Let’s be honest, if you’ve been in the hospitality industry long enough, you are probably a little bit dead inside. You’ve seen the best and worst of humanity and dealing with drunk people on a regular basis would probably make even Mother Teresa’s heart turn a little callous.

But we weren’t always like that. There was probably a time when we were new and the idea of making a mojito for a guest or coming up with a “fun” take on a Old fashioned might have excited us, instead of wanting to pretend you “just ran out of mint”!

Engagement seems to be one of the biggest buzzwords in just about any industry at the moment. The hospitality industry is no different and can present it’s own challenges. Getting your employees and team mates to care about the bar (not just their job) can make a huge difference in everyone’s quality of life (and, of course, the bottom line.)

The best time to get bartenders “engaged” is the very first time they walk in the door. The next best time is “right now”. But for today, we’re going to talk about onboarding new staff and getting them engaged right from their very first shift.

What is “Engagement” Anyway?

So what does engagement mean? There can be a lot of definitions, but it generally means that employees are excited about the work they do and how their work fulfills the goals and values of the company. (Identifying the goals and values of a company is outside the scope of this article, but it’s also an important step if you want to identify and train engaged employees.)

Getting New Bartenders Engaged

Set the standards and uphold them.

Employees will rise to the set of standards that you set for them. Have appropriate* standards for the business that you are running and hold everyone, (especially yourself!) to them.

*What I mean by “appropriate” is to keep in mind the style and level of service required at your establishment. You would not expect fine dining service in a neighborhood bar, and vice versa. The level of service at each venue is different.

Pair them with the right trainers.

Not everyone is able to be “the workhorse in the well” filling hundreds of cocktail orders every night. Likewise not everyone is good at training new employees. Pair the new hire with someone that actually likes to train and is good at it.Consider putting some time and energy into “training the trainer” as an investment. It could have a big impact on increasing the engagement of the new employee.

Tools for Success:

Provide them with the tools they need to succeed. This does not only pertain to the physical tools, like cocktail shakers, jiggers and strainers, (although those are important too!) but also providing access to books, seminars and learning opportunities that exist beyond the walls of your bar. If you have a library set up for bar books or leadership books at your bar, show them how they can check out the books, or better yet, have a schedule of books that you recommend they read within a 3 month period.

Set Clear Expectations

Set clear expectations not only of the work they will be doing, but how it fits in the greater picture of what the bar is trying to accomplish. Identifying a greater purpose for your bar and communicating that purpose to your employees can have a very powerful effect on what your employees contribute on a day to day basis.

Set Explicit Goals

How does a new bartender know they are done training? Does the trainer just kind of… stop telling them how to do stuff?Avoid the temptation to let training just fizzle out, and instead put in place a list of specific training milestones. Not only does this help keep training consistent for all employees but it makes it clear when training is complete – an occasion worth celebrating! Consider giving “graduates” a gift to welcome them to the team, like a branded apron or a bar kit of their very own.

Request (and Listen to) Feedback

If you have been running your training program the same way for years it might be worth the time to take a second look and consider updating and / or revamping the program. Ask your team for their help as they go through the training process. Make it standard practice to ask for feedback on how to make the training process better and take that feedback seriously. You might be surprised at the feedback you get at the end of their training.

Think about their training experience the same way you would think about the guest experience. Are there opportunities to add personal touches along the way and really make the training memorable? Welcoming a new member has a lot in common with bringing someone new into your household. Making them feel welcome, important, and valued will pay off in spades and make everyone happier.

Chris Tunstall

Co-Founder of A Bar Above and career bartender and mixologist. I love experimenting, creating cocktails, and drinking Green Chartreuse.