Circle Jerk – Bartender Meeting







I know not one fellow barkeep who hasn’t been subjected to the water-boarding that is The Mandatory Bartender Meeting – be there or be fired.  Yeah – you know… that early afternoon, non-peak time pow-wow that takes place at just about every medium-large bar – maybe 2 or 3 times year.  Let’s all practice our collective gasps, head-shakes, and oh-god-360s as we bemoan the notice that’s occasionally posted on the bar/restaurant’s bulletin board – usually, right next to the weekly schedule.

I can’t imagine a bigger waste of everyone’s time, energy and money in this business.  You don’t get paid – the managers do.  You get the privilege of coming in on your day off, or you get 3 unreturnable hours sucked out of your life before your scheduled shift time.  Alternatively, you have to cancel your audition or make up some ridiculous excuse in order to bail from your day job for a couple of hours to ensure you’re at the bar.

Now here’s the kicker:  With the exception of 1 or 2 meetings out of dozens over the years, every single one of these meetings have been exactly the same – regardless of institution.  It’s as if the team of monkeys running these joints have all graduated from the same “Waste Your Bartender’s Time 101″ management course.  WTF?

Here’s the gist of what management relays in those meetings:

  • We have a few new bartenders and would like to ensure that we’re all on the same page in terms of policies and procedures outlined in the handbook which you all have read – as indicated by your signed acknowledgement.
  • We’ve noticed that some of our procedures aren’t being followed as prescribed.  In order to provide our customers with the high level of service and fantastic experience we demand, you are all expected to follow the rules and guidelines this restaurant group has put together.
  • We have [xxx] years of experience. We know what we’re doing.
  • We’ve noticed that many of you are not providing customers with receipts.  You are required to provide each and every customer a printed receipt with every transaction – period.
  • We have a new cocktail on the menu. It’s called the “Purple Filth” crafted by myself and the owner – neither of whom, have ever set foot behind an operational bar.  But don’t worry, we know it will sell like hotcakes because the owner’s cousin says it tastes great.  You must all embrace it, love it, learn it, taste it or leave immediately.
  • Significant others: You cannot have your BF, GF, dog, cousin, roomate constantly hanging out at the bar.  It’s a sideshow – a major distraction, and temptation.  Not only are you unable to pay proper attention to your customers, but we’re going to think you’re stealing.  You’re putting your job at risk.
  • One sale – One Transaction.  No matter how busy you are, the policy of this establishment requires you to serve one customer, and ring that customer up immediately – without exception.  Even if the bar is three deep, or 3 different customers order 17 of the same shot, you cannot cut corners.  You must ring up each customer individually and immediately.  Put the transaction in our Point of Sale system right away. If you do not, we can only assume that you never meant to and are attempting to commit theft.
  • Cleanliness: Some of you are dirt-asses.  You must keep your bar clean at all times.  That means: (1) picking trash up off the floor (2) clearing the bar of empty glasses, trash, napkins, spills, etc. (3) keeping condiment trays and backbars neat and tidy and (4) most importantly, constantly wiping down the bar top.
  • Health Department: We’ve busted our asses to get this “A” letter rating.  Don’t screw it up.  No dairy is to be kept behind the bar – ever.  We’ve provided you with metal/plastic ice scoops – use them.  Never stick you hands or glassware in the ice.  Here are some freaking tongs – use them.  Don’t stick your hands in the fruit people. I know you’re busy, but it’s disgusting.  You must have a rag and sanitizing bucket in each section at all times.
  • Attire/Appearance: guys/dolls, you were hired partially because we like the way your look – it’s beneficial to our business goals.  Some of you have let yourselves go be it unkept facial hair, poor choice of dress, dirty clothes, blaa blaa blaa. Tighten it up and get your shit together.  We have an image to maintain.  Your appearance and demeanor  contribute significantly to our income.  Going forward, if any of you show up for a shift and look like crap, I will send your dumb ass home on the spot.
  • Scheduling: the time you’re scheduled for is not the time you leave your house or walk in this bar’s door, only to spend 15 additional minutes getting changed, taking a whizz, applying your makeup, counting your drawer, and Tweeting your location.  It’s the time you’re expected to be on the floor, completely ready to work.  Actually, you should be ready 5 – 10 minutes beforehand.  Take note people.
  • Shift Changes: This is not an office job people.  It is your responsibility to cover your shifts, not ours.  Furthermore, if your shift change is not signed by both parties as well as the manager in the Shift Change Book, it doesn’t count and is still your responsibility.  There is no such thing in this business as calling in sick.  Unless your leg is broken or you’ve been locked up, and we can actually confirm it, you will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination, if you do not take responsibility for your scheduled shift.
  • Don’t lean incessantly against the backbar.  He happy, engaging and smile.  No one wants to see a bored bartender.  If you’re not busy, wipe down some bottles, kick up a conversation with a customer.  Take a look around and stock up the bar.
  • May I remind you that our House Policy is that employees are not allowed to hang out here when not working.  It’s distracting.  It weirds customers out.  Go get smashed across the street.
  • “It’s not my job” or “it’s not my responsibility” are dirty phrases that I never want to hear any of you say as long as you work in this establishment.  Get those out of your heads.  We’re a team and must act as such.
  • You cannot leave the bar for any reason without informing your fellow bartender or manager.
  • There is no cell-phone use while working.  If I catch you FaceBooking or texting your hookup, I will confiscate your phone on the spot.
  • The lockers in this place are never to be used overnight.  Do not keep your locks on there or they will be cut off.  We have a locker shortage, if you haven’t noticed.  If everyone followed the rules, we’d have no issue.
  • You are never to keep your personal belongings behind the bar. No cell phones, no purses, no shopping bags, etc.  Put your junk in your locker.
  • If any of you do not follow these rules, you will be served with an official Write-up.
  • Do any of you have any questions, suggestions, problems or anything else to tell us about? [silence and crickets]

