Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey.

This “help wanted” ad has long been attributed to Ernest Shackleton, Antarctic explorer, and it has been claimed that he received over five thousand responses to it.  Though it’s a brilliant bit of copy, it’s been fairly well established that it was just that; the ad never really ran and was written many years after Shackleton’s famed expedition. No matter, at the heart of it is a help wanted ad that spells out the real nature of a job. What are you telling prospective employees about your business and the type of employee you wish to hire?

What we choose to write and the attention we pay to detail when writing an ad will determine the caliber of employee attracted to an interview. In fact, the interview process starts with the ad; and it’s not you determining the skill and potential of an employee, but the prospective employee determining if your business has the skill and potential for them to make a living working for you.

Below is an ad that ran in my market recently and also very clearly lets a prospective employee know exactly what they’re in for if they sign on board.

This posting is for a bartender for our bars in xxxxx, xxxxx, xxxxx and xxxxx. This is a bar that has been here for a long time and is going to be going through a ownership change. This bartender must be able to manage a busy bar and help grow there shifts. We are willing to train but you must be willing to learn and have a great personality. We would like locals to apply to bring in new people to help us grow. We will help you plan your shifts so they always have something going on to keep it new for our customers. Please reply by text only xxx-xxx-xxxx with a picture and some of your experiance. I will text back to set up a time for a interview… Thank you

“Iceberg off the port bow!” Sirens and warning light should go off when you read the above ad. This bar is destined to interview the employees it deserves and I would hazard to guess that any bartender taking this job is in for “low wages, bitter cold, and long hours of complete darkness” and any chance for success is very “doubtful”.

 

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Shameful Bartending: How Hubris & Arrogance is Replacing Hospitality

The voices started a couple of years ago. The voices got louder and began to swell. Now, it’s a roar. The guest is angry. Pitchfork and torches angry. Bartenders have become self involved, mean-spirited, talk too much, snobby snob, fancy panted mixologists… or bar chefs… or cocktail artists. Polite conversation and warm welcome has been replaced with diatribes on ice dilution and the hauteness of  hollywood princesses. Hubris and arrogance have replaced hospitality. What have we created in the blind pursuit of our craft and at the expense of the guest? Excuse me Dr. Frankenstein, but your monster is loose.

The following was posted recently by Sean Kenyon, a Rasputin bearded, third generation bartender out of Denver:

“I was recently enjoying a drink at a cocktail bar. The guest next to me, who was probably in his early 50’s, asked the bartender if they had Jello shots. To which the bartender snottily replied “ABSOLUTELY not” (a simple no would have sufficed). Undeterred, the guest then ordered 8 mixed shots for him and his group of 7 women in their 40’s and 50’s. The bartender’s response to that request? Eight shots consisting of a mix of Green Chartreuse, Lemon Hart 151 & lime juice. Two overproof spirits & citrus? Was he punishing them for daring to order mixed shots or Jello shots? Not one person finished any of those shots (there was a lot of funny faces made) and the smarmy barkeep gladly charged them full price for all. This is a classic example of the bad direction that our craft is headed. The bartender let his ego get in the way of making his guests happy, and was more concerned about his needs than his guests. Shame.”

OBEYDisturbing. A fireable offense. But not surprising. The guest has become the enemy; it used to be Front of House vs. Kitchen. I had a conversation last month with a Chef/Owner friend of mine about the animosity towards the guest and this is what he had to say:

“I don’t know what has changed; when servers and bartenders are in the kitchen, all they do is bitch about the guest. They hate them. Didn’t they know that there was going to be assholes in the restaurant tonight when they got into car to come to work? Professionals do, they still welcome them and give great service.”

Which brings me to how I see bartenders treat their colleagues. With disrespect. With animosity. Mixologists above Flair. Flair above Mules. Everybody above Beertenders. Even large market vs. small market. Here is what a colleague said to me over the weekend:

“Tales of the Cocktail felt different this year. I was disappointed at the attitude of bartenders I met from the East Coast, West Coast, and bigger markets like Houston and Miami. They acted as though I wasn’t relevant.”

