Category: Bartenders

Bar Institute Classes: Masters of Mayhem

[caption id="attachment_11256" align="aligncenter" width="1515"]There's the dinner rush, boys! Let's do this! There's the dinner rush, boys! Let's do this![/caption] The Bar Institute{A first post in a series outlining some lessons learned from selected classes I attended at The Bar Institute held in Phoenix this month. If you don't know what Bar Institute is, check out my post outlining what attending Bar Institute is like and what is offered.} Masters of Mayhem was an inspiring class that I attended at the Bar Institute during its Southwest swing in Phoenix that dealt with the challenges and rewards of building and managing a truly great bar team. Presented by restaurateurs Nectaly Mendoza and Kate Gerwin, this was most powerful hour I spent over the whole weekend. The few operational specifics may have been about the bar industry, but the main material presented would be just as applicable in almost any service industry. If it weren't for the fact that very management style they espouse would make it impossible, I believe these two could make some serious coin were they to polish this seminar just a little and travel around the country three months a year, presenting it as general management training and motivation for anyone. I think the presenters assume from the outset that anyone interested in their class recognizes already that the bar/restaurant business is an art of barely controlled chaos, at the best of times. The subhead of the class title is "How to build a team of passionate, loyal workers who will ride the storm with you." You cannot run a bar successfully on the strength of your own talents. Nor will you necessarily successfully run a bar even if you have a lot of talented people. The structure of the class was an examination of Nectaly's and Kate's ten steps in building a team. Actually, they discuss something more than a team, they discuss the need for the bar staff to be a unit. A unit shares motivation, supports each other, and depends on each other. I'm not going to go over the ten steps in detail, because I doubt I'd do the material justice, but let's look at some of the highlights. The first thread that wove throughout the presentation was a contention that the bar manager's first concern should not be for his or her customers, but for his employees. "Treat your staff well. Think of them first," said Nectaly. "They will take care of your customers." They hammered over and over again that if your focus, your genuine, unfeigned focus, is on the welfare of your fellow team members, they will return that loyalty, and that focus. If there is a problem, you need to consider the value of ensuring your employee knows you want to have their back. Rather than leading with, "Hey! You did X," instead first ask, "Are you OK?" and then, once you have a reply, follow up with "What happened with X?" if they haven't already told you in their reply. You need to make sure that this kind of approach to each other is shared by every member of your unit, and the only way to do that is to live it yourself first, then insist on it in others.

You must possess these traits yourself, or you will never imbue them in others. — Nectaly Mendoza

The bar business is a people business. All meaningful communication needs to be face to face. Texts, emails, and especially third-party messages ("tell her I said...") all undermine the kind of cohesion they talk about building. There is no two-way bandwidth broader than eye contact. And all the people in your bar are part of your team and need to be treated that way by everyone, starting with (of course) the leader. All your finely trained thoroughbred bartenders will be serving precious few drinks if the guy in the dish pit whose name you never bothered to learn gets fed up and walks out during Saturday night service.... And in this vein, every job in the bar business is mission critical, and cannot be below anyone, starting with (lead by example, remember?) the boss. I have never been in any work environment where anything... anything good ever came from anyone uttering the dreadful words, "that's not my job." It was immensely gratifying to hear them both insist that you must ban it utterly from your team. There is lots more in their talk, from the value of spending "sober time" with your unit away from work, to ethical conflicts, to the simple recognition that requests for help, whether made or received, need to be welcomed as strengthening the team, not viewed as an imposition. "When a team member buckles under the weight of a problem they insist on handling themselves," or feel obligated to handle on their own, "the whole unit buckles," said Nectaly. Finally, will all this effort put into as high-turnover an endeavor as the bar industry be worth it?

Train your staff to surpass you. Train them to leave you. Treat them so that they won't. — Kate Gerwin

Bartenders, Photography

Bar Institute Extras: Headshots

[caption id="attachment_11242" align="aligncenter" width="1500"]Portland's Jacob Grier Portland's Jacob Grier[/caption] One of the cool things at Bar Institute is the nice little photo studio to which Gentleman Jack dedicated the back half of their booth. Professional photographer Kathryn Dulny set up back here at several times during Exhibition hours to offer complimentary professional headshots to attendees. Because, how who couldn't really use a good photograph? [caption id="attachment_11245" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]Columbus's Nigal Vann"Ladies..."
Columbus's Nigal Vann[/caption] Thanks to Jack Daniels for my headshot, and everyone else's. Kathryn was working both Baltimore and Phoenix, so I hope/assume she or someone will be doing all the events this year. [caption id="attachment_11246" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]A photographer is limited by the quality of her model, of course.... A photographer is limited by the quality of her model, of course....[/caption] If you go, I encourage you to give some thought to how you'd like to be shot. If you browse Kathryn's website, you can see all the headshots so far, and there are some good ideas for poses. Also, if you have any prop or object that is a part of your image, think about bringing it along so you can include it.
Meaning, you forgot to bring me!
You're dead to me....
Bartenders, Marketing

Bar Institute Classes: Menu Development

Pegu-Menu The Bar Institute{The first post in a series outlining some lessons learned from selected classes I attended at The Bar Institute held in Phoenix this month. If you don't know what Bar Institute is, check out my post outlining what attending Bar Institute is like and what is offered.} Menu Development is a Bar institute class offered by Alex Day and Devon Tarby of Proprietors, LLC, owners of Death & Co and others, as well as consultants for many many more menus and bars around the country. The principals of Proprietors offer a complete sub-curriculum within Bar Institute, and are very good at it. Their class that I want to cover here is on the menu creation process. The process they outline is their own. It is extensive, complex, usually successful, and more than even the most dedicated bar owner and management would go through on their own. Some of what they describe are things made necessary by the client-consultant relationship, others come from them being the kind of hyper OCD types business should want in consultants. All the elements of their process, whether you might need to employ them yourself or not, are worth considering to create the best possible offering for your bar. About halfway through the class, Alex stated what should remain uppermost in the mind of anyone contemplating a menu, be they working with the finest craft bar in the world, or merely putting together a drinks list for a home party,

A list of really good drinks is not a menu.

