Staff Sustainability: Lifecycle of the Barfly

Jane Ryan

05 June 2018

Hospitality – and the bar world in particular – is a fast-burn profession, with ten years of service a rarity. Jane Ryan looks at how to bring sustainability to your team

Our bar industry throws the word sustainability around a lot. From ingredients to brands, glassware and even the very material our venues are built from we’re all trying to reduce waste.

But it’s not just what’s in the compost that matters. This industry has a human cost as well, from high turnovers, burnt out staff and directionless careers. The hours spent behind the bar, in the kitchen and on the floor stack up; so too do the endless rounds of shots and the nights spent without rest.

The burn out from hospitality strode onto the front page across the world last year when Australia’s award-wining Attica implemented a 48-hour, four-days-on, three-days-off working week for all its kitchen staff.

Put in place by owner Ben Shewry, he announced his move with a post about his own work hours: ‘I'm 40, I've averaged 75 hours per week in kitchens since the age of 14. I've already worked roughly the same amount of hours as a person averaging 40 hours per week throughout their career to retirement age. So no, I don't feel amazing. I feel like I'm 65.’

By forcing their chefs to reduce hours Attica has cost itself money. With fewer people able to cover the kitchen’s hours Shewry had to hire more chefs, all on salary. But it has gained a workforce that won’t need to leave in nine months from exhaustion. Shewry has started the long needed pull to drag the hospitality industry from the ledge and begin to mend its frayed nerves.

It’s important to give staff a sense of ownership. They’re not part of a team to be subservient

Ryan Chetiyawardana

Back in the world of cocktails and it’s our hotel bars having to tackle the mammoth task of ensuring their staff aren’t permanently on the clock.

‘It’s definitely something we think of at Dandelyan,’ says bar supremo Ryan Chetiyawardana. ‘James Wheeler (Dandelyan's general manager) and Chris Stock (The Mondrian's F&B director) have done this amazing thing where each member of the team only has to work four night shifts each week, sometimes with a fifth shift during the day or with three days off.’

Across his three venues, however, Chetiyawardana says the most important aspect of human sustainability is ensuring his many staff feel creatively challenged and engaged.

‘We never wanted people to feel lost beneath a business pinned on one person’s name,’ he says. ‘We try to ensure credit is taken by those who pour their heart and soul into their drinks and projects. The thing I’ve always thought most important is giving people creative growth and giving staff a sense of ownership – legitimate ownership – of what they’re achieving. They’re not part of a team to be subservient.’

This need for growth and opportunity is one of the main reasons why the UK hospitality industry experiences such a draining of talent into its biggest city, London.

‘It’s difficult to tackle as employers because we’re all proud of our venues and want to fill them with amazing staff. You have to start at the grassroots each time you get a drain south or into brand work,’ says Stuart McCluskey, owner of Bon Vivant, Devil’s Advocate and El Cartel.

The ambassador appeal

Many might see a shift from the floor into a role such as brand ambassador making life easier, but that probably isn’t the case, as Shervene Shahbazkhani, head of advocacy for Bacardi Brown Forman UK, highlights.

Top tips to staff happiness

  • Burnout is a big problem. Limit working hours where possible to provide full-day breaks between shifts

  • Encourage nights off away from the industry

  • Staff development is important. Find out your team’s aims and work with them to achieve them

  • Provide a sense of support and family within your teams, it’s not just about the hours clocked-in that matter

  • Give credit where credit is due, don’t let staff feel they’re working hard for someone else’s name

‘Most days the job of an ambassador is akin to being a donkey running around town with 100 bottles in their bag, rushing from one session to the next,’ says Shahbazkhani. ‘With all that you’re keeping on top of admin, traveling up and down the country and presenting each and every day. It’s a hard job to have longevity in.’

The same is true of bartending – particularly with the pressure to be out in bars every night, keeping abreast of developments and networking… And here, Shahbazkhani’s approach is instructive.

She asks her team to nominate two nights a week, hit five bars and be methodical about their approach. They’re also not expected to be on email at 9am the next day.

‘Ambassadors and bartenders are a certain type of person,’ she says. ‘We’re emotionally connected to our job, we’re passionate and we don’t clock in and clock out, it’s a way of life.’

There is much to be said for hospitality staff ensuring they spend some of their down time away from theirs, and their contemporaries’, bars. Good managers understand and even encourage this – and tend to keep their teams as a result.


Related content

News |  Imbibe Live

Sustainability tops the agenda at Imbibe Live

Imbibe Live puts sustainability at the forefront of its 2019 edition

News |  People & Places

Give us a break: The worst hospitality staff food through the years

When the question, 'What are your worst staff food experiences?' was posed to members of Facebook group The London Bartenders' Association (The LBA), the answers were too good not to publish. Julian de Feral gives us his hot take on some of the best (or worst).

News |  People & Places

Sussing out sustainability

Imbibe and WSET teamed up with the drinks industry professionals who are doing their bit for the environment to talk sustainability.


Balancing sustainability and scalability: Mission Mars' Roy Ellis on growing a business

The right backing can take a neighbourhood bar, pub or restaurant to the big league – after all, even the Wetherspoons of the world had to start somew