This from a bartender who was an invited speaker at Tales. And whose bar has been nominated for an award at Tales the past two years in a row for its cocktail program. And who has a book coming out this fall. He marked it up to working in a mid-size market and the hubris of those who choose to work in major markets. He might not be too far off base. This is what one of my friends told me after he returned from a major cocktail competition this summer:

“Jane [name changed to protect the arrogant] told me I really needed to get out of  Cleveland if I’m going to make a name for myself in this business.”

Wow. Really? I hope “Jane” realizes that we bartenders are sort of like poets; those who “have made a name” for themselves in our business are only famous to us, the rest of the world doesn’t care. Except for the guest. And they’re at the castle gates Dr. Frankenstein, and they’re pissed.

Author’s note: The article Shameful Bartending: How Hubris & Arrogance is Replacing Hospitality has taken on a life of its own, much like Frankenstein’s monster . Thousands of people all over the world have read it and many felt the need to share it with their friends. I hope more of you choose to share  Angels Among Devils. It’s more important. 

 

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Perspective: Is Modern Mixology Worth the Hype?

Is Modern Mixology Worth the Hype? This was the question posed by Forbes.com’s blog contributor Jerry Prendergast last Saturday. It got me thinking. Really hard. Then I reached for the calculator.

Guess what. I got scary numbers too. I took Mr. Prendergast’s suppositions and determined the profit per serving. I costed all goods at my market cost, determined the cost of 1 hour labor at $8.00, and figured cost of labor in creating ingredients creating a prime cost for each beverage. Here’s the break down :

Glass of Chardonnay ($8.00 wholesale bottle), 6 oz pour, return per serving $5.94, return per hour $356.40

Guinness Draught, 16 oz pour, return per serving $4.67, return per hour $186.80

Grey Goose Martini, 3 oz recipe, return per serving $5.42, return per hour $162.60

Midnight Mary #3, per recipe, return per serving $8.00, return per hour $80.00

Now, before we continue I wanted to speak to the Midnight Mary #3. This isn’t your average signature drink. This isn’t your average bartender. This isn’t your average bar. This drink is from Charles Joly of Aviary. Yeah, that place. The place where cocktail dreams do come true. Where amazing drinks cost mostly between $14 and $19. I’m pretty sure Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas have profitability figured out at Aviary.

I see Mr. Prendergast’s point in drinks per hour, however the supposition lives in a vacuum when we look at profitability through the lens of one bartender’s efficiency in one category of drink. The reality is that a bartender is going to produce a broad range of  beverages; bottled & draught beer (low dollar return, high volume) and highballs (high dollar return, high volume) accounting for most sales. Which begs the question, are we looking at the numbers we should be looking at? Let’s change perspective. Which of the above items would you rather sell? Don’t start sweating percentages, cost percentages be damned, your bank accepts dollars not percentages. Even my 7-year-old knows which drink makes more money.

So is it worth the hype? It depends on your bar. Can you sell a twelve dollar drink? Is the average guest’s expectation of how much time it takes to make a drink align with how quick the bartender can make a drink? Are you stupid enough to load your entire cocktail list with drinks that take four minutes to make? This is what it boils down to: luxury/craft cocktails can have higher than normal costs associated with prime cost but always command higher prices and in return produce higher profits per serving. If my guests are only going to have two or three drinks during a visit I want them drinking cocktails. Ensuring these drinks can be produced at a reasonable pace is a matter of steps of service, mise en place, and the hospitality skills of your staff.

If you did not take the time to read the comments on Mr. Prendergast’s article, you should. He answers all criticisms with grace and diplomacy.  Most comments were made by guests who understand the time it take to create a proper cocktail. Mr. Prendergast understands this also. Think about McDonald’s vs. Morton’s when it comes to protein. The difference in serving time might be nearly thirty minutes. You have to have the patience to wait an extra two to three minutes for an often unique drink experience or at least a properly made cocktail. If you don’t, there’s a nightclub right down the street that would be happy to serve you a Marshmallow vodka and soda with a Jager Bomb side in sixty seconds flat, as long as it’s not five deep at the bar…

My Foot is in Your Ass Because I Can’t Fix Stupid or Lazy.

