What do you think of when you hear the word, “team”?

For me, it brings to mind a group of people working together to achieve a goal. What I don’t think of? A manager front and center. (Seems pretty odd when all I write about is management, right?)

Every team does need a manager, a coach, a leader. There’s no doubt that someone on the fringe can provide excellent perspective and guidance, but what if I told you your bar team doesn’t constantly need a manager present?

I’ve had the pleasure of working with other people and companies who demonstrated or allowed me to set up a structure that allowed for bar team success. This is where one of the five soft skills I mentioned as essential for bar managers, organization, comes in handy.

Management shouldn’t have to take the role of a babysitter, and, if they are too present with the team, managers often lose their ability to take charge of bigger-picture problems. Bar managers are often also bartenders. When I was a bar manager, I had to split my time between my managerial duties on top of bartending four shifts a week. Because of this, I prioritized training my team to run without me when I wasn’t on-premise as well as when I needed to do work off the bar.

As a result, I was able to send more emails, talk more with distributors, and get more familiar with product loss/waste, and improve the staff further. It only took a few weeks for the staff to realize they were more than capable without someone overseeing them all the time: demonstrating trust in their ability to record spills, put aside voids for me to handle, and handling tough guest situations created better communication and accountability. I also found staff turnover decreased and employees showed up in better spirits (pun intended).

bevspot bar managers handbook

So, how do we set up for bar team success? Here’s some steps to take:

1. Asking the right questions when hiring

Lead bartenders help keep the flow moving and train new members and check in with management so management isn’t stuck on the bar or floor watching every move. Spend some time asking about leadership skills in interviews:

“When it’s just you and a co-worker, and you see they aren’t doing something right, how do you address it if you do? Tell me how you feel about about holding someone else accountable.”

These questions allow for a conversation that better helps me understand what they ideally want to do and where they actually are at. I can get an idea of where I can build them, not just technically, but behaviorally. Most skills, soft and technical, can be taught—the idea is to make sure your lead bartender is someone who demonstrates the ability to change and possesses awareness beyond their own self.

2. Correct compensation

Make sure to compensate your lead bartender for the elevation in position whether through a specific title and/or pay increase, adding to a person’s job description deserves proper compensation. Lead bartenders are valuable and have all the potential to be a manager—there are never enough quality managers.

3. Create thorough to-do list of tasks

Demonstrate the way the tasks should be accomplished and make sure the lead bartender does exactly that as well. Make sure to let them know that list is welcome to change as they figure out what might work and what could be more efficient. A task list is not the end all be all, but a great resource that should provide the teams with guidance without going to management all the time.

4. Communication

Make sure there is a system of accountability that starts with the team before it gets brought to you. Accountability is a must. It’s also one of the tougher traits to establish because people can be conscious about can be conscious about coming off as  a jerk or a difficult person to work with. Give examples to your team about how they can hold each other accountable without being too aggressive like:

“Hey, that cocktail looks too red. I totally made that wrong too last week—our manager showed me where my measurement was off. Try using this side of the jigger instead. It has the half ounce marked on it. Want me to put it onto our void sheet while you remake it?”

Figure out which approaches work best for each bartender. Some can handle direct confrontation. Some need a softer touch, possibly in a humorous manner. Others have to be led through a conversation. Demonstrate accountability and be a representation of how the professional isn’t personal. Someone made a mistake, address the situation directly, and let’s all move on.

When bar managers are able to set up for success, we have a better ability to look at the big picture and see more that is getting done and what needs to be addressed. A business can only function as well as the foundation is put together.

Are there other tools you’ve used to successfully structure your bar and minimize management involvement? Let us know in the comments below.


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