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Secrets of the Stick: May/June 2012

hey managers! there’s a difference between delegating and passing the buck you know, says our woman on the inside


Climbing up the back bar to reach a top shelf bottle of cognac, it occurred to me that the higher up the ranks of your bar you are, the less you get used. The hierarchy of the bar can easily be compared to the layout of spirits: the speed-rail spirits are like bartenders – dispensed quickly and often getting smashed; senior bartenders are like the back-bar liqueurs – used to add finesse; and then the top shelf spirits are akin to the manager – essential on the bar but not often used during service.

This is not to say that all management are the same – but they generally come in one of two types. The first has the dry hands of a one-time bartender who worked their way up through the ranks of our industry with hard labour and long shifts; the second, the soft clammy hands of a paper shuffler whose only interaction with the inside of the bar is releasing an optic of Smirnoff.

I’ve seen black-t-shirt-wearing bartenders progress to management and suddenly pull on a white shirt, unafraid, only to end up looking a fright at the end of every night (and who said Tom Cruise was the last bartender poet?), whilst the other camp remain smugly spotless, however vicious the shift. After all, how much can that computer monitor really spill on you?

A bartender does not always make a great manager, but a bar manager should be a great bartender; not necessarily a competition-winning, slick-talking, bottle-juggling drink slinger, but one who is able to hold their own and make patrons feel welcome and happy. A proper host, as we are all supposed to be.

Progression through the ranks can be a daunting journey – you’re going from being everyone’s friend and having someone senior to shoulder the blame when take is low, to suddenly being in the firing line of angry customers or bar owners. But it’s the manner in which the bartender deals with the step up, that shows his or her true character.

A snivelling weasel I had the pleasure of working with and then, unfortunately, working under, made this progression with ease and grace… pah! Said bartender changed, seemingly overnight, from a tequila-swilling friend into a spineless creep attempting to play members of the team against each other. Not such a great move in a small industry like ours.

Rapidly losing friends and allies and becoming as lazy as a pig in muck is not a great example of progression. This moronic manager soon became the butt of bartender pranks: glasses rimmed with chillies hotter than Vesuvius, drinks containing enough Senokot to keep aforementioned pig well-stocked at all times, and each of us taking any excuse to make his life a misery – success resulting in a glassware salute.

Progression above your peers is not an easy feat. Finding that middle ground can shift some stones and upset some grubs, but rising to the task is a hell of a way to get your kicks. If you want to be everyone’s friend all the time, forget it. But if you’ve got the balls (or baps) to take it on, it’s exhilarating.

It can be a personal challenge to climb that ladder. However, the further up you get, the more responsible you are for your peers, and if you mess that one, crucial, thing up, you’re a single step away from sipping a Dulcolax Daiquiri on your tod.

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – May/June 2012

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