I always warn clients of three things when we begin working together.

1. I can’t fix stupid.

2. I can’t fix lazy.

3. I can’t make walk-in coolers bigger.

See the pretty cocktail in the picture above? See the cooler in the background in disarray? See the bartender who left the cooler that way? No, you don’t. That’s because I fired him. Actually, I didn’t, this isn’t one of my clients. This photo was posted by a very high profile bar here in the US and when I saw it, my eye immediately was drawn to the cooler. And my heart broke. And then I got pissed.

This picture tells me a lot.

1. Lazy. Lazy bartenders, lazy management.

2. Stupid. Any bartender who would want to work their bench with that much chaos is stupid.

3. The bar is suffering loss. Letting storage areas become disorganized leads bartenders to open second or even third bottles that already are open but they don’t see. That means product gets poured down the drain because it goes bad.

4. Or worse, they serve outdated product to their guests.

If you walk into any store, be it grocery, clothing, or porn, items are lined up on shelves in neat order, labels faced forward and stock rotated to ensure the oldest product is sold first. Care is taken to make the product appealing to the purchasers eye. Glass front coolers and back bars should be treated the same way. Being well organized allows bartenders to serve more efficiently, helps make certain product is at its freshest when served, and ‘advertises’ your product to the guest.

Other things that makes me want to put my foot in your ass if not done right:

Fruit and Garnish Care. Wash it; your mother should have taught you this, she’s not stupid or lazy. Cut fruit does not last overnight; if you wouldn’t put it in your mouth why would you put it in a drink. If you have to stuff bleu cheese olives, aka the ‘devil’s testicles’, the cheese goes inside the olive, not smeared all around it. Nobody likes soft and limp, be sure your bloody mary celery isn’t. Mint is supposed to be green, not brown. Put a bar rag under your cutting board so the cutting board doesn’t slide; you like your fingers, don’t you? Get a proper sharp knife. A full tang chef’s knife is the proper knife, not that dull paring knife you are using. Again, your fingers look better attached to your hand and it makes picking up bottles easier.

Bottles and Pour Spouts. Wipe all bottles down in between and after every shift with a clean bar towel. That also means pulling the bottles from speed rails and wiping them clean; I’m tired of sticky bottles and fruit flies. Pull, wash, and sanitize pour spouts at least once a week. Pour spouts are placed back in bottles flag left of bottle’s front label. Pour spouts are not to be a study of diversity – pick one model and use it in all bottles. Quit being cheap, buy high quality spouts and replace them when worn.

Hand Washing. I see you sneeze, cough, scratch your nethers, smoke, shake hands with guests, and handle money. Then you touch glasses, garnishes, and straws. Be Lady MacBeth. Your mother taught you better.

Mise en Place. This job is hard, don’t make it harder by not setting up your bar correctly. It chaps my butt when I see a guest order a martini stirred and you have to search for a bar spoon. Why did you run out of register tape and have to run to the basement to get more mid-shift? How is it you only have one pen for guest checks? You make $200 a shift, buy a pack of $0.99 pens. And explain to me why you have to go to the kitchen to find kosher salt after I order my Margarita.

A Short List of Stupid & Lazy Things You Do. Dragging glassware through ice. Using hands to fill glasses with ice. Using the bottom of mixing glass (where your filthy hand just was) to strain mixing tin. Never changing sink water. Handling glassware near the rim. Not serving guests a glass of water when they order spirits. Not using cocktail napkins. Not wiping down bar between guests being seated. Letting empty glassware collect on bar top. Not using fresh glass for beer service. Starting draught pour without the glass under the faucet.  Never wash the salt rimmer. Not putting tools and bottles back where you got it from during service

Okay. I’m done. My fingers are bleeding from typing so hard and my blood pressure is dangerously high. Be a professional. Build good habits. I tired of ruining good shoes when you’re stupid and lazy.

 

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8 out of 10 Bar Managers Encourage Bartender Theft

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I love outrageous headlines. Last week’s headline 8 out of 10 Bartenders Steal was the most viewed post of the week. And as I said, I don’t think that 80% of bartenders are dishonest, nor do I think managers encourage theft by bartenders, however, in my experience, management policy and protocol is the largest contributor to pilferage in bars and restaurants.

