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Earn More Money as a Bartender - Pt3; Promotion

How to Get Promoted within the Bar Industry

I’ve covered Tips, now the next step to earn more money is obviously an increase in wage. And this is normally achieved via Promotion.

Depending how big the Pub/Bar/Restaurant is, will depend on how many rungs of the ladder there are, but typically, you’d be looking at this kind of Bar Structure;

  • Runner/Bar Back

  • Bartender

  • Team leader

  • Bar Supervisor / Head Bartender

  • Assistant Manager

  • Bar Manager

  • Deputy General Manager

  • General Manager

  • Area Manager (Non Pub/Bar Based)

You may even get an Operations Manager thrown in there too.

Now it stands to reason that there is going to be different pay scales to each level. And, it won’t just be a flat rate between levels I’m sure. An Experience Bartender may command £10-12ph for example, where as a newbie with 3-6 months experience may only command £8ph.

Education & Learning

Your first port of call is to learn and become an excellent Bartender. Excel at Everything from Customer Service to Drinks Knowledge. Keep a clean and Tidy Bar. Be first in and ready to go. If your shift starts at 6pm. Be there for 5:45pm, so you’ve got 15 mins changeover...not only that, your predecessor will appreciate the quick hand to reset. On the same token, if you finish at 6pm, don’t just down tools, what can you do to help your colleague get ready for a busy evening shift?

What this shows your Team Leaders, Supervisors and Managers is that you care. You care about not only your Job, but other Team Members and Customers. You're a Team Leader. So not only will you be considered for more shifts, but you’ll also be looked at favourably if/when the time is right to promote.

You do also need to couple this with Knowledge too. Just being proactive isn’t enough. Bartenders not knowing how Rums are made, or where Gin comes from, or the difference between a Pinot Grigio and a Pinot Noir aren’t going to get very far. To progress in the game, you have to start arming yourself with more knowledge and just try to be better and better each shift.

If you treat your Bar Job as just a stop gap, any Bar Manager worth their salt will spot that a mile away and pass you over for promotion. I’ve known of 19yo Tenders get promoted within months because they love it so much. It’s a chance to flex their artistic flair in other ways that their degree path couldn’t come close to.

To increase that wage and climb even further up the ladder, you need to show much more than just skills and knowledge. A proactiveness needs to come in to play. You need to show leadership...all while thinking what is best for the customer, what is best for my colleagues and what is best for my Bar. The Bars sole remit is to make money, but that is always the by-product of great drinks, great hospitality...but also great GP and profit margins. It’s a fine balancing act. You can’t be money focused. You have to be customer focused. But you can never lose sight of those all important pennies.

There’s a few ways to fast track that promotion...

First off, if you’re part of a chain, no matter how big or small. 4 Bars or 34 bars, the chances are, the owners and managers will have some kind of Training Scheme in place. Big Chains are great for this and they can teach you a lot. Whether its management, leadership, bar training, whatever course is on offer, try to get in on it. Not only does that show intent to your bosses, but it’s a selfish thing too, as you want to be the best you can be. If you really want to take this career path seriously, NEVER turn down the opportunity of a Training session…and especially so if it’s on a Day Off. I get Days off are a premium, but as I say time and time again. This industry is a Way of Life. It is not a Job. 7 day weeks come with the territory. You have to Learn and you have to have fun. Fun comes with knowledge.

But what if there is no training on offer?

Then for me, that’s actually a sign that perhaps that’s not the best environment to work in. For me it shows me that actually the ownership doesn’t really care enough to invest in their team. I get Budgets can be tight, but for me, there’s no excuses for not investing in your team. So maybe it’s time to move on and explore other opportunities.

Also attend industry nights around Town. For example, in Cambridge, we get Brand Ambassadors, Distillers, Owners come up regularly to a few Bars to educate the general Bar Scene. These are always open door with an open invite to ANY Bartender in the Area. Some are always there. Others aren’t. But the ones that are always there are always the ones that progress and become more well-known…and crucially, get better!!

Opportunities can come in all shapes and forms.

Take my local city of Cambridge, The Bartenders do move around quite a lot simply because another Bar may have a promotion on offer or be paying more money. Don’t do what a lot of Bartenders do though. I’ve worked with loads who have the opinion that the Grass is always greener. They see the extra £50-£100pw week in their pay packet and that’s it for them. But then invariably a few weeks later you see or hear them moaning because the Managers are not as good, the environment isn’t as friendly…*insert 100 other excuses here*. You really have to suss out another Pub/Bar before jumping ship. Suss out the Team Ethic, the Promotions, the Pay Structure, the Weekly rota...that's another biggie. I’ve seen Bartenders leave well-paid cushy numbers, to go to places where they haven’t had a weekend off in 2 months. Now, I know, working weekends comes with the territory, but a decent Manager will understand their Team needs lives too. The Odd Friday night, or Saturday night to have out with Friends, or spend with loved ones makes for a Happy Bartender. And not only do Happy Bartenders stay longer, but they can make you more money in the long run through customer service and just generally giving a damn.

Never be shy to chat to the Leadership team either.

Make it known you want to progress in the industry. Ask what you can do. Can you have more responsibility? Can you go to a tasting you heard about at another Bar? Are there any training courses available? Can you have the day off to go to one of the many Pub/Bar shows? Can you shadow a Supervisor/Assistant Manager/Manager for a few weeks, just to learn the ropes. Unless you have really pee’d off the leadership team in some way, there is never ever going to be a No. And if there is, that goes back to what I said earlier. Get out of Dodge asap. A Manager/Owner that doesn’t care about their Team is the lowest of the low in my book.

A general rule of thumb I’ve always adhered to. If you see a Pub/Bar constantly advertising for staff. Whether it’s every 2 months, 3, 6, etc…that’s when the warning flags go up for me. That screams high Team Turnover. Which screams unhappy Bar to work at.

But now you’re thinking, well hang on, if they’re not advertising, they don’t need new Teamies. WRONG. Bars will always need new talent. Decent chains promote within and send Team Members off to New Bars they're opening. That’s exactly what happened to me back in the late 90s. I was killing it back in Cambridge, so Greene King shipped me down to Essex to turn around the fortunes of one of their biggest sites. That meant I needed new Managers with me, but also my Pub needed a new Management team too.

Pubs and Bars that don’t advertise simply don’t need to. They’ll have that reputation where Bartenders and Managers know that’s a cracking place to work, so will always keep in contact with leadership teams to see when new positions become available. You see, our beloved trade does have a high turnover of people, but the thing is, you’ll never hear about it in the decent Bars because people WANT to work there.

Rising to the top of the tree

Getting yourself up to the top the leadership tree can be very quick, or it can be a long drawn out process. But you will never get there if you don’t constantly invest in yourself. To get right to the top of the tree, not only do you need some decent Business Knowledge, but you need to demonstrate your leadership skills.

Getting your team to work with you is a skill. I was lucky, it came very natural to me. Apparently, it’s the “Aura and sense of Fun” that I give off. My teams have often told me why they loved working with me. First off, I made the gig Fun. If you didn’t have a smile on your face when you were 5 deep at 9pm, then there was something seriously wrong. But they also knew I had a Don’t Mess with me attitude. I wanted things done a certain way, because it was the right way for the customer. But it was that respect thing. I never valued anyone any less than me. I never asked anyone to do something (a) I wasn’t already doing and (b) couldn’t be arsed to do. I lead by Example. On the same note, I also had a saying that I’ve mentioned before, “Don’t come to me with Problems, come to me with Solutions”. Not one of my Team were allowed to say “I’ll get the manager for you”. They had my permission to solve that problem there and then. I trusted them. I trusted them from the very first minute right up until they lost my trust, which in 20+ years, honestly only ever happened 3 times.

But the final reason was that I always had their backs. No one got a new one torn in Public. Anything that needed to be said was done in private was between us. What happened in the office, stayed in the office. But there was never any shouting. You see a good leader knows that behind every mistake is a deeper problem, often not related to the Job itself. Get to the bottom of that and problem is solved instantly.

Can you learn this?!

Yes, I think you can. Was I like this as an 18yo. Nope. But I was very impressionable, and I loved what I was doing. My first Boss what the ultimate at setting examples. I just followed his lead.

I hope you realise now that there is a common theme to getting promoted?

  • Love what you do

  • Constantly improve your skills and knowledge

  • Lead by Example

  • Put your Team First

  • Put your Customers Second.

  • Put yourself Last*

  • *But also put yourself First when not on duty, by investing in yourself. ALWAYS BE LEARNING.

Work in this way and I promise you, what goes around will come back 10-fold. You’ll quickly find your Team making your life easier. Your Customers will be getting a great experience because your team are happy. You’ll find people care about you. You’ll be better off in the long run, trust me.

Summing Up

A final story to sum this up. I used to always be the first in and last out. I’d make my life as easy as possible for my team so they could concentrate on extraordinary customer experiences. One night, I was dead on me feet. One of my supervisors who was on shift with me told me to go home and chill. But we were on for a busy shift, so I stayed. Well, 20 minutes later 2 reinforcements walked in on their nights off to leave me safe in the knowledge they could all cope without me. She’d gone behind my back and arranged cover. We had a team of 14 Bartenders (Part & Full Time) She sent a group message out and the first 2 to respond were in within minutes. They sat me down with a Rum then packed me off half hour later. She even told me she’d be in at 9am tomorrow to open, I could wander in at 11ish. That is someone caring, but someone that had the upmost respect for me. I’ll never forget that. And for my appreciation, I gave them all a Paid night off the next week.

If you can command that kind of respect during your Career, you will be running an awesome Bar and new opportunities will constantly fall into your lap!


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