How to Improve Employee Performance in Bars

A successful bar is staffed by happy, hardworking people. Keep them in the know and constantly challenged to keep them satisfied. You can motivate them by providing opportunities for improving their skills and rewarding their performance.

How to grow employee skill sets

Your bar’s success depends on keeping staff members informed about your business, products, changes, specials, and promotions. You can keep em-ployees happy and satisfied with their job through ongoing opportunities to learn more about their jobs, their co-workers’ jobs, and the industry.

Here are some simple ways to help your employees improve their skills and knowledge:

  • Hold regular staff meetings: Set aside time to communicate with your staff regularly. Many restaurants use a daily premeal meeting to discuss what’s going on that day. You can implement a similar schedule in your bar. Discuss drink promotions, nightly entertainment, and any special events (such as conventions, for example) going on in your area that may affect business that day.

    Have monthly meetings to discuss more global issues that affect your bar’s systems and processes, menu changes, or staff changes.

  • Encourage cross-training for other positions: The most valuable employees are those who can do several different jobs. They can jump in and help out when another employee doesn’t show up. They provide scheduling flexibility for vacation time, limited schedules, and swing shifts (that is, shifts that stretch beyond a single “normal” meal period like 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., for example).

    But more importantly, to the employee anyway, cross-training offers additional opportunities for exposure to different parts of the business.

    For example, servers often want to learn to be bartenders. It may take them awhile to get up to the speed of the most experienced bartender on your staff, but cross-training them can help them understand more about mixing drinks, how spirits differ, and what flavors work together (and what don’t), and open up new worlds to them.

    One of the greatest benefits of cross-training employees is the empathy that develops. If a server has an idea of what it’s like to be behind the bar with servers impatiently demanding drinks, she’s less likely to be so demanding when she’s on the other side.

  • Encourage continuing education: Unless you run some megabar corporation, you probably can’t offer full tuition reimbursement for a complete four-year degree in bar management for every staff member. But you may be able to help students and lifelong learners in other ways:

    • Post information on your staff bulletin board about relevant seminars and classes. Look to your local community colleges for personal enrichment classes in bar-related topics, such as “Wine Tasting for Beginners.”

    • Schedule training for staff members with your liquor, wine, and beer salespeople.

    • Develop a library of professional resources that staff members can check out. Include books on customer service, bar management, and mixology, among others.

  • Offer advancement opportunities: Give employees a goal to work toward and they often will. Of course, you need more Indians than chiefs in any organization, so you can’t promote them all, but if your employees see that you reward hard work with increased responsibility, it gives them incentive to keep reaching.

How to motivate your staff

Motivating your staff is essential to keeping them. And ultimately, giving them respect is the best way to motivate them. People who feel that they are heard and appreciated are much more likely to stay in a position than those who feel insignificant and disrespected.

Here are a few specific ideas for keeping your staff motivated:

  • Encourage staff communication with you: Don’t just say you have an open-door policy. Actually mean it. Be willing to listen to their concerns and ideas.

  • Offer constructive criticism in private: Almost all employees need to work on some aspect of their performance at some time or another. Make sure your criticism is constructive and discreet. So instead of saying, “Your drink service is way too slow,” privately give them tips on how to speed it up.

  • Praise them often in public: Find something positive to say to every employee publicly every shift. If you’re having a hard time finding something positive to say, then you likely need to do more training with that employee.

  • Know your staff and their strengths and weaknesses: All staff members are not gifted equally. Set them up to succeed by tailoring their responsibilities to match their talents. Have new staff members fully develop skills before throwing them into the mix on their own.

  • Be friendly (not friends) with your staff: Know about their interests and life outside work. If your bartender is a student, ask about his courses. If your cook plays drums in a garage band, ask how rehearsal is going.

    Balance your interest with their comfort level. If you’re too friendly, they may be uncomfortable. And don’t get so involved with the drama that you lose the supervisor-employee balance. Nothing good ever comes from it.

  • Encourage camaraderie among your staff: Make sure staff members are respectful to each other. Encourage them to help (rather than alienate) newcomers. If your core staff is a closed clique, you’ll have trouble keeping your new hires. Everyone doesn’t have to be friends, but everyone must be friendly and respectful during working hours.

  • Don’t lose your cool: Easier said than done some days in this business. When you see tables full of empty glassware, peanut shells littering the floor, wrecked restrooms, and empty ice wells, you may want to scream. Stress and tension are incredibly infectious. If you lose it, your staff will, too. Keep your composure when handling the inevitable chaos, and you’ll win the battle.

  • Develop incentive programs: Bar and restaurant employees love swag and perks. Coordinate contests with staff training events. Say you’ve just done a training of top-shelf vodkas. Give a preferred parking space to the employee who sells the most on Friday night.

    If you roll out a new appetizer menu, give a gift certificate to the employee who sells the most in a weekend. Reward kitchen staff members if they hit certain ticket times. Hold a mixology contest and reward the winning bartender with an extra day off.

    Incentives don’t have to cost you a lot. They just need to be valuable to the people receiving them.

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