How to Empower Your Bar’s Staff to Make Things Right

By Ray Foley, Heather Dismore

Your bartenders and servers will be the first people to hear about something that’s wrong in your bar, so you need to give them some authority to make things right. Of course, you don’t want every complaint to end up in free drinks for a party of four every night.

But the easier you make it for servers or bartenders to make sure your patron’s experience is terrific, the higher the chances are that their service will pay off for you in the long run.

You have to balance how much authority you want employees to have, of course, but here are a few ideas to help you establish your policy:

  • A server or bartender should be able to immediately get a replacement drink or food item if it doesn’t meet a patron’s standard. The longer a patron waits, the more difficult the situation becomes. You want a patron to have something she enjoys immediately. It erases the memory of the mistake quickly.

  • Consider giving staff members a certain number of drinks they can give away at their discretion each night. These drink giveaways aren’t for them to give to their friends. They’re for building goodwill with patrons. Make sure that the staff members have a guest check and ring it up.

  • Service means service. On occasion, employees have to make some decisions on the spot; they can’t call the manager immediately every time a problem arises. When employees must replace a cocktail or a meal item, tell them to write down what they replaced and an explanation. Then you can work with the employee and evaluate the situation after the customer leaves.

  • Never argue with the customer. The customer is always right. Remember, though, that some problems should only be handled by a manager (like cutting off patrons or handling sexual harassment).

Knowing exactly how to handle difficult situations takes time and experience. Your staff members will learn from their mistakes. Don’t hold it against them if the situation doesn’t turn out perfectly. Each time they tackle a tough situation they gain skills to make it work better the next time.

Look for positive coaching opportunities. Anyone can go over what an employee could have done better in a situation. But also take the time to praise positive customer service situations.