Successfully managing a bar and its staff isn't easy. There are so many competing personalities, motivations, and responsibilities between FOH and BOH (see restaurant lingo). But it can be rewarding both personally and financially. If you get bar management just right.
That's why we put together these 10 top-notch tips to get your staff behind you and run a successful beverage program. Take a look.
10 Tips to Run a Bar Successfully
Everyone who touches your bar or restaurant is an expert in something, including all the folks who work there. There is so much knowledge floating around your business, it’s astounding. You need to harness it.
Have weekly or monthly bar training on menu items, procedures, or any number of the fields your staff are experts in.
You can ask a wine rep to give training on their newest products. Or a line cook to give training on food preparation. A bartender can even give training on mixology, standard liquor pours, standard wine pours, and so on. You may also want to require staff to acquire an alcohol server certification.
Be the Source of Truth
Training applies to you, too!
If one of your staff members asks you a question, you should be able to answer it accurately. Be the expert on your bar operations manual, cocktail recipe book, bar staff training manual, and how to clean a wine decanter. If you're not, then why should anyone else be?
Become the source of truth for everything about the bar and you’ll gain the confidence and respect of your staff.
Put on Your Marketing Cap
Have daily specials and if some aren’t popular, try something new. Host special events like trivia or movie night and if some aren’t popular, try something new.
The key is to try new things and get creative with your marketing. Other bars are an endless source of inspiration for things your bar could be doing to bring in money. So go visit some and see what’s working.
One bar manager even told us something crazy.
That a Bob Ross painting night they host is one of their most popular happy hour ideas. They enter all the guests’ names, pull one, and that person paints along to a Bob Ross episode. You know the guy from Then they hang the painting up for a few weeks.
If you need some inspiration, try these bar promotion ideas.
Know Your Market
Chances are your market is the same as similar bars in your city. Stop by a few of the successful ones and see what’s working for them. What kind of drinks do they have front-and-center on their menu? Do you like any of the decor?
If it’s working for them, that’s an implicit stamp of approval from the market. It’ll probably work for you, too.
Stay on Top of Industry Trends
This is a bigger picture version of the “know your market” tip. Go online and see what other bar managers are doing. Look at their marketing, technology, mixology, and equipment. Information is free and there is an entire Internet out there of people sharing bar management techniques.
Also, join bar, restaurant, and hospitality industry associations. Head to their conferences. Meet people and talk face-to-face if that’s more your style.
Either way, tap into the pool of professionals who are doing the exact same thing as you and learn from them. You can even pick up a few restaurant management books to see any larger developments in the industry.
Build the Right Team
Anything can be taught to an enthusiastic learner.
That's why you should focus more on personality and culture than skills and experience.
Some people think that's crazy. But it's far from it.
When you hire bar staff, you’re building an entire social dynamic. That means assembling a good team for your bar is as much for you as it is for the rest of the staff. Every day they’ll be working side-by-side with the people you choose. Make sure you craft some tough bartender interview questions to test any bartender cover letter.
They need to be a perfect fit. You'll also need to offer them a competitive bartender salary.
Motivate Your Bar Staff
Learning how to be a good bar manager is all about learning how to motivate people. Your bar staff can be energized and motivated.
When you lead by example, give them a voice, and help them grow professionally.
Lead by Example
When the place is getting slammed, be visible. Get behind the bar, drop menus and greet tables, clear plates, run a bus tub, help take bar inventory, do something.
Your staff will feel better about working hard if they don’t think they’re the only ones doing it.
Give Your Staff a Voice
Encourage your staff to make suggestions or give feedback, both solicited and not.
Set up an anonymous Google form or a physical suggestions box. And specifically ask about feedback in pre-shift meetings.
The benefits of this are twofold: staff feel more ownership and you’ll get lots of great ideas (for free!) to improve the business.
Help Employees Grow Professionally
Have discussions with every member of your staff and make it clear that you’re invested in their professional development. Give your staff the tools they need to succeed. Supply your bartenders with a bartender duties checklist.
