3 Reasons Why Your Bar Staff Isn’t Selling

By Donald Burns


Donald Burns

July 12, 2016

Posted in Restaurant Management, Industry & Culture

Sales—you need them.

As a bar owner or manager, you can offer your guests the best food and beverage in your market, but if your bar staff can’t sell it well, your business won’t last long against the competition.

As hospitality professionals, we need to come to realize that we’re all in sales. Nothing moves in our economy until something is sold.

The restaurant and bar industry can be a particular challenge because most of the product you deal with is perishable. It’s not like you’re sitting on an inventory of merchandise like t-shirts—yours is likely to spoil by next month. So, time is certainly an issue when it comes to managing bar inventory and getting product out the door.

Knowing this, how can you put the odds in your favor and take steps to make sure your bar staff are supporting a profitable bar? Here are three reasons why your team might not be making the sales you keep asking them to make.

1. They don’t have their own reason why.

Human psychology is fascinating. It baffles our senses when people do things that—on the surface—seem bizarre, weird or even crazy. But those crazy acts all come with the same question…why?

The real driver of human behavior is this: People do things for their own reasons, not for yours. You can tell your team every day to mention that feature and try to move that case of Cabernet Sauvignon sitting in your wine room that you bought too many cases of (yes, we know it was a good deal). But the reasons you’re pushing this product are yours.

Now, some staff members will comply. Others might even mention it to their first few tables, and in the end you’ll sell a few bottles. But if you want to help your bar staff sell more, the first step is to help them discover their own reasoning. That means involving them in the process to give them some ownership in the process. Hold pre-shift meetings to explain and taste the featured products. Open up conversations with the team, and ask what they think.

“You know, this Cabernet we’re featuring tonight has a slightly more robust finish than our house Cab does. What item on our menu would you recommend it with?” Ask for input from all staff who want to contribute, and encourage them to uncover their own reasons.

2. They haven’t been trained how to sell.

There is a classic industry story of a restaurant CEO and his CFO chatting in an elevator.

The CFO says, “What if we spend all this money to train our bar staff and they leave?

The CEO replies, “What if we don’t train them and they stay?”

Training is always a worthy investment. Consistent training is what separates the great restaurants from the mediocre. How you train your team is how they will perform. And you cannot expect to have outstanding service or food without practiced staff.

You have to look at your team like a world champion sports team—they don’t just practice at pre-season and that’s it. It’s amazing that most restaurants and bars have the same short-lived training program only when the person is first hired. The typical three-day session is how most are trained. Then we’re shocked when they don’t meet expectations.

The best professionals in this industry make learning and growing a priority. They’re constantly reading, doing research and refining their craft. If you think you can become great with only 30-40 hours of work each week, you’re kidding yourself. Most of that time you’re simply dealing with the daily operational grind; few hours are directed at self-improvement.

Encourage your team to learn. Give them books and share links to bar industry articles or blog posts. Feed their curiosity and you’ll develop a team that will start to become addicted to knowledge.

Will everyone jump on this “learning train”? Of course not. That’s why it’s important to understand the last reason that pulls all this together.

3. You’ve hired the wrong people.

Understand this: You cannot turn a lamb into a lion. That might sound harsh, but at its very essence, it’s true. It’s hard to take someone who is shy and scared to talk to people and turn them into an outgoing service team member. This is not to say it can’t be done, or that this staff member is not valuable in other ways. But like in reason number one, if they’re not right for the role, they need to have their own reason to want to change. You can keep encouraging the team member to “get out there,” but the look on their face usually tells the real story.

One way to change this is to use behavioral surveys to put people in positions that play to their strengths. There are some great ones on the market like DiSC and ProScan that measure the four cornerstone behavioral traits that each and every one of us has (just in different combinations, which leads to individuality).

  1. Dominance: When a person places emphasis on accomplishing results, the bottom line, confidence. The leadership trait.
  2. Extroversion/Influence: When a person places emphasis on influencing or persuading others, openness, relationships. The people trait.
  3. Pace/Steadiness: When a person places emphasis on cooperation, sincerity, dependability. The patience trait.
  4. Conformity/Conscientiousness: When a person places emphasis on quality and accuracy, expertise, competency. The systems trait.

When trying to place new people within your team, in a position that would play better to their natural strengths, personality traits are a big factor. On a football team, there are many people who want to be the quarterback, yet very few have the skills and natural strengths to excel at that position. The same goes for your team—while the majority of people can adapt and do most jobs, only people whose natural strengths are aligned with their role will become top performers.

People excel when they play to their strengths. Your business will excel when you plug people in to the right positions, develop a culture of learning, and help them discover their own reasons of understanding why things need to be done. When you do all three, you’ll hit the trifecta and soon start to see your sales really soar.

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