About a year after bartending at a bar and nightclub in San Francisco (15 years ago now), a terrible mistake was made and I was offered the position of bar manager. The position opened up when our recently fired bar manager, Kevin, felt that guiding cocaine into his nostrils was more important than guiding the bar into a bright and profitable future.
The very thought of being responsible for running the bar both terrified and thrilled me. I was a very good bartender. I made great drinks and delivered phenomenal customer service. I worked my butt off. I knew how to count inventory and even placed the weekly order once in awhile, but that was a long way from managing and motivating the staff and dealing with the inevitable problems that would arise.
“C’mon,” the owner said slapping me on the side of the shoulder, “You’ll do great.”
I just stared at him blankly, like a child stares at a parent who has just told him he was adopted. I had never wanted to go into managing, mainly because of the laughable salary, the long hours and because the appreciation for those long hours rarely went beyond a half-hearted, “Oh yeah, by the way, thanks for staying late again last night.”
Yet I accepted the position without hesitation, or more accurately my ego accepted it, because of the status bump, and because my position of authority would allow me to appear more important than I actually was. I liked the thought of people whispering about me and pointing me out to their friends.
“Look, that’s him. Over there.”
“Right there. That’s him! Dave the Bar Manager. He RUNS the place.”
But I’d be too busy scrutinizing the placement of the liquor bottles in the speed rail to see them talking about me.
“No no no!!! The gin doesn’t go there. The whiskey goes there. C’mon now, Sally!”
“Sorry, Mr. Allred. I’ll fix it right away, sir,” Sally would stammer as she scrambled to restructure the order of the bottles correctly. And then my chin would snap to attention as I scanned the room for other inefficiencies and malfeasances, oblivious to the number of envious eyes watching me as I commanded my troops like a Navy Seal Master Sergeant.
However, about six minutes after accepting the job, common sense slowly seeped in, along with traces of terror: Yes, I had been rewarded with a cool new job title, and yes it would look great on my resume, yet I had no clue how to execute the tasks that my position required.
It was like being named The Lion Tamer, and then parading around with my chest puffed out until suddenly realizing that at some point I was going to actually have to get into a big dirt circle with a 400 pound carnivore with nothing but a child’s wooden chair and a whip to train him with.
Receiving no sense of direction from Dan, the owner, I focused on what I knew best, which was making cocktails. “We need a new cocktail menu,” I told the bartenders in my best authoritative voice. “Let’s meet this Monday. Bring some ideas.”
I spent the next three weeks preparing the new cocktail menu. I then bought a cool electric writing board that lit up so we could write drink specials on it. I suggested Karaoke night to Dan. Filled with delusions of grandeur, I would walk to my car after closing at night thinking, “Man, I’m doing it. I’m managing.”
Three months later Dan told me that the bar was struggling and that he was shutting it down. I was floored. “The truth is,” he said, “The bar hasn’t been making money for the last two years.”
Like everyone else who has never owned a bar, I just assumed with the mark-up of alcohol that all bars were always making a killing, but here Dan was telling me that his bar was actually losing money, and apparently my new cocktail menu and neon board had done little to pull it out of the quicksand.
Dan eventually sold the bar to a real estate agent. Dan himself owned a drywall company and he had done what many other successful business owners do: buy a bar because they view it as “fun”, like their personal playground. I imagined that the real estate agent might be next in line for the playground from hell.
I had no problem landing another job, this time as a bar manager/bartender, since it was on my resume now. But a shift had occurred in me. I used to simply bartend and not worry about what was happening at the management and operation level of the place I worked, but now bartending took a back seat.
After the closing of Dan’s bar, I became obsessed with finding out why, and if you’ve ever been obsessed with anything, you understand that your learning accelerates because of your intense interest in the subject. This is different from a school education where teachers speak information at you, and then you scribble notes so you can regurgitate that information later in exchange for a letter grade.
Have you ever done that? Become obsessed with learning about something? Whether it was sports or music or business? That was me. Like Leonardo DiCaprio portraying Howard Hughs in The Aviator, except with less peeing in a jar.
I spent the next two years learning the bar and restaurant business inside and out, and by the time I founded Bar Patrol in 2011, I had spoken with dozens of owners and managers – both successful and unsuccessful – to find out what made them successful and what made them flop, and by the time I was done, all I wanted to do was help because there was so many different types of bars and restaurants (and owners and managers), and there simply wasn’t much expert information or education out there to help people who were like I was in the beginning: clueless and drowning.
What I came to realize was that Dan was a smart man, but like anyone who has the dream of opening a bar or restaurant, whether they have experience or not, he made the same mistake they all make: He asked the wrong questions.
