There are few phrases I want to hear less than, “I want to speak to the manager!” In this episode, I got to sit down with my long-time friend and colleague James Butler, and talk with him about the challenges he has faced as a manager in the bar and restaurant industry here in San Francisco. James has been in the industry since 2007. He has worked and managed many different bars and restaurants, everything from sweet and small neighborhood haunts to hopping Mission cocktail bars. He currently runs a wine consultancy called Cluster and Cane for wine program development and high-touch wine tourism in Northern California.
Managers face a unique set of challenges on top of the challenges we all face in this industry. Managers not only have to deal with the same customer issues, work life balance, emergency situations and everything else that goes along with day to day bar and restaurant service, they also have to handle relations among staff, putting together a solid team, managing the whole operation of the bar and much, much more. It’s a difficult job, and managers are not always compensated for all the extra work they have to do. James has some great advice on how to face these challenges and thrive as a bar or restaurant manager.
Listen my conversation with James in the player below or wherever podcasts are found, and make sure to subscribe with the links in the player, on this page or in your favorite podcast app to stay up to date with our weekly conversations with bartenders about all sorts of challenging situations. Read on after the break for more on our conversation about management problems.
Common management challenges and what to do about them
“I want to speak to the manager,” has become such a cliche in our industry. It’s a phrase nobody wants to hear, and interactions that begin with that phrase often don’t end well. But James believes that they don’t have to end badly, and they can even be amazing opportunities to create an even more positive experience.
“People like your restaurant they may tell a couple friends, people don’t like your restaurant they’ll tell a bunch of friends,” James said, “people have a weird experience or a bad experience, and you fix it, and they’ll want to tell everybody.”
James shares and example of a time he helped a bad customer experience turn into a positive one by completely resetting the table and basically starting over. James pulled all the food from the table and reset it, opened some wine and started the group off on a completely new course.
“They needed a sea change,” James said, “and that meant seeing the table completely get rebuilt, deal with someone else for the evening… I can’t remember if those people ever did come back to the restaurant, but I really feel everyone in the restaurant did everything possible to really just make sure they had the experience they wanted to have.”
Hey, Episode 0 is finally here! Thanks so much for tuning in and checking us out! Normally I will interview a different bartender every week, but in this episode I’m just at home hanging out with my dog (see photo), and I wanted to briefly introduced myself and the show, and share a story about how I poorly handled a situation with counterfeit currency. You can find Episode 0 in the player below or you can subscribe to the You’re 86 Podcast on this page or wherever podcasts are found.
Since I already introduced the show in the previous welcome post, I’ll just dive right into the intricacies of counterfeit currency in this post. What do you do about counterfeit money? Definitely not what I did, listen and read on to find out more.
Counterfeit currency is an unfortunate issue that we sometimes have to deal with in our industry. The United States Secret Service, which was originally formed to combat counterfeiting, reported that more than 73 million counterfeit US dollars were prevented from circulation in 2017 alone. Although maybe not the most common situation to arise at our bars, it’s important to know what we should do if it does. I certainly didn’t know what to do when I found myself in a counterfeit money situation when I was working at a bar called The Interval in San Francisco. I’ll tell you what I did, then what was wrong about it and what to do better next time.
Here’s what happened to me
It was around 5:30 pm on a summer Thursday night. I was in our little prep room in the back of the bar washing glassware or something when my coworker came in and told me there was a customer making her very uncomfortable and asked if I could handle it. Of course I was happy to help her, but wasn’t sure what I was about to get into.
I went out to the front and found an extremely nervous looking, balding, middle-aged man in a fleece vest standing near the POS. I cheerfully asked him how he was doing and what I could get for him. He was so nervous and awkward that he could barely respond, but he managed to order a cup of tea(which cost $4, the second cheapest drink on the menu).
Bartending is an awesome job. It’s certainly the best job I’ve ever had. You get to hang out at the bar all the time, make creative drinks for people, have great conversations, go on cool brand-sponsored trips and booze-soaked summer camps, do shots of mezcal with your coworkers in the back. That’s the best part I think, my coworkers I mean, not the mezcal. Agave spirits are pretty wonderful too of course.
The camaraderie in this industry is like no other. I don’t even mind when I have to unclog the toilet during a happy hour rush because I know my coworkers have my back and we’re all on the same team. I’ve met some of my best friends in this industry and have had some of my most memorable experiences behind the bar. Everywhere I travel, I feel like I’m part of the tribe when I visit bars in new cities, and I am often treated as such. I think many would agree, this job is pretty fucking great!
It’s not all fun and cheekys though. Sometimes bartending is really shitty, like when you have to cut off overly drunk patrons, or when a shooting happens, or when ABC pulls a sting operation, or when a fight breaks out and you get a pool cue busted over your head. These situations are unfortunately inevitable and they can and do happen to everyone in our industry.
Hospitality is the part of this industry I love the most and it is arguably the most important. Being able to handle difficult situations when they arise is a critical part of good hospitality. The ability to handle bad situations is as important as greeting guests or efficiently building rounds for fast service, though it’s talked about far less frequently. We definitely need to start having conversations about handling bad situations, and that’s precisely what we are going to do here at You’re 86.
Every week, we will talk to a different bartender about how they deal with the challenging circumstances they face at their bars. This isn’t going to be a cheesy corporate training seminar: “Bob has had too much to drink. What do you do?” No, we will be having real conversations, with real bartenders about how they handled real situations with good and bad outcomes. Hopefully if we get enough of these stories in our heads we will be more prepared to handle similar situations when they arise at our own bars. Then hopefully our jobs will be safer, more fun and generally less shitty.
You’re 86 is coming soon!
Hey! You’re 86! The site is currently under construction, but we will get this thing kicked off soon.
You’re 86 is an interview style podcast and blog about how bartenders handle problems and bad situations at their bars. We’ll be interviewing real bartenders every week about everything from cutting people off to what you do when an angry guest breaks a pool cue over your head.