That last request is occasionally followed by the same stupid questions and suggestions that result in no change whatsoever.  Bartenders may say some of the following.  Management will pay lip service with things like “great question. See me after the meeting to discuss it further and I’ll see what I can do” But generally, nothing ever changes one bit.

  • Can we get [xxx] liquor? Everyone asks for it.
  • There are often too many bartenders behind the bar and we can’t make money.  How come we can’t cut people when it’s slow?
  • Our barbacks are lazy.  Can we do anything about that?
  • The lockers are always full.  Can we do anything about that?
  • We’re always out of [xxx] and it takes forever to get it replaced.  What’s the deal?
  • The music sucks.  It’s always the same crap over and over.  It’s rarely appropriate for the crowd, lighting and time of day.

Here’s the gist of what’s going through employees’ heads as they’re listening to this redundant crap:

  • Yo.  my head is pounding bro.  I don’t know what I was thinking last night.  You got any Advil?
  • Can I get a sip of your coffee man?
  • They wasted my time for this? Again?  I can’t believe I had to cancel my audition for this bullshit.  I’ve heard it all a million times.
  • The new guy is so hot…
  • That new girl is the balls…
  • I hate working with [xxx].  He sucks.
  • Wanna grab a bite to eat after this airhead is done with his rant?
  • WTF is this dude talking about?  He’s the bar manager but has never worked as a bartender a day in his life!
  • These assclowns have absolutely no idea what goes on in the trenches.
  • Dude, I finally crushed it last night… I’ve been after that ass forever.
  • Wanna grab a drink with me after this?

IMO, and management experience, the key to making your bar operate smoothly and is not these pointless meetings.  It’s (1) hiring quality people (2) weeding out idiots and (3) being a good “pit boss.”  A great manager will be a great balance: extremely observant, engaging [key], suggestive, frequently present, obsessively OCD – detail-oriented, experienced [also key], and as well as mostly hands-off; not in your face.  Someone like that inspires dedication, honesty, confidence, ability, good attitude, and efficiency.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, these types of folks are few and far between.  Instead, we’re left to deal with an overwhelmingly inept platoon of un-empowered, shit-talking, placating management goons who just want to maintain the status quo, continue tapping that weekly paycheck, and don’t really care about much else at all.

The truth is, the bad almost always filters from the top – the ownership.  “I Don’t give a shit” is an attitude and/or action plan that multiplies like the plague – like it or not – it’s unbelievably pervasive.  I’ve come to deduce over the years, mainly through first-hand observation, that a lot of owners have become ambivalent and are simply complacent.  They initially busted their asses during start-up phases years ago and have since “made it.”  They’ve become set in their ways and are content with their $500,000, $2,000,000, or whatever number it is they pocket per year, regardless of what’s going on in their operations.

What a lot of owners don’t realize, is that the inverse is also true in terms of state of mind.  Have a caring, customer-oriented, hands-on, friendly and down-to-Earth ownership, and the troops miraculously fall in line with the same caring attitude.  Moral increases, nightly covers consistently go through the roof, profits are slamming,  losses are nearly non-existent and no one wants to ever leave their jobs.  Go figure…  It’s not rocket science people.

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