How to Become A Leader Behind The Bar


A role in leadership can reap rewards at any stage of your career. Becoming a team leader can certainly be a stepping stone to management, but it can also provide immediate benefits in your current situation: Leaders are given opportunities for creative control and asked to help develop menus. They motivate their team to respect their work and each other. They are able to convey their concerns in a way that inspires management to care.

While certain people may possess a natural aptitude for leadership, it is a skill that can be taught to anyone with the interest to learn. Mindfully employing these four skills lays the foundation for excellent leadership.


Set a Great Example

Being around someone who takes pride in their work is infectious, encouraging others to do the same. Make it your mission to be the person you would want working with you when you’re three deep sans barback.

Exhibit strong work habits. Take pride in the job you do and make sure the way you present yourself reflects that pride. Showing up fresh and on time is a good start. Take care of your tools. Keep your station neat and clean. Perform the job duties you were hired to do.

Be positive. This doesn’t mean you should ignore problems, but using prep time to moan about the sorry state of the juicer isn’t constructive. Leaders understand that mental fortitude is fragile, and negativity erodes the spirits of everyone who hears it. When leaders identify problems, their aim is finding a solution, not an audience.

Lend a hand. If a teammate is running late, a leader will be the one helping to set up their well. They come back from the walk-in with enough limes to restock every station. They ask what else is needed before walking out the door. Leaders know that the key to a smooth shift is working as a team.

At its heart, leadership is about inspiring the best from people, and nothing stimulates a team better than a good example.


Respect Your Team

Team leaders extend their respect to all members of the team. Want to know if a bartender is a hack? Observe how they treat the barback. Badmouthing or demeaning another employee exhibits a lack of appreciation for the job being performed. This underestimation becomes apparent when coworkers are absent. Without someone to perform the barback’s duties, previously taken for granted, even a slow shift can bury the entire team.

Hospitality is, in many ways, a performance. Try to use those skills to exhibit goodwill towards the people you work with. Greeting someone makes them feel welcomed, acknowledged, and sets the tone for the interactions between you and them for the entire shift. You may never be more than colleagues with these people, but that doesn’t mean your relationship should feel strained.

A bar’s success is directly proportional to the courtesy its team displays towards one another. Leaders inspire with exemplary work, but keep their egos in check.


Be A Student

There are always new things to discover about flavor, technique, and hospitality. Learning the rules makes you better prepared to break them.

With the wealth of information easily accessible online and in books, the question isn’t where to find interesting articles, but what to read first. A determined bartender could learn a lifetime’s worth of skills in a few hours a week. Books on cocktail techniques and history have obvious practical applications, but reading an article on sake might give you the confidence to use it in a drink. Studying the relationship between flavors in food can easily inform how you pair liqueurs in a cocktail. Learning about how dehydrators work may prompt experimentation to up your garnish game.

Continuing your education will not only provide you with anecdotes to impress your guests, but will also better prepare you for mentorship. Mentors get the dual benefit of cementing their knowledge for themselves each time they repeat it to train another. Aim to be someone people can approach with their questions, just remember the best teachers are always looking for what they can, in turn, learn from others.


Practice Self-Care

Despite overwhelming science that proper self-care benefits both a person’s productivity and mindset, it’s still underrated in the industry. Following a two-pronged attack will ensure you’re bringing the best version of you to each shift:

First, recharge your body. Bartending not only wreaks havoc on our joints and muscles, but often the stress and frenetic pace of service can manifest physically as well. Make time for adequate sleep. Eat a nutrient-rich meal. Exercise your body in some way. Even low-impact activities like walking or stretching can do a lot for stamina, preventing injuries, and relieving stress.

Next, reset your mind. When we’re busy, the days can start to feel like they’re just sleep, work, repeat. Prioritizing an activity you love will allow you to gain back some agency over how your time is spent. Take a photography class. Learn to cook. Join a pinball league. Read a novel. Engage your mind in a way that makes you feel like you’ve lived a good day.

Compelling leaders are calmer under stress and less irritable when circumstances make them feel reactionary. Taking care of yourself makes you better equipped to take care of others.

Leadership can be profoundly rewarding, even if your aspirations don’t include management. Mindful leaders use their own positive example to inspire the best from their team. Being a passionate, present participant can stave off apathy and imbue your work with meaning. Becoming a team leader can help create more fulfillment at any stage of your career.