How to Run a Bar: Why Customer Service Is So Important

By Ray Foley, Heather Dismore

Customer service is the ability to satisfy your customers’ needs and wants. It isn’t just important, it’s everything! In bars, great customer service is more than just handing your patrons the drinks or food they order with a smile and a “thank you.” That’s the minimum. You have to exceed their expectations on a regular basis to keep them coming back for more.

With a little luck (and a lot of management), your bar will turn into a great meeting place. People will come in to meet other people and share great food, a great beer, outstanding cocktails, and good conversation. That’s what it’s all about. You and your staff have to make this happen! After all, as the saying goes, “If you aren’t taking care of your customers, your competition will.”

How to make people feel important in bars

Here are a few things you can do to help make customers feel important:

  • Listen to your customers. They want to tell you something because they want you to succeed. Listen and say thank you.

  • Do not start rumors or be a part of a rumor. If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone or something, say nothing.

  • Be prepared to settle arguments. Always keep a sports almanac, a copy of Guinness World Records, or your computer on Google to check facts. Don’t take sides. Just fix arguments. If you take sides, you’re sure to make two enemies.

  • Be hospitable. Get regular customers to schedule group luncheons at your place. Try to get their softball team, the local Rotary, Kiwanis, or any service group to have their luncheon meetings at your place. It makes the regular feel special to say, “Come to my bar.”

How to build customer loyalty

Building customer loyalty means creating regular customers, making people feel like your bar is their bar. Feeling welcomed and appreciated is the key to creating this experience. Everyone who works for you can add to this experience by remembering past orders and experience, calling guests by name, or in a genuine and sincere way, telling them they’re glad they stopped in.

It’s more special to a patron to buy her a drink personally than to offer $1 off longnecks to everyone who walks in the door. Your customer feels like “Wow, they actually care that I’m here, not just that someone is sitting in this bar stool.” Personal attention builds customer loyalty.

Here are a few other ideas for creating customer loyalty:

  • Move beyond patron-owner mode, into friend mode. Get to know your customers’ families and what’s going on in their lives.

  • Know their business. (Not their personal business, mind you, but their actual profession.) Be ready and able to discuss something you saw on the news that made you think of them.

  • Buy small, but thoughtful, presents for special occasions, like the birth of a baby, wedding, or anniversary.

  • Ask about their vacation or business trip.

  • Know who their significant other is so you can ask about him or her. Be careful though, as not everyone is in a monogamous relationship. You don’t want to be in the middle of relationship discord.

    Heather once walked into one of her favorite places with a friend. Her favorite bar owner greeted her warmly, as always, and then became uncomfortable when he saw her guest (a man he knew was not her husband). She introduced her friend and mentioned that her husband and her guest’s wife would be joining them shortly. The bar owner immediately relaxed and stopped eyeing the new patron suspiciously.

  • Special-order a product for them. Maybe you’ve had a discussion with two of your regulars about their recent trip to Italy. They absolutely fell in love with limoncello (lee-MON-chel-o), a thick, lemon liqueur served well chilled in a cordial glass. Special-order a bottle for the next time the patrons come in and share a glass with them.

  • During Friday happy hour, tell your regulars that the first cocktail is on the house.

  • Have special glasses or mugs for your most loyal patrons with their names on them.

  • Put your regulars’ names on the bar stools or at the bar rail where they normally sit.

  • Name a cocktail after them: Mike’s Martini.

Of course, you can’t do all of this for everyone, every day. Start small, and then build into long-lasting relationships.

You’re only as good as the customers who come to your place. Customers are first and foremost. Do something nice and they will tell 10 people; do something wrong and they’ll tell 100. There’s no substitute for good service!