Bar Managers Get with the Program

by Jill Cockson | October 4, 2016 12:04 pm

I hate the term ‘bar program’. It is meaningless. You either have a bar, or you don’t. You either have a bar manager, or you don’t. The addition of the word ‘program’ simply communicates that your bar is a specific area of focus, as it should be. This attempt to spruce up the title of a manger is redundant to what any bar owner/manager should be focusing on. “Oh, so you take care of your bar?” Somewhere in the distance, Chris Rock is screaming, “You’re SUPPOSED to take care of your bar, you dumb mother#*@%&%!”

There is a pervasive existence of meaningless titles in the bar business. Enhanced job titles start out as an innocent effort to trick an employee into taking on way more responsibility for slightly more pay and resume padding. They result, however, in depleting legitimate titles of any inherent meaning whatsoever. Just consider the word ‘manager’. The spectrum for this job description in hospitality ranges from having the keys to lock the door at the end of the night, to: hiring, firing, training, scheduling, the development of brand reinforcement strategies, menu development, inventory assessment, ordering, production of profit & loss reports, financial goal setting, etc. For this reason, when I see the word ‘manager’ in the ‘experience’ section of a resume, it means absolutely nothing to me. An intense interview process is needed to determine whether their previous ‘management’ experience lines up with the job requirements at hand and, usually, it doesn’t. Unfortunately, too many people trust the word ‘manager’ for its face-value, and the result has been disastrous for our industry.

Prohibition did more than criminalize the production and consumption of alcohol; it wiped out a professional job description, thereby removing anyone capable of passing on the skill-set. Prohibition essentially removed the teachers from the bar education curriculum. This disruption left unqualified apprentices to do the job of the master, and in charge of training the next generation. To make matters worse, not long after Prohibition was repealed, the industrial food revolution began. For bars, this meant that commercial mixers, tonics, bitters, juices, etc. became readily available, thereby diminishing the necessary job description of the bartender. ‘Bartenders’ lost their accreditation as professionals due to a combined lack of leadership, and a diminished skill set requirement. Sadly, we have yet to recover management training structure, and the future isn’t looking good.

Today, owners with little or no experience are in the position to hire, and they are defenseless against the creative use of titles on a resume that trick them into hiring. To the untrained eye, every decent resume will look more-or-less the same. More to the point, lots of job seekers are now turning to professional resume writers – such as ARC REsumes[1], for example – to turn their average resume into a more impressive one. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the applicant is as impressive as their resume, but it does mean they are more likely to get hired. A ‘bar manager’ or ‘bar program manager’ should be able to foresee, identify and offer solutions to business obstacles, be able to help set realistic financial goals, create and execute a menu that is appropriate for those goals, hire the right people for the job, calculate and budget for labor, determine proper compensation, produce adequate training material, make prep time as efficient as possible, manage inventory and create systems to help them do so, be able to schedule effectively for service quality and staff retention, etc., etc., etc. Developing a drink menu does not make you a bar manager.

The egos of Millennial ‘mixologists’, and their contrived ‘bar program manager’ titles, who are less concerned about the profitability of the bar they have been hired to run, and more concerned with the next competition, or article featuring their newest tincture, or whatever, are keeping the failure rate of our industry alive and well. The unethical practice of taking a job you are not qualified for, for the purpose of using the title of that position on your next resume, is epidemic and abhorrent. So…

Bartenders: You don’t have the right to take a position for your personal agenda, and risk the success of a business. A true professional will seek the education and training they need, and not apply for, or take, a position before they are qualified for it. A good litmus test is whether you would need to jump on social media, or the internet, for guidance on how to do any of the aforementioned tasks. Those resources are amazing during your education process (and for ongoing continuing education), but if you lack the skill-set to begin with, you simply are not management material yet. Be patient and reverent of the process.

Bar Owners: If you lack the experience to properly hire a manager, it is worth it to pay a consultant who does to head-hunt that position for you. Be wary of employing Facebook as your bar manager, which is what you will most likely get if you hire poorly. Do not fall for titles, or awards, or bartending history. Managing is a different skill set than tending bar. The best bartender in the world could make for a terrible bar manager. There are some transferable skills, but the job descriptions are very different. Make sure you are hiring the right people for the right job or the only ‘program’ you will need to worry about is the program for the equipment auction when you close.


  1. ARC REsumes:

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