- Teach employees how to politely decline service, avoid escalation, and when to call for help.
- Train employees on how calling for rides and the procedures for safely seeing off an intoxicated customer.
- Instruct employees in simple techniques to avoid confrontation, such as using a friend to help, speaking with customers out of hearing-range of others, and being firm but friendly.
A well-trained employee will make your business run smoothly, and a safety-aware employee can save you time, money, and potential litigation. As a restaurant owner or manager, be proactive in providing a thorough knowledge of your expectations and procedures that will prevent future concerns.