Are you employed by a bar or do you own the place?

I’m not asking if your name is on the lease and whether you pay all the bills. (but maybe you aspire to that.)

What I mean is: do you take ownership-level pride and responsibility over the bar?

You can be an employee that fulfils all the duties in your job description. You do what you’re told and you achieve what’s expected.

Or you can be a critical piece of a great operation. People will ask if you’re the owner. That’s a compliment.

Why take ownership rather than simply accept employment? If you aim to be a general manager or owner one day, it’s good practice. This is the attitude you’ll need to succeed. It’s what your owners and managers are looking for in a long-term partner.

Plus, it will just flat out put more tips in your bucket.

Here are some ideas for specific ways you can act like you own the place:

1 – Your Shifts are Your Shifts

When you are scheduled for routine number of shifts, always be there. Of course be early, be prepared and be energetic. That’s the basic stuff.

But more important is to assure your guests that if they come back any Tuesday after five (or whenever you work) your awesome self will be there. A Big Mac or a Budweiser will taste the same anywhere on the planet and you’ll always deliver great service week after week.

So stay in shape, stay healthy and don’t give away your shifts. Always be ready to pick up more shifts. You might make those nights your own if no one else wants them.

And to managers writing the schedule: give your people and your guests some stability. Allow your bartenders to establish themselves on the calendar. Empower them to grow a following.

2 – Eliminate Certain Language

 Some things you should never again say (or even think!)

  • “It’s not my job.” It’s not your job to say it’s not your job. Get it done or delegate and follow up.
  • “I don’t know” unless immediately followed by “but I’ll find out.” You don’t know everything, but you’re not far from the answer. Even if you don’t find the answer, your effort will be appreciated.
  • “Always” and “never.” Use these and you’ll always be wrong and never right. Your coworker is always late? What about that one time they weren’t?
  • “Honestly…” When you start a sentence with this, what about your other sentences? Shouldn’t everything you say be honest?

3 – Never Take the Low Road

I like to think my cool is too valuable to let anyone else take it. I won’t allow an unruly or petty guest to drag me down with them. If you’re insulting or rude, I’ll try my best to ignore it.

If I ever do fake anger, I’m probably just being Shakespearean.

You don’t need to prove that this guest is wrong. They’re doing it themselves. Walk away or even give in a bit. Respond to salt with sugar and the situation will improve.

Is it easy to shrug off someone who’s trying to infuriate you? No, but you’ll be proud of yourself when you do.

4 – Ask for Forgiveness not Permission

When you have a decision to make, do what you think is right unless management is on your elbow. An order is late? A guest is unhappy? Unless you’re stumped, do what you think is best.

Chances are owners and managers will be glad you showed the initiative. They don’t want a constant “what should I do?” from employees. They want problem solvers.

Now keep in mind that you should not be making big decisions. There’s a dollar amount you should be responsible for. Can you make a decision regarding a $5-10 drink? Certainly. A $30 meal? Maybe. A $1000 liquor order? Maybe not. Clarify your range and scope with your manager in advance.

5 – Don’t Propose a Problem Without a Solution

On the same note, don’t complain. Improve. “This is not working and this is my opinion on how we can make it better.”

So think about what you want before approaching management. They might fix the problem wrong, which is not better. Influence them to fix it your way.

Do you keep running out of menus? Maybe they’re getting ruined or lost. Offer to laminate them or change where they’re stored. Ask for the ability to print more.

Had a rough shift? Sit back and analyze what went wrong and how it could have gone better. Do you need better tools, organization or communication? Do you need more staff? (I’d be hesitant to request more people. I don’t want to cut the pie into smaller pieces. I prefer to find ways to achieve more with fewer hands in the tip pool.)

Managers always have problems. Be the force that subtracts them rather than adds.

Your manager will come to trust that you get things done.

6 – It’s Not Your Fault, but it is Your Responsibility

Making sure your guests have a great time is your destination even if roadblocks are not your fault. If a cook makes a mistake, certainly you’re going to make it right. That’s elementary.

But what if you call a taxi and it’s late. Are you at fault? No, but it’s your responsibility to get your guest a ride. Call another company. I have walked a patron through signing up for Uber or Lyft. Problem solved, now and forever.

Furthermore, showing that you care about all problems that pop up bonds your guests to you. You do what others won’t.

If fact, sometimes I want problems. I’ve had shifts where everything went like clockwork. And tips were okay. Somehow making things look easy convinces people it’s not hard.

But have you ever had a screwed up table and then worked hard to unscrew it? Maybe the mistakes were yours, but you owned them and put in the effort. And at the end of it all you got more gratitude and gratuity than if everything went perfect.

Funny, but you know it’s happened to you.

7 – Set Up the Next Shift to Succeed

Yes, this is the nice thing to do. But it’s also the selfish thing.

If a guest comes in when you’re not there and has a bad time, they tell people and don’t come back. That’s less business for you.

If they have a great time on your day off, they spread the word, come back and bring friends. Maybe when you’re working.

So make sure the next guys are ready to go. And never bad-mouth or gossip about them. Yes, coming to see you is the best choice, but coming to the bar any time is always a good call.

Owning It

You’ve probably noticed a theme: “owning” your shift is all about being in charge of the whole guest experience – from the moment they even think about your bar to long after they’ve gone home. It’s next-level hospitality and it’s what separates the good bartenders from the great.

Plus one day when you do own the place, it will be your number one job to get everyone on board. Better get good at it now.

Eighty Six

Eighty Six, also known as David Klenda, has worked the front of the house since George Bush's dad was president and OJ was famous for being a football player. He's been writing poetry and fiction longer than that. He'll write freelance about anything for a buck, but is so glad to be writing about something he knows and loves. Currently he is making a Spokane neighborhood dive a little more crafty.