No really. Lock that into your reptilian brain for eternity. Or at least keep it in mind while I talk about some other highlights. And may I add, that for many ambitious bars with talented staff, a list of drinks that aspire to be good but mostly just settle gently into mediocrity is really not a menu. How is a menu not a list of drinks? The first of Proprietors' steps to develop a menu is, "Defining the Menu's Narrative." Part of this is just what is sounds like, the menu tells a story, one that should reflect that of the bar itself, and more importantly, the story of your customers. Who are your customers? How knowledgeable are they likely to be? Now, how do you want them to see you? And how long do you want this menu to last? Is it a long-term fixture, or a thematic or seasonal list that is more ephemeral? The message of the class was that a great menu will answer all these questions before you start even thinking about what it will list. The first concrete step in menu development cuts the narrative you have concocted into drink-like parts through what they call a "wireframe". The wireframe is a worksheet that first lists what category each drink on the menu is going to represent, such as a Sour, a Champagne cocktail, or a Manhattan variant. Each category then provides space for organized brainstorming to focus each drink's characteristics. Their example is pictured here. (Pro-Tip, take pictures of slides so you can spend time listening instead of taking notes of what is already written) [caption id="attachment_11230" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]A wireframe for a fairly typical ten item menu, serving the desires of a clientele with above-average savvy and disparate tastes. i.e. a generic craft bar menu A wireframe for a fairly typical ten item menu, serving the desires of a clientele with above-average savvy and disparate tastes. i.e. a generic craft bar menu[/caption] The most important part of this sheet (which I suspect is more a representation of the process than what their actual work product looks like) is to ensure that you don't go all excited with your "best drinks", and end up with a menu of five stirred, brown cocktails and a white wine spritzer. Or simply find that when you are done, the only citrus you employ is lemon. Structure the process this way to ensure your menu takes care of as many people as possible, so half of them don't just stare at it for a while, then order a vodka and soda. It's important to spend a good bit of time refining the wireframe on paper, so you don't spend a fortune on liquid product while chasing down rabbit holes that might be delicious, but are ultimately useless for the menu. Once you have a clear idea of the vision for the menu, it is also critical to include the bar staff in development. They have to make it. They have to sell it. They (hopefully) have the skills to contribute to it. And if they are involved, you both benefit from their knowledge and talent, and have a leg up on ensuring they buy in to the menu. The least amount of time in the class was dedicated to actually creating the drinks. Firstly, every bar pro attending an event like Bar Institute already knows (or thinks they know) how to create a good original cocktail, especially if given wireframe directions such as "a low-proof, stirred cocktail, featuring vermouth and caraway". Heck, even I could figure something out with a wireframe direction of "spirit-forward, stirred cocktail, with rye, vermouth, and a bittering agent". Even if you want a menu of classics, with no risks on originals, this process works well. Once you have your drink recipes, the important part of creating drinks begins, the part that lets you actually make money selling them. Remember that? You need to carefully spec out the brands used in each drink, pricing, menu copy, and names. The first two of these, ingredients and price, are a balancing act with lots of inputs. You must take into consideration things like the reality that a drink with Chartreuse as a modifier will need a more affordable base spirit than one that uses triple sec. Will your menu have different price levels? What prices will your market bear? Does this drink look to be a solid seller, or is it there for select clientele? A rule of thumb that Alex and Devon gave is to be sure that your expected best sellers are your most solid on profit margin; you can accept lower margins on those "Ooh, that looks impressive. Maybe next time" drinks. I find this a little difficult to square with the more traditional business case that you accept lower margins on your high volume sellers. I think I understand that pricing expectations unique to the bar industry may dictate this inversion, but the traditional businessman in me is going to have to give this more thought. What is definitely a factor is that you must understand the market where this menu will be offered. The same products will have to be priced differently in different markets. Price alone cannot make a menu successful, but it can certainly make it a failure. Names are hard. Be fun. Be creative. Keep in character for the narrative of the menu. Don't confuse your customers. Don't be stupid. Accomplishing all of these at the same time is harder and drearier than you might think. The last element in preparing the menu is planning for service. You must document every single detail of the prep needs for every single drink. How and when are house-made elements produced? Where is each and every ingredient to be kept? Can every person making drinks get to everything efficiently? So, your menu is written, documented, and printed. Done right? Of course not. The rollout of a new menu is both a big challenge and a big opportunity. The staff has to be trained... thoroughly. In my own experience, I have seen a great new menu turn me off even more than it first enthused me when I got the feeling that the bartender was reading it for the first time along with me. And if no one knows you have a new menu, its ability to pay you back for all the effort in producing it is pretty limited. But a new menu is a great opportunity for a bar owner to also reset operations, to address problems, even just to clean everything out, do some maintenance, and make everyone feel new. And promoting a new menu is not just an obligation, it is a golden opportunity. You can fill social media with anticipation and buzz. And it means you are making "real news". Use the new menu as a chance to offer reporters in all media to come hang out at a great bar.... (See my upcoming post about DIY PR.) And you are still not done. Menus, like battleplans encountering the enemy, seldom work perfectly off the bat. Drinks may not be popular. They may not be as profitable as expected. People may hate your design. Expect to make tweaks on an ongoing basis. I will finish with Alex and Devon's conclusion, which is as important as the quote I featured above.

A menu is a holistic process, and is not for you. It is for your customer... and for your bottom line.