What should our theme be? What type of food and drinks should we serve? Who can we hire as our star chef? How should we decorate it? What sort of whiskey should we carry to really wow the guests?
These questions are back-burner questions in the beginning. What you should be asking is: How are we going to manage it? What systems do we put into place? What is our daily process for recording sales? How will we hire? How will we train? What will our culture be, and what is our mission? How will we attract new customers? Who are our customers? What is our demographic?
I could go on and on, but hopefully you see the pattern. Infrastructure first. Master the fundamentals. This isn’t just for anyone opening a bar and restaurant. These questions need to be asked by owners and managers running existing bars and restaurants, if they really want to grow and be successful.
Now after ten years of studying and learning and having helped hundreds of bars change the way they run their business (and after being hounded by countless emails from people asking for help running their bar and/or restaurant), I have finally completed my master bar and restaurant course, The Restaurant Management Masterclass, and it’s for both people like me in the beginning who had no idea what they are doing, all the way to owners and managers with years of experience who are looking for a better way to grow and scale their business.
I bring up the course because within the lessons of the Masterclass are these 5 areas you need to master in order to put those fundamentals in place so you can systemize, operate and grow a mega-success bar and restaurant. I’m talking about 5 areas I knew nothing about when I first started learning to run a bar and restaurant.
So, without further ado (as I know that’s why you came here in the first place), let’s get to it.
THE 5 AREAS YOU NEED TO MASTER IN ORDER TO RUN A SUCCESSFUL BAR & RESTAURANT
- LEADERSHIP – One of the most ambiguous and unclear words in the English language. Not definition-wise, but execution-wise. How do you lead, is the question? Well, if I had to give one answer and one answer only, I would say positive enthusiasm would be the very best trait to carry with you through the doors each day. Leaders are supposed to lead by example, and in this industry (and all over the planet) people’s favorite past time it seems is to complain and be negative about everything, so if you can come in each day and lead with positive enthusiasm, you will deliver powerful and positive results in your business. Now, there are loads of leadership lessons I cover in the Masterclass beyond positive enthusiasm, but I simply don’t have time in this blog post.
- FINANCES – If you know nothing about finances, then hire someone who does. Doing nothing is not an option. Get an accountant or find an assistant manager who is good with numbers. You don’t need a Wall Street financial advisor, but you need someone who can figure and record the daily sales, your weekly prime cost numbers and you monthly profit/loss statement. You at least need those basics tracked and analyzed if you’re going to grow and be successful.
- HIRING, TRAINING, CULTURE – I know that’s three things, but they all fall under the “Staff” umbrella, which you need to master. You obviously don’t want to hire morons and deviants, and when you do hire someone good, you can’t simply release them on to your floor like a wild rabbit in hopes that they will scamper in the right direction. You have to create a culture that holds everyone accountable, and a culture that rewards individuals, as well as everyone as a community so they feel recognized and important. Employee retention is one of the most vital skills you should have as a bar and restaurant manager.
- COST CONTROLS AND INVENTORY – When I started Bar Patrol back in 2011, I chose inventory management as the first system to put in place every time because I had discovered that this was the #1 biggest loss of money in the business and it could be fixed within a week. By saving them money instantly, I could see something that was lacking when I first met them: optimism. When you get that extra influx of money and you see the cost % numbers come down, it literally gives you hope. Once the cost controls were in place, we moved on to the other areas.
- MARKETING – This is perhaps the golden ticket most owners and managers are searching for the most: how to attract a frenzied herd of raving fans who are so excited to come to your restaurant that they trample small children trying to get through the doors. And it’s true, you definitely need someone who has a knack for it and can execute a plan. Inside The Restaurant Management Masterclass, we go over three marketing tactics that are so successful, you have to be careful because your kitchen can become overwhelmed with too many orders at once and then the service suffers because of ticket times. And yes, good marketing will bring them in, but then you have to make sure the other four areas are firing on all cylinders or the money you make and the success you have getting people in the door, fly right out the window.
I know that all of this can seem overwhelming, but all you need to do is find ONE thing that you feel needs to be improved right now. Just one thing that you can focus on. Don’t try to fix everything at once or you will end up fixing nothing at all. When you focus on and hammer out one thing at a time, eventually those multiples of one, add up to huge results.
That will do it for today. If you haven’t checked out my Youtube channel, you can go there to find lots of free information on how to run a better bar and restaurant, and for those of you who want to become obsessed like I was and become an expert, I have all of my premium content inside The Restaurant Management Masterclass which you can get to by clicking on the picture below.
Whatever process you choose to advance your education, just make sure you start now so you can’t get some momentum on creating better business systems for your bar & restaurant. Don’t wait around and hope for the best, or you will eventually end up like my buddy Dan.
Thanks for being here. Make a million…