The bar industry is driven by delivering exceptional (and memorable) customer experiences. As a bar owner, manager, or operator, you need to realize that you don’t just sell food, beverage, and events—you sell emotion through enhanced experiences.
Your concept—whether it is a bar, pub, lounge, or even a nightclub—lives or dies by the customer emotion that it creates. Creating a memorable emotion is delivered on a personal level and to ensure you positively deliver, you must first make sure you have what is called “company culture.”
Yes, that “buzzword” you’ve heard over and over again.
Company culture is the personality of your bar. It defines the environment in which your staff works. Culture within your bar includes a variety of elements, like work environment, company mission, value, ethics, expectations, training, and even goals.
You can have kick-ass food, amazing cocktails, and the best band in town playing on your stage, but the guest experience can be ruined because your venue lacks culture.
That is how important culture truly is.
A recent business trip to a Los Angeles bar resulted in a story I would love to quickly share with you, a story perhaps you can relate to.
Upon entering this Downtown LA venue, we were greeted by a hostess with minimal enthusiasm, which should have been red flag number one about the experience we were setting ourselves up for.
Once seated, our server arrived without much of an introduction or smile. There was no menu walk-through, no suggestive selling, and no explanation of specials or cocktail features. We ordered our food and drinks from the menu, which did arrive with phenomenal presentation and taste.
Fantastic, I thought, maybe things are going to get better!
However, during our stay we heard staff gossiping, we visited washrooms that weren’t stocked with basic toiletries, and received no quality check or request for a second cocktail. When it was time for the bill, it was placed on the table without a single word spoken by the server. It was then picked up moments later from the table, with credit card inside, in what we all referred to as a “scoop and run.”
The server didn’t even break a stride or say a word scooping up that bill. It was just…gone!
This is how you die by the customer emotion you create. Some may argue this is just a broken training system. I will argue back that training is a key ingredient of winning culture.
The above experience could have been positive with the right company culture. When you lack culture, it hurts your brand, and sadly, the above scenario happens more often than it should.
With countless bars trying to make a name for themselves, having a strong brand has become crucial for today’s venues to differentiate themselves from their local or regional competitors.
Why hurt your brand over basic people skills? In the above scenario, we couldn’t even get angry at the service staff. It’s not necessarily their fault.
Where does the fault lie? It lies with owners, operators, and managers—the so-called “leaders” of the brand who have not provided the proper company culture. It was incredibly obvious throughout the entire experience.
Here’s a secret: With thousands of bars lacking culture, by providing a winning culture, you can immediately drive a competitive advantage. Could it really be that easy?
Perhaps it can be, if you use the following guidelines.
Create a Hiring Program
Like that of a bar’s overall operations, there needs to be structure and systems within the hiring process. Don’t think you can just put out an ad and make it sound like you’re the best paying establishment in town. The old adage remains, “money is not a motivator—it is a satisfier.”
Start hiring for values and not only experience. Develop your vision, mission, value, and culture statements to create a marketable hiring program. From there, write stronger job descriptions, look for ways to improve the interview process, and finally, create a welcoming package that will get your new candidates excited, such as a branded bartender kit.
Doing so will ensure that you’re creating a team that aligns with your values and your goals.
Creating Employee Expectations
Effective communication can provide any bar with an atmosphere where the on-premise team is excited, motivated, and honest, effectively delivering consistency and workplace expectations while potentially lowering your turnover costs.
This beneficial form of communication starts from the top and also starts from the time they’re employed (and arguably during the interview stage). The key to setting expectations, communication, and a positive working environment starts with on-boarding, operation manuals, and formal training.
Create a Training System
A phrase everyone needs to remember is this: “Values beat experience, when experience doesn’t work hard.”
If you have a training system, you can hire anyone that fits your values and goals and train them on your systems. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have hired someone with zero experience over someone with 10-plus years of experience.
Your bar’s leadership should be continuously training, leading, and improving their team—no excuses. This shouldn’t only happen during their first two-three shifts, either. Human capital is motivated by continuous challenges and opportunity.
Create operating systems, create achievable (and measureable) personal goals (S.M.A.R.T – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely), and review/reward your team after a set timeframe. You should provide specified times each week for training to empower your entire team through continuous education.
Want to take it a step further? Consider starting a program that offers to help pay for culinary, mixology, or event-based education. Once a candidate passes their three-month probation, discuss an opportunity for them to take their learning to another level. You will also learn if they plan to have a long tenure with you and if they are worth investing in. Work with your local culinary schools, mixology schools, or post-secondary schools offering event/tourism management.
It may be time to invest in their future for the sake of yours!
Creating Team Experiences
Within this article, the word “experiences” has been used throughout—and rightfully so. At the end of the day, experiences (emotions) are what bars sell to customers. Much of the emphasis, however, is on customer or guest experiences. But what about staff experiences?
For example, a great team member is one who craves learning and one who brings the same set of values as you do to the table. Think “outside the box” and create team experiences by sending your team to farms, distilleries, breweries, wineries, etc. to learn about specific products you offer and their development processes. This continuous education will create a sense of appreciation, enticing your team to stay loyal to your establishment while benefiting not only their work experience, but your customer’s experience as well.
Creating Stay Interviews
Many of you have likely heard the term “exit interview,” but what about a “stay interview”? Take video to the next level by interviewing your staff and developing a series of testimonials as to why they love working for your bar.
This strategy will create a sense of place and family among your team and also assist in your hiring process, positioning you to attain higher quality candidates who seek a positive working environment.
If the above tactics were used at the venue in LA, then I wouldn’t need to use them as an example. These tactics will create a positive environment to work in, leading to enthusiastic welcomes, profitable service sequences, operational consistency, and so much more.
Your mindset needs to be that a job is more than a paycheck.
Employees tend to enjoy work when their needs and values are consistent with those in the workplace. They tend to develop better relationships with their coworkers and are even more productive, leading to positive guest emotions.
Implementing a winning culture and team-based strategy will assist in controlling your labour costs and reduce turnover—resulting in not only stronger consistency within your operations, but also a positive environment that will flow down to your customers, helping to amplify your marketing efforts and resulting in a memorable brand with a competitive advantage.