Five Tips for Empowering the Unsