By Loren Bornstein
When it came to transitioning from bartender to bar manager, it took me a few years, and some hard knocks to get me there. Like a lot of great bar leads and bar managers I know, I burned with a drive to do something and be something more. I worked long hours and came in whenever needed. I was always finding something else to improve in myself.
Even when I started running my own bar in a completely different city, I still strove to learning nearly everything. To help me learn how to do my job better, I started going to events being thrown by people all over in the industry. Getting to know some of the best bartenders and bar managers in the area, if not the country, I received great advice and input on what I was doing and how I could work with the limits I had.
Thanks to those experiences, I learned what makes a bartender an ideal candidate to grow into a bar manager. In order to help my fellow bartenders, I also asked for input from a few fellow bar managers (and both former bosses of mine): Boston-based Tyler Lymer and Camille Cavan of Portland, OR’s Quaintrelle.
Camille’s natural eye for organization and background taught me the importance of a good garnish game as well as understanding the foundation of cocktails. Camille learned to bartend from Aaron Zieske and Jeffrey Morgenthaler. I have the utmost respect for her work.
Tyler is one of the most thorough bar managers I’ve had the pleasure of working with—his attention to training was the most detailed I’ve ever experienced. Tyler was recognized by some peers as someone with potential and had his name thrown into the mix. Sometimes, all it takes is someone noticing you to give you a chance.
I’m honored to call Tyler and Camille friends. Between the three of us, here’s some traits we identified as ideal in bartenders wanting to become bar managers:
They demonstrate a desire to grow—not just learning new technical skills but also taking on more responsibility. Anyone who expresses a desire to become more should be on an owner’s or manager’s radar and nurtured into a leadership role.
Camille said, “Being given credit, acknowledgment, and freedom has completely changed who I am as a bar manager/employee.” She also reminded me that sexism is still an issue for women, especially those looking to move up. “I hate to say it, but that is a constant struggle when remaining strong and knowing what you are doing is worth it, and that you have every right to be there.”
They are bar nerds. They want to know more about the numbers behind the bar. They want to understand how to properly cost drinks, how to do inventory, or why certain taxes come out of paychecks or the point of reporting tips.
Tyler had this to say, “I think that mastering roles is essential to development. I can tell if a person is a great candidate if they have a great foundation and understand the inner working of a bar (or are able to). The second part is, are they willing?”
When corrected, they mostly own their mistakes or they ask how they can improve. They help hold coworkers accountable. They check in when something seems off behind the bar and bring forward solutions or want to know why the business operates a certain way.
They don’t bully others. They don’t engage in problematic behavior. If they disagree with management or someone else, they don’t hide from the issue, and don’t let it ruin the team or customer experience.
From Tyler: “I was lucky to have a GM that worked as a bartender in the past and ran cocktail bars prior to managing the entire operations. Because of that, he desired to be actively involved and present while still coaching me along the way.”
As Camille said above about sexism in the industry: it often isn’t a fair balance for women behind the bar. Sexism is a big issue, and for women bartenders looking to step into bar management, they often have to deal with inappropriate behavior from both customers and coworkers. Becoming a bar manager will mean being knowledgeable about various forms of discrimination and understanding how to deal with it appropriately.
They don’t engage in talking behind coworkers’ backs and focus on pulling their own weight. Part of management is leading a team and trusting in your team. Doing so with your coworkers and practicing compassion and kindness goes a long way into being a quality person and bar manager.
If you treat your customers well, why wouldn’t you expect the same of yourself and your coworkers Camille put it well: “Everyone has stuff. People have lives. Things happen. The more comfortable you are in your project, the happier you are; the healthier you are, the more likely your project will do well. It all trickles down.”
For all of us, it took hard work, some luck, time, and someone giving us a chance to prove our abilities beyond just bartending. Most of all, it required our awareness of who we are and showing how we were a good fit for the role. Special thanks to Tyler and Camille for their training of me and input. If you’re ever around where they work, you’ll experience some incredible cocktails and outstanding service.
Did we miss something? What else do you think makes a bartender a good fit for a bar manager? Let us know in the comments section below.
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