Communication Tools – The power of proverb behind the bar

Communication Tools – The power of proverb behind the bar
December 30, 2016 Amber Bruce


By Jon Smolensky (photo credit:  Julia Diakow at Limantour, Mexico City)

As anyone who has ever managed a bar knows, there are so many moving parts that juggling the day to day operations can often seem overwhelming, especially when it comes to gratifying the unique needs of ownership. In such a busy climate, responsibilities for bar managers are growing as well. Bar managers’ duties are going far beyond just creating cocktails and writing a schedule. They are often thrust into human resource decisions, the development of syllabi or bar manuals and creating complicated price structures so as to maximize the revenue of the establishment.

Thus, communication becomes one of the most critical aspects of a well functioning bar.

Without focus or experience, the multitude of responsibilities can be head-spinning. So how does a bar manager pare things down and simplify the direction they want to take a bar? How can they effectively communicate their mantra amidst all these inputs?

Here’s a simple exercise that I encourage you to use: employ sayings, colloquialisms, metaphoric language or even easy-to-memorize acronyms as a useful tool to remind yourself and your staff of what your program stands for and what you want to accomplish. Use them to set goals, manage expectations, ground your ideas and digest all the information that you take in from a day to day basis. They can become your ‘bar theology’ if you will. They don’t have to be complicated, but they can be the baseline for how you run your bar.

Also keep them unique, short and cheeky as well as entertaining and fun to share. They may be things you learned from your parents in childhood, or famous quotes from famous authors, or ideas you have come up with yourself. Ultimately though, their purpose should be to economize what you want to accomplish. Consider them another creative communication method so others can understand your intentions or management style.

Maxims and mottos resonate, they are powerful and you hear them every single day, whether they are brand taglines, television quotes or ancient proverbs. In fact, part of their beauty is that they can come from anywhere. I use many, but here are some of my favorites that I stick by not just to manage or consult in bars, but to manage my own staff when it comes to working in the liquor trade in Canada. Feel free to use these as advice or as examples to create your own working proverbs:

“When eating an elephant, best take one bite at a time” (Creighton Abrams Jr., US Army General)

 A new project or task behind the bar can seem monumental and a daunting uphill battle. It can be easily cast aside and is often the first thing to get procrastinated upon, with preferential attention given to easier, more digestible tasks.

So break down big projects into smaller parts, or at least into a more manageable size. Re-writing your employee manual, for example, doesn’t have to be done all at once.  Set reasonable mini-deadlines that reflect accomplishment and goal completion. This way you will not feel so snowed in.

“A thief blinded on the job has to steal for life” (Gord Downie, The Tragically Hip)

 Music lyrics aren’t just great for cocktail names, they can also contain a little poetic guidance.

One of the strengths of bartenders has always been to have a multifaceted skill set. Bartenders are taught these days to specialize, and that’s not a bad thing as everyone needs to find an original ‘brand’ direction for themselves. However, as important as it is to capitalize on niche, don’t be reliant on being good at just one aspect of your job as you may never be able to climb up the ladder of bar responsibility. Branch out and venture into something new – if you are already good at one thing, your fans will expect you to conquer another. Which leads me to….

 “Don’t listen to your critics, listen to your fans” (Michael Scott, Fictional Character in The Office)

 Michael Scott’s quirky and egotistical advice is always good for a laugh, however once in a while his character stumbles upon some prophetic confidence builders. Critics are paid to be critical. They are not there to pump your tires, they are around to deflate them.

Your fans, meanwhile, are there to support you. They might point out a leak and try and help you fix it. But they aren’t tearing you down. They are invested in your success because they believe in you. Block out the noise, you are doing what you do for a reason. You got this.

“If you look first class, you play first class” (Don Cherry, Hockey Night in Canada Commentator)

Aesthetics matter in the bar world. Seriously. This goes beyond ‘dressing for success’. Aside from the fact it makes you more appealing to be around and it gives you credibility and trustworthiness with items that need careful attention, it will instill pride in what you are doing which will undoubtedly show in your work. It’s self-fulfilling. It’s easier for you and others to care about the small details of your work when you’ve put effort into the small details of your own appearances. It shows that you truly care.

 One last note is to remember that communication is a tool, not a burden. Everyone responds differently to different communication methods. If you find yourself overwhelmed with all the moving parts of running a bar, then you need to find a new method that best suits you, so you can get back to what matters the most: providing a unique and customized service to your guests for their experience.