Create a professional development road map for each employee and help them achieve it. That could mean recommending things like mixology online courses. Or sitting for exams for the four sommelier certification levels to them, and even paying for some of it.
You can also give them specific work experience that aligns with their goals. Or tap into your professional network to introduce them to someone.
Studies show that empathy is the number one driver of job performance. Listening and responding with empathy is the single most effective way to communicate. As a manager, your staff needs to feel you care about them.
And, ideally, you should actually care about them.
In addition to POS systems, there are bunches of bar and restaurant management technology and software out there. Accounting, scheduling, payroll, inventory management, and more.
Recognize all of these for what they are:
Tools to make peoples’ lives easier.
So you should make sure those tools are doing that.
Ask your staff for feedback about all the technology your bar or restaurant currently uses. Use that feedback to explore new and different options if needed. Your staff will appreciate that you’re taking their pain points seriously.
Embrace Menu Engineering
Your menu should be a strategic document. Its strategy should focus on increasing sales and profit margin.
Enter menu engineering.
To engineer a profitable drink menu, you’ll need to figure out which drinks are your most profitable, i.e., have the lowest pour cost. After you know what items make you the most money, put them front-and-center.
Treat your menu like a tool to make your most profitable drinks your most popular and vice versa.
Take Bar Inventory Regularly
Consistently taking bar inventory gives you the best chance at running a profitable bar. With accurate inventory numbers, you’ll know your inventory usage rates, pour cost, par level, and more.
It’s how you’ll determine your prices, structure your menu, land on sales strategies, and keep your bar organized. It’s also how you avoid situations where your staff has to tell a guest something is 86’d. Taking bar inventory regularly is especially easy with a beverage inventory management system. It will also pay dividends when you're reviewing your restaurant chart of accounts. Just make sure you know how many shots in a handle.
Keep a Clean Bar
A clean bar helps staff work efficiently, and that encourages guests to spend money. A clean bar also encourages repeat visits from guests.
Use a daily and weekly bar cleaning checklist to bring order and regularity to the cleaning process. Make sure the entire staff adheres to an opening and closing checklist so no single person is carrying the team. Get the right bar and restaurant cleaning supplies, too.
Create Prompt and Thoughtful Schedules
Don’t trap your employees in plan-making purgatory.
Make sure schedules come out with enough notice that people can make plans and live a normal life.
Also, try your level best to accommodate everyone’s schedule requests. And if you can’t, give them a reason why you couldn’t.
Just don’t make it feel like they sent their schedule request off into outer space.
Work life and social life are referred to separately, and that makes work seem unsocial. It’s anything but.
Just look back at the empathy tip above; it’s the number one driver of workplace performance.
No matter where people are or what they’re doing, they’re looking for ways to communicate. Customers and vendors should be your new best friends.
Get out there on a busy shift and network with your regulars or turn new guests into regulars. You’ll not only encourage guests to return, but you’ll encourage people to talk about your business to their friends.
How many times have you heard someone drop “I know the manager” proudly in conversation?
Good relationships with vendors and wholesalers often result in better prices when you're stocking your bar. The longer you’ve done business with someone, the more familiar they are with you. And the more likely they are to cut you a deal.
Often getting a good deal is simply a matter of asking. And we’re much more inclined to ask people that we’re friendly with.
Avoid Common Bar Equipment Layout Pitfalls
The way your bar equipment is laid is dependent on the bar’s physical layout and the type of equipment you use. But there are some general rules to follow to optimize the layout design of your bar.
Move loud, hot machines like glasswashers and ice machines away from the prime real estate in the center of the bar.
How Can I Be a Good Bar Manager?
Being empathetic and leading by example are how to be a good bar manager.
Empathy and leadership are the core of what makes a manager worth following. Keep that in mind as you build out your team and hit the floor every shift. It’s a human business.
The third most important bar management tip is taking bar inventory regularly. It's so important we even included it in our list of the most important bar manager duties. You need numbers to make profitable decisions running your bar, and to work with your bar manager salary. And those number come from consistent and accurate bar inventory management. And BinWise Pro helps thousands of bars and restaurants across the country get there.