How did you hire and train your last manager? You tapped your ‘best’ bartender or server, the one with the highest skill set, longest tenure, and best sense of hospitality. You then handed them a set of keys, gave them the combination to the safe, issued an alarm code, told them to make next week’s schedule, and gave them a pat on the back and said “Go manage”. You now have a manager who is good at opening doors, opening safes, and making schedules but doesn’t have the first clue on how to manage people, cash, or product. And you sacrificed the one employee who was the most productive of the team as far as guest relations is concerned. Did you bother to teach them how to determine profitability through inventory variance, how to determine employee productivity, or how to create a P/L? We tend to create babysitters, not managers.

Enough ranting about deficient managers. Lets talk about theft and how to mitigate it and its effects on profitability. As I stated in the previous article, I think most people are honest and that if you take away opportunity, most people will remain honest. I’d like to touch a bit on some things discussed last week and then explore other ways to prevent loss and what you and your managers should be doing.

Inventory

Not only should you be conducting full inventories every week and determining variance of cost percentage, usage, and dollars, you should be doing this in front of your staff. They need to know you are serious about shrinkage. They need to see you are active in ensuring profitability. Do you bonus your manager on performance as related to hitting cost goals? Then why would you let that person conduct inventory? Ever here of the fox and the henhouse? It is human nature to hide our faults and failures; I think most managers skew numbers because of this rather than trying to earn their bonus. At the very least, if your manager is conducting inventory, you should be auditing their work (this goes for third party inventory companies as well) by recounting your top ten sales items.

Spot Auditing

Top ten spot auditing will tell you a lot about bartender honesty and training level. What I also like about it is the fact that once you conduct one, your whole staff will know within two hours that they may be next. A little fear and uncertainty goes a long way in stopping bartender hijinks.

Cameras

Most of us don’t have time to watch 14 hours of tape a day. I find cameras effective for proving theft after a variance is found in inventory. Placement of cameras is of the utmost importance in preventing theft. There should be one in liquor storage, in the office viewing the safe, and directly on all cash registers with the tip jar in the frame.

Key Control

Storage areas need to remain locked at all times. Keys should be issued to only one person per shift who is held accountable. If you must use a community key, please attach it to a large object so that any person who has it stands out clearly. As far as alarm codes are concerned, each employee who has building access must have a unique code so that you can audit who is unlocking and locking doors and when. It is also a good idea to set your alarm system to automatically arm itself at a set time after operations have ended and clean up should be finished. This keeps after hour parties from draining your stock.

Set a Good Example

If you or your managers have drinks or give drinks to guests during service, you should pay for those drinks. Don’t run a tab. Pay cash for each and every drink. Show your staff that no one drinks for free.

Bartender Comps and Promos

More than likely free drinks for big tips cause most of your loss. The easiest way to stop this is by allowing each bartender a shift spend. Giving staff members the ability to buy drinks for guests will keep them more honest. These drinks should be rang through the POS and a receipt should be kept detailing who the drink was purchased for and why. Bartenders should reward return guests and new guests with this spend, and not use it for getting friends drunk. A twenty-dollar spend per shift is a win, win, win marketing plan. Bartenders build their return guest business by buying a drink for customers and make a nice tip on the free drink, guests feel special and welcome when the bartender buys them a libation, and the business itself does better when that guest returns because of the good will shown. But again, all comps and promos must be tracked, audited, and proven worthy or you risk abuse of the system.

Training

I’ve seen how you train your bartenders. It’s horrifying. Two examples:

  • I was sitting in a client’s bar recently and watched a bar manager bring a green recruit to the shift bartender and instruct the bartender to train the new guy. The bartender pointed out the draught system, the bottle cooler, the POS machine, and showed him where to store his jacket. Training finished in less than five minutes.
  • As I begin working with any client, one of the first questions I ask is what, in ounces, is their common pour, their rocks pour, and their up pour. Most (not all) are confident in their answer and answer in ounces. I then ask them if every bartender knows this and they always answer yes. I then find the closest bartender and pose the same question. In the last five years not one bartender has got it right. They either stare at me as if I asked them to describe quantum mechanics and the development of string theory or they answer, “Oh, I pour a four count.”

Training and holding people accountable is the surest way to prevent loss. You must spend the time and money to do it correctly. policy and protocol must be on paper to hold employees accountable for the information. Testing employees on that information must be conducted. There are no shortcuts.

I truly believe that our most of our employee’s faults and deficiencies are the result of our faults and our deficiencies  as owners and managers; we are not following best practices which cause the loss in profitability behind our bars. We’ll pick this back up next week (yes, there is a lot more to this).

8 out of 10 Bartenders will Steal

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The following article ran this past Sunday in my local paper about theft in bars and one owner’s, Mr. Yarbrough, solutions to the problem.

Lack of attention to details can lead to major financial issues: My Biggest Mistake | cleveland.com.

Now, I don’t think 8 out of 10 bartenders are thieves, in fact, I like think that most are honest. However, I like to help people stay honest by taking away the opportunity for theft. One of my businesses addresses theft in bars everyday. There are solutions and best practices that will stop theft.

First we’ll address some points Mr. Yarbrough makes:

I didn’t pay close enough attention to details that can lead to major financial issues. Specifically, Mr. Yarbrough didn’t know he was being stolen from by his employees. More than likely he wasn’t conducting a thorough inventory regularly and justifying usage vs. sales.

  • Looking in the store room to order product is not ‘taking inventory’. Inventory is work; the bar fairies are not going to do it for you. You must count every item behind the bar (yes, you have to pull the beers out of the drop and not guess) and in storage.
  • You have to do the math; this means subtracting out goods received between the two counts in a period, adjusting for discounts (happy hour), spills, and comps and then match it against actual sales.
  • Determining  actual pour cost tells you jack squat – you have to know your potential pour vs actual cost to determine the variance and shrinkage. This means more math. And by the way, your bank doesn’t accept percentages, they accept dollars; know the difference between potential profit in dollars and actual.
  • ‘Spot’ inventories will tell you more than full inventories concerning employee performance. Before a shift do an accurate inventory of your top ten sales items (buy a scale to weigh open product). After the shift, inventory the same items and run a sales report. You’ll immediately know if the bartender(s) on that shift are honest.

When business is good, it’s easy to make allowances for shortfalls at the end of a night. I see this all the time in successful bars with high revenue, the drawer is off and no one is held accountable. One of the first questions I’ll ask an owner is, “Is the drawer ever short?”. Five times out of ten they’ll reply, “Why no, in fact it’s usually over”. This should be a red flag. The register is a calculator, it should balance to the penny. Drawer overages point to bartenders running a cash scam; short ringing orders, collecting proper revenue, and then removing extra cash when counting out tips at the end of night. Bartenders should be required to ‘blind drop’ the drawer, i.e. count out their starting bank and separate it from remaining in the till (this should be their cash drop) without seeing their sales. Also, bartenders should not exchange tip jar bills and change for higher dominations from the till. They should count, stack and turn the cash tips into management for higher dominations. This will help prevent cash scams.

I started using surveillance cameras and even started my own secret shoppers program to track theft. I like cameras. I really like cameras that I can watch remotely from my phone or home computer. Nothing says I’m watching you more than a phone call at midnight reminding the bartender to ring in the draught beer they just poured for their friend. I applaud Mr. Yarbrough for taking time to review his tapes also, that takes dedication. As far as secret shoppers are concerned I have mixed feelings. I certainly don’t think amateurs should be determining someone’s honesty. There are too many variables  and it’s extremely difficult to see exactly what is happening during a transaction. I know, I’m paid to do it a lot. When I write spotting reports I don’t put anything on paper that I couldn’t say in court under oath. Telling an operator that I ‘thought’ I saw something could easily cost someone their job and if it can’t be proven, could open an owner up to a lawsuit.

Best of luck to Mr. Yarbrough and I’m glad he had the determination to change the way he conducted business to ensure his own success. I’ll pick this thread back up soon to explore other ways to protect your business.

(to be continued)