“JOH_7799” flickr photo by star5112 https://flickr.com/photos/johnjoh/5916048209 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

About once a month we receive a note from a reader, and it goes something like this:

Anytime I suggest changes to our menu at work I get ignored due to my “lack of experience”. I may not be a 10-year indutsry veteran, but I study mixology nightly, I craft cocktails at home, I spend my own money to get small things for the bar, and I am not in this for money but for the love of the craft.

I absolutely have good ideas to contribute, but nobody will even listen. It’s extremely frustrating. What do I do?

 – Frustrated Reader

I get it.

I’ve been there. Even after many years in the industry I found myself in situations where I didn’t feel like anybody was listening to my ideas. (They wouldn’t even say “no, and here’s why.”) I think this scenario happens often in the hospitality world and it is very frustrating.

How to Get Heard:

As far as how to navigate this tricky scenario, it can depend a lot on the unique circumstances of the personalities involved.

Here are a few suggestions that you can think about trying at your work:

Look for Ways to Help

If there is a lead bartender/manager that is in charge of the cocktail menu, see if you can take on any additional responsibilities for them. Their time is always split a hundred different ways and there never seems to be enough time in the day. A few suggestions could be:

  • Syrup and mise en place production
  • Ordering of products
  • Inventory
  • Reorganizing the liquor room
  • Receiving and putting away orders.

You don’t want to volunteer for anything that you will hate to do long term, but showing initiative and freeing up some of their time will be well received.

Suggest an open “try out” for menu placements

This could be a large cultural shift if the lead bartender or bar manager is in charge of the menu, especially if you suspect they are driven by their ego. If they are open to the idea, make sure you come fully prepared with all of the products you will need, production notes and procedures fully documented, if you can cost out the drink for them, that would be a huge advantage. Of course, you’ll want to make sure that you focus on making the drinks very quick to execute.

Learn from the Team and your Peers

Start asking the chef and/or pastry chef questions on flavor combinations and production techniques. This always helped me in the past and is a great way to learn a lot about flavors and flavor extraction. The skill sets of pastry chefs in particular cross over to the bar very well. Having a few people on the management staff that see your ambition is always a good thing.

Consider joining the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG), or starting one if they do not have a presence where you are located. This is a great way to meet other professionals in the area and the USBG does a great job of educating it’s members.

Just… ask!

Simply ask the management staff what it takes to get a cocktail on the menu. Is there a process that you are not aware of, a specific date that they will be considering new cocktails, etc? Many bars only change the menu once a year, while others are changing their menus weekly, depending on produce availability. If you’re working hard to push a change when they aren’t planning a menu update, it’s going to be doubly difficult.

Abandon Ship

Finally, it’s possible you may simply be at the wrong bar. Sometimes you have to move to another bar in order to advance your career. This might be the case if this is the first bar that you have ever worked at. They may always see you as “the rookie” and not have a lot of confidence in your abilities as a result.

If you do end up looking for another bar, take your time and do your homework. Get to know the bartenders at any bar you are considering applying to. Get a sense for what their culture is like and if you think you would be a good fit there.When you end up interviewing at your next spot, make sure to ask questions around career advancement and contributing to the menu. Many bars have an open door policy when it comes to cocktail development, and others are headed by a single person. It would be good to know what you are signing up for.

Just Keep Learning

At the end of the day, continue to push for what you want and develop your skills behind the bar and with crafting drinks. If you try everything I’ve mentioned above and it just doesn’t work, then many you consider moving to a different bar where you can be seen as more than a “rookie.”

It may take more than one “diagonal” move to get to a place where you have the influence you want, but if you just keep learning, helping, and doing the work behind the bar, I genuinely believe you will find a place that respects your opinion and gives you the opportunity to do the mixology work you love.

“JOH_7799” flickr photo by star5112 https://flickr.com/photos/johnjoh/5916048209 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Chris Tunstall

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