Bartending, Management

5 Essential Leadership Skills for Bar Managers

October 11, 2018

Posted in Restaurant Management, Industry & Culture

Benefits of Strong Leadership Skills for Bar Managers

Building your leadership skills as a bar manager is absolutely essential for employee retention and team morale—and ultimately the success of your bar. Most bar managers get promoted because of their standout bartending skills but often lack training on management and leadership best practices which is crucial for keeping a high-performing team in place.

The restaurant industry is notorious for sub-par HR skills and high turnover rates—one of the highest turnover rates of any industry in fact. In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the annual employee turnover rate was 73%—that means within a year 73 out of 100 employees will have come and gone.

The first step to avoiding this statistic? It starts at the top. The majority of people leave their job because of their boss—a study by Gallup from 2015 found 50% of employees left their job to get away from their manager. Don’t be the problem. With strong leadership skills, you’ll not only benefit your own career, but you also:

  • Reduce your turnover rate
  • Save money and energy spent on the hiring process
  • Maintain and improve the morale of your team
  • Improve the guest experience through a high-functioning team

In short, working on your leadership skills benefits every aspect of your team and the business.

Your Leadership Style

Good leaders know themselves—their strengths, their weaknesses, and their leadership style. Take this quiz to determine your leadership style. Reflect on whether your team would benefit from different styles in different situations.

5 Essential Leadership Skills for Bar Managers

Learn the five most important managerial skills you need and how to strengthen them to create a positive working environment.

1. Communicate effectively

As the manager of your team, each employee looks to you to set the tone for effective and straightforward communication. While new managers often assume this means you have to be formal and distant with the people on your team, good leadership involves confident and relaxed communication.

When customers are crowding around the bar and your signature cocktail has just run out, your team looks to you to set the tone for how to handle a difficult situation. It’s no longer acceptable to lose your temper, regardless of how it was done in the industry in the past. Dealing with an unprofessional work environment should never be considered a “right of passage,” whether someone is just starting out or has been in the industry for years. Think of leadership like a swan gliding through a lake—even if you’re paddling hard beneath the surface, you need to be calm, cool, and collected above the water.

If you keep your cool and communicate in a clear, concise way, it will help your team learn how to problem-solve and stay calm under pressure. Start by identifying the signs of your stress, things like an inability to concentrate to a racing pulse. Before you let these things take over your emotions, take a few deep breaths and focus on altering your thoughts to a more neutral, logical outlook before taking any action.

2. Develop your team members

Your responsibilities extend beyond scheduling shifts, doing inventory, ordering product, and opening/closing the bar—you’re also responsible for the professional growth of each person on your team.

Set up regular meetings with team members, and try to meet at least once a month, if not once a week. These 1:1 meetings are the time to discuss your employees’ professional goals and what they’re looking for from their job, now and in the future. It also gives you an opportunity to provide feedback—both positive and constructive—so your team knows what you expect of them. Scheduled check-ins help your team members feel heard and give you more information on how each person feels about their job.

It’s important to build a trusting relationship with your direct reports so they will feel comfortable being honest. Start these meetings by asking questions about their life outside of work, and inquire about their work/life balance.

Here are great questions to ask during 1:1s to get a sense of current needs and future professional development goals. Ask these questions every meeting and make notes of the answers to refer back to.

  • How is work feeling right now? Do you have what you need to do your job?
  • Do you feel challenged enough by your role?
  • What skills would you like to develop?
  • What are your long-term goals?
  • What can I do to help?

Pro Tip! When your team asks for more responsibility or wants to develop new skills, make sure you either set aside time to help them accomplish this or delegate some of your own tasks to them as stretch assignments. Watch closely, provide actionable feedback, and encourage them to continue learning.

3. Boost team morale

While having regular discussions with each team member will boost individual morale, it’s important to cultivate the type of culture that’s best for your team. Work/life balance is a huge opportunity area in the restaurant industry, but as the manager, you have the ability to promote health and wellness for your employees.

Ensure each employee has enough time off between shifts and that their weekly schedule works best for them; this is easier said than done, but always making a conscious, authentic effort will mean the world to your team. Another key part of boosting team morale is having dedicated team events where the team can socialize outside of the work environment. Plan a fun outing or do quick team building activities during family meal.

4. Onboard new employees

With the fast-paced nature of bar and restaurant life, taking on new employees can sometimes result in a “trial-by-fire” introduction. Standardizing or simply documenting your onboarding process will save you time and more importantly, make new hires feel more engaged and productive—two aspects that impact high turnover rates.

Map out the activities that should be included in your onboarding process—from logistical aspects, like setting up direct deposit and an overview of benefits, to job responsibilities, like menu training and opening procedures. Some of these sessions can be completed by your experienced team members, and including others is a great way to build relationships on the team. If you don’t have one already, create a drink bible with a detailed list of your house recipes and any classic drinks customers might order. With all of this prepared ahead of time, it’ll be smooth sailing whenever a new person joins your team.

5. Build your expertise

Staying on top of industry trends establishes your credibility and sets the precedent for your team to do the same. If you’re constantly learning new skills and sharing information about the industry, it encourages your team to stay informed and keeps you on top of your game. Also try recommending learning opportunities, like a new industry-related book or a class for advanced bartending skill sets. Get started with our 3 Resources for Becoming a Master Mixologist and keep up with the latest trends with the 21 Bar Industry Blogs You Should be Reading.

Want to learn more about managing your team for the best performance? Check out this guide:


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