Being a bar manager can be an especially tough job. Not only are you expected to take on management of the bar, but you’re also probably bartending alongside your staff as well. Now let’s imagine some of the other bartenders are career bartenders who’ve been at it for decades… and you’re much younger. It can definitely make for a tricky dynamic!

A few thoughts…

So how do you effectively manage bartenders who are much older than you? 

A few thoughts…

Earn Respect

Work Hard

Bad news: you don’t get respect just because your job title says “Manager”. Respect is earned. If you walk in late and hungover and start barking orders, you’re going to lose the respect of your staff quickly. They’ll only do what you ask because they feel like they HAVE to – not good for culture, engagement, or (perhaps most importantly) staff retention.

On the other hand, if you work your butt off to support the team and keep the bar running smoothly, your staff will see how hard you work and will be much more willing to work hard alongside you. If your bartenders are drowning in the weeds and you hop behind the bar to man the dishwasher – that gets noticed!

Be an Example

Just as important, make sure you follow any policies that you ask your staff to follow. That includes dress code, showing up on time, cleaning when it’s slow, jigger pouring (or not), etc. The quickest way to lose respect is for your staff to see you doing the opposite of what they ask you to do.

You may be younger, but showing that you’re willing to work your butt off and support the team will go a long way to getting the more experienced bartenders to listen to what you have to say.

Get Buy-in

It’s extremely demotivating to work for a “boss” who just tells you what to do and doesn’t really have a clue what’s happening behind the bar. This is one reason it’s actually beneficial that you sometimes work shifts behind the bar – you probably really know what’s going on. But instead of using that perspective to push changes onto your staff, use it as a way to open up communication between the bartenders and management.

“Hey guys, I just got out of a management meeting and we’d like to standardize the recipes on the cocktail menu. I’d love to ask for all of your help in choosing the best recipes.” This is also a great opportunity to specifically call out your experienced staff: “Joe, I heard your Manhattan is fantastic. Would you mind sharing the recipe?”

Call out their experience and expertise and give them a chance to shine! This can also alleviate any sentiment that you are trying to “take over” and “tell the old-timers how to do their job.”

As a bonus, policy changes are going to be much easier to implement (and much more likely to “take”) if the staff was a part of the conversation along the way.

Shine the Spotlight on your Staff

So you’re a manager now. Congratulations! There, that’s the end of your limelight – time to share! Take opportunities to highlight when your staff does a great job. This is especially important for experienced staff! Did someone do a great job pleasing a difficult customer last week? What about the bartender who stayed late and helped clean after a surprisingly busy night? Call out great work on your team! It is another great way to show you genuinely care and aren’t just looking to shine the light on yourself.

Get Aligned with the Management Team

Last but absolutely not least, it’s incredibly important that you are aligned with your management staff. If you try to hold up a jiggering policy but the GM doesn’t have your back, you’re in for a rough ride. Before you go out and start “enforcing” anything, sync up with the management and / or owners.

Say you’re noticing an experienced bartender is starting to come in late. Your role as a manager is to enforce on time arrivals (and the rest of the staff needs you to do it!) Before you approach the offending bartender, take a moment to sync up with the GM and / or Owner. Let them know what you’ve noticed and your plan for having a conversation with them. Ask them to have your back and support the on-time policy if the bartender approaches them later.

This is a tricky situation to navigate, but if you’re looking to move up quickly in your career, it is nearly inevitable that it will arise eventually. But with a focus on mutual respect and supporting the bar team as a whole, you should come out ahead – and a great leader for your team.

“Bartender Scene” flickr photo by jetportal shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Chris Tunstall

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