It’s the best of times… it’s the worst of times.

When I was still working behind the bar I used to have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the holiday season. On the one hand, the money was great! I made way more tips than the rest of the year and it was nice to get some money into savings. On the other hand, it was such an exhausting time, my mental (and physical) health suffered.

The good news is, there are a few ways you can help prepare yourself and your bar for the holiday rush, so you can capitalize on the busy nights and benefit financially without losing your sanity or health!

Prepare Yourself

You wouldn’t run a marathon without stretching first… so don’t go into this holiday season “cold” either!

Physical Preparation:

There’s no two ways about it: bartending is physical work. Take these next few months to take care of your body and build good habits:

  • Get in the habit of stretching before every shift. Stretch your arms, wrists, shoulders, core and neck. Many repetitive stress injuries become much worse during the holidays and stretching can definitely help. (Listen to this episode to hear more advice from an expert!)
  • Go to the gym to build up your core muscles and get stronger overall. This can help avoid injuries if (and when) you are asked to do heavy work like lifting, moving kegs or cases of inventory.
  • Eat Well: Take some time to try to work more fresh fruit and veg into your diet. Eating well now will help set the groundwork for healthy habits that’ll take you through the holidays with more energy and stamina. And it goes without saying: don’t skip lunch! Find a way to fit all three meals into your day to make sure you have the energy to get through your 8-12hr shift.

Mental Preparation:

It’s easy to pretend that bartending is only hard on your body – but if you’ve been through a holiday season before, you know it takes a big toll on your mind and sanity as well. Again, it’s all about building healthy habits:

  • Drink less.  I know, I know. Sometimes it feels like the only way to unwind. But drinking after your shift can sap your energy and lower your sleep quality. I’m not saying never go out – but consider toning it down a bit to get in the game for the holidays.
  • Get some quiet time. In the craziness of the bar, sometimes it can feel like you’re always somewhere noisy. The bar, the kitchen, the bus home. Consider getting in the habit of walking home or taking a bike without music on. Just a few moments of peace and quiet can be so powerful for your mental health.

Preparing your Bar

Getting your bar ready for the holidays can definitely make a difference to your sanity. (And I’m not takling about putting up a Christmas tree!) here are some ideas for getting things streamlined ahead of the rush:

Take an Inventory of Tools, Glassware, etc.

Do you run out of glassware during service, or come close? Now’s the time to find these bottlenecks and close them. If spending a little extra money on glassware, bar tools, etc. saves you time and lets you serve just one more customer each night, it’s a great investment.

If you’re not in charge of buying, let your manager know – they may not even be aware there’s a shortfall because it may not be an “emergency” right now. But it could become a major problem when the crowds show up in December.

Prepare the Menu for Success:

When preparing your holiday cocktail menu, look for any opportunity to make it more efficient. Can you offer quick-to-serve cocktails like bottled drinks, pre-batched cocktails or punches? Where can you simplify garnish? Each small step saved can mean a huge difference when serving hundreds of guests on a busy night.

Fill Open Positions

It probably goes without saying, but if you’re short staffed now and you don’t fill those positions, you’re gonna have a bad time in November and December. Focus on getting every position filled ASAP, before things get busy and you don’t have the time to hire and train new people. Don’t underestimate the time it takes to get new people onboarded either – it’s important that your new hires are fully trained before things get crazy.

Strategic Staff Training

Wish your staff were better at cleaning / pre prep / upselling? Now’s the time to train! Take advantage of the next few months and get your staff trained and ready for the holiday rush. Focus on time-saving skills like pre-bussing as well as sales strategies like upselling. Consider running sales contests now before the rush gets ahead of you – and your staff will be that much more ready to make the most of the season.

It’s only October – you’ve got time! Take a bit of time now to prepare yourself and your bar and this holiday season might be your best – and most profitable – yet.

Chris Tunstall

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