If you are looking to make the next step in your bartending career or you just love geeking out on new techniques for cocktail design, becoming a lead bartender could be a really good move for you.
The lead bartender role can be the perfect “Goldilocks” scenario for many bartenders. Depending on the arrangement you make with your bar, you could get a bump in pay, preferential shifts, creative freedom with the menu, and potentially reimbursement for further educational events like Tales of the cocktail or classes like our Mixology Certification.
I know all of this sounds great, but it is not all fun and games. There are also additional responsibilities that come with this role and new skills that you will need to develop.
Role and Responsibilities
The roles and responsibilities of a lead bartender can vary from place to place. Often the bar manager or another manager will assume many of these responsibilities that would be covered in the role of a lead bartender if the position does not exist. And in many craft bars, this specialized role is vital for staying up to speed on what’s popular and trending in the bar community as well as establishing strong ties in the craft community as well.
Below are some of the duties a lead bartender should be prepared to fulfill on a day to day basis. (These are just some of the duties that would exist if you were to include them in the job description – but will differ from bar to bar.)
- Drink Creation
- Drink Pricing
- Communicating recipes, cocktail names and descriptions with owners and managers for printing new menus
- New menu roll out
- Syrup/infusions and other ingredient production
- Staff tastings and training
- Act as main bartender during busy shifts/ private events
- Organizing systems for production and day to day operations (checklists, prep sheets, ordering sheets, etc.)
- Negotiating pricing with distributors.
- Representing the bar / restaurant to the media about drinks and trends
What skills will you need?
All of these new responsibilities will take time to fully understand and master. As you move up the ladder towards management, your cocktail shaker and strainer will start to take a back seat to a computer, a phone and spreadsheets.
If you are applying for a position of lead bartender (or are about to talk to your employer about adding this role), most likely you are passionate about this part of the job. You know the basics of syrup production, how to infuse and how to put a few ingredients together to make a tasty cocktail. Being able to spend some of your time developing new cocktail recipes is one of the biggest benefits to a bar program and one of the key duties of the lead bartender position.
As with any skill, you don’t learn mixology once and then move on – there are always new techniques and technology being created to make this part of the job easier. Check out our Mixology Certification Program if you want to learn more about drink creation. This would also be a great addition to your resume to stand out from the other applicants.
Developing Training Material
Now that you’ve come up with the next batch of cocktails, you will need to be able to communicate to other bartenders/managers how to make these new, delicious drinks. That means documenting how to make the syrups/infusions, the recipe for the cocktail, glassware, garnish and any relevant history/stories about the drink itself. You may even have to make new par sheets, vendor lists, and side work checklists for the new menu.
Communication is one of the biggest skills that a lead bartender will need to develop in order to be successful in this role. There will be a lot of in person meetings, emails and phone calls that you will need to be prepared for and to efficiently get your needs/points across.
You are now starting to take ownership over some of the critical business processes and other people are relying on you to get your portion of a bigger job done. You’ll want to be able to communicate clearly with the right people and by the right medium (in person, emails, phone, etc.) to get the message across and keep the bar running smoothly.
Organization is the next critical skill that you will have to develop for this role. You may have to put some time and energy learning new technology like spreadsheets, ordering software, analytics software, and task management software. While you could always go the old school “paper and pen” route, many of these processes are just faster once you learn the new programs – and they are great skills to invest in learning for your own development as well.
Spreadsheets will become more and more important as you develop in your career. Many bar managers are ninjas when it comes to spreadsheet creation and can develop spreadsheets that examine critical parts of the bar program. Mastering spreadsheets early will have long term benefits for your career and potentially many other aspects of your life. While Microsoft Excel is by far the most widely accepted, Google Sheets is a great alternative and it comes with the added benefit of being free. I highly recommend watching some YouTube videos and learning the basics of how to work with spreadsheets.
Many bar programs also use ordering/inventory platforms like Bevspot, Partender or Bevager. These platforms are very intuitive to use and offer a ton of support materials to become more proficient at mastering the software. They also have strong data gathering abilities which is always a good thing to become familiar with. Be warned: they can also take some time to learn. If you have the opportunity, invest the time in learning about the platforms your bar uses. You’ll quickly see the benefit of the insights they provide.
There are quite a few task management/project management platforms out there. Asana, Evernote and Slack are just a few examples of the types of software that I’ve heard of being used in bars and restaurants to help keep tasks, responsibilities and communication organized.
Once you move into the role of the lead bartender, you are no longer just responsible for you and your station, you now are the leader of your bar team. You have to lead by example and not only look after yourself but after the whole bar team now.
Skills like how to motivate and inspire a staff sound easy, but it can be one of the hardest parts of this job for many. Luckily there are many books and resources available if you want to develop this skill. (This is one of my personal favorites.)
Creating the Role
If you work at a bar that already has this position established, then it’s much easier to work towards this position. If however, you work at a bar that does not have this position already, you may be able to make the case to create the position, and step into it yourself.
Benefits of the lead bartender position for the business:
- Creates a specialized role in the bar to enhance the bar program. (The result of this is usually a better bar program for the guests)
- A better trained staff
- The staff will have an increased sense of ownership over the beverage program, sidework, cleanliness, etc
- The above may allow you to increase your price point on drinks (due to improved guest experience)
- Frees up many of the responsibilities of other managers, so their time can be more focused on creating new strategies for increased revenue, higher profitability, decreased costs, etc.
While it may not make sense in every bar, the lead bartender position is a great stepping stone for any bartender looking to get his/her feet wet with “light” management duties and more responsibility over the cocktail menu. It can also give you an opportunity to flex your “mixology” skills and have some fun! As you look forward in your career, think about whether this role may make sense for you, and start working on growing the appropriate skills in advance so you can step in when the opportunity arises.