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Behind the Bar: Getting Back to Work and Working to Live

By August 26, 2021Connecticut, Top News

Bartender and guest columnist Khalid Williams. Photo by Winter Caplanson.

By Khalid Williams

A continued look at how the industry is and should be moving forward through ever uncertain times.

Somebody is going to revolutionize the industry. Why not you? Clearly, our crisis of confidence isn’t going anywhere. People are walking away from jobs at the best companies in the area with no looking back. It’s painfully obvious that the value proposition of the beverage industry needs to change. Thinking that staff members are just plain lazy is just plain foolish. The program directors with whom I’ve had conversations for this article all left their jobs and, no, they aren’t collecting unemployment.

This is a people business. By, of and for. We can’t turn over dollars without the human touch. Bionic arms aside, the spirits business still requires that somebody with a pulse actually performs functions and do so pleasantly and efficiently with service always at front of mind.

Be it brand ambassador, warehouse supervisor, package store stock person or lead bartender, we need people who love this job, know the products in and out, and understand that individual personality is as important as a shirt and shoes to a successful shift. (You can try to bartend without shoes if that’s your thing. I’ve done it in Birkenstocks. Not my most shining moment.)

Somebody is going to change bartender schedules and make the shifts shorter; long shifts are the culprits behind mental burnout and physical fatigue. In my personal experience, I make better tips working four shifts a week than five. This suggests that shorter shifts and fresh, rested team members translate fluently into genuine service. Service from the heart pays for itself and then some. There’s a direct line to better tips via higher sales numbers.

A healthy and happy rookie will always outshine a tired and bitter veteran, but those vets are valuable assets for mentoring the entire staff into pros. An innovative company will set a policy that every staff member has one on-call day weekly that they’re compensated for.

Somebody is going to make inventory a collective one-day project that’s painless and gives information to the entire staff about depletions, merchandising and marketing, instead of a small group at the top bitterly counting bottle for bottle and keeping that valuable information away from the staff at large.

We have been imprisoned by constraints of time and money in the past and have done a poor job of developing the people we currently have. We now have a smaller guest pool, slimmer margins and a lack of staffing, making it the perfect time to let that shining employee finally take on more responsibility, as well as taking a true look at how low our rate of talent capitalization is.

A local establishment that I know closed their doors for about 12 days this summer due to staffing issues. The place averages about $8,000 in daily sales when operational. If they had doubled each employee’s pay for those days and stayed open, they would have put about $75,000 in the till. Had they shut down to half their capacity – and had a contingency menu and floor plan – they would have netted $50,000. The owner scoffed at doubling the hourly wage. He made exactly zero dollars on the days he closed. I have a sneaking suspicion that $50,000 would have suited him a lot better than no dollars.

Which one of us will change up the norm and throw away all the customs and notions of the past? I know exactly who will: the successful ones among us. Innovate, or dissipate. It’s that simple.

Khalid Williams is a bar manager, spirits brand representative and program consultant specializing in marketing, engagement and data. His passion is for exploring the “why” behind consumer decisions. He loves old-world wine, new-world rum and Connecticut beer. Follow him on Instagram @thebarrelage.

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