How to Establish Service Standards in Bars

By Ray Foley, Heather Dismore

The best way to make sure things go right in your bar is to decide what right means to you. After you decide, you can write it down, train your employees accordingly, and refer back to the standard when they need a refresher.

One of the most hands-on ways to get started is to determine your steps of service, which is a step-by-step list of what happens from the moment patrons enter your bar until they finish their last nightcap and pay their bill.

Here’s an example of how to write your steps of service:

  1. When a patron enters the bar, greet her with a smile within two minutes.

    For most bars, a simple greeting of “Welcome, I’m [insert name]. What can I get you?” is perfect. If you have a specific phrase you want your staff to say, insert it here.

    Now’s the time to tell your employees exactly how you want them to address your customers. For example, “How are you guys?” may be fine for a casual sports bar. Other high-end bars may ask their employees to be a bit more formal and use gender-specific groupings, such as “ladies,” “gentlemen,” or simply the generic “you.” Spell out exactly what your expectation is.

  2. Place a beverage napkin (or coaster) in front of each guest as you greet her.

    The napkin serves two purposes: It serves as a place to set a beverage when you deliver it, and it notifies other bar staff that the patron has been greeted.

  3. Connect with each guest as you take the order.

    Smile and make eye contact. Be ready to answer questions about the menu and make suggestions. Also, be ready to ask questions. If a patron wants a draft beer, ask him what kind he likes. Hoppy? Malty? Light? Local? Knowing the bar’s products and being able to connect them to the patron’s preferences is key.

    If you have specific items you want your employees to recommend, make sure they know all about them. You’ll likely want them to suggest signature items or any specials you’re currently running. You can train employees at this step to also upsell, or sell more expensive liquors and mixers in place of well brands.

  4. Repeat the order back to the guest to confirm it.

    This step is helpful in making sure everyone is on the same page, especially if several different drink options were discussed in Step 3.

  5. Enter the drink order into the point of sale (POS) system.

    Always ring up the drinks before making the drinks. Period. It’s simply too easy to forget to do it later, get one order mixed up with another, and so on. Insist on this step so that at any given time, you can go into the computer system and see who’s drinking what and how much.

    Plus, this step helps you make sure that all drinks are charged to and paid for by customers, not given away by bartenders.

  6. Make the cocktails and drinks.

    Always use the standard drink recipe, fresh ice, specified glassware, and specified garnish. This step ensures consistency. You want each margarita or Moscow Mule to taste and look the same. Nothing is worse from a patron’s standpoint than to love your signature cocktail, come back specifically to get it, and then get a mere shadow of the original on the return trip.

  7. Deliver the drink order within three minutes.

    If three minutes isn’t realistic for your concept for whatever reason, substitute your standard time here. Many people highly recommend setting a specific, short timeline for this standard. No matter how good your drinks are, no one wants to wait long when she’s thirsty.

  8. Drop the bill with the drinks.

    This step may or may not work for your establishment. Some places require every table and every stool to have a bill present. Others are fine with presenting the bill when the patron is ready to leave. Decide on your plan and specify it to your staff.

  9. Check back within two minutes to make sure the patrons are pleased with the drinks.

    Ask an open-ended question like “How is everything?’ or “How does everything taste?” or a specific question like “How’s that margarita?”

    Avoid the dreaded “Is everything okay?” or “Is everything all right?” No one sets “okay” as the standard. Everything is supposed to be great!

  10. Repeat Steps 3–9 until the guest is ready to head out.

    If you didn’t present the final bill in Step 8, do so now. Let the patron know that you’re the cashier and will take his payment whenever he’s ready.

  11. Process the payment and return with change or the credit card slip for a signature within two minutes.

    No one likes to pay, so make it as quick and painless as possible.

  12. Give the patrons a sincere smile, thank them for coming in (using their names if possible), and invite them to come back.

    Personalize the invitation if at all possible. If they enjoyed the appe-tizers, let them know they’ll be half-priced from 9 p.m. to midnight on Thursday. If they like your draft beer selection, let them know Tuesday is $2 pint night. The more relevant the information is, the more likely your guests are to act on it.

  13. Bus, clean, and sanitize the table or bar top within five minutes of the patron’s departure.

    If you’ve prebussed (removed dirty dishes and glassware as they’re emptied) the area, this step should take you about 30 seconds. The sooner the area is set for service, the sooner you can start earning money from it again.

These steps are simply a starting point for you to draft your own steps. Choose what works for your setup. Set the bar high. The more specific you are with your staff, the more likely they are to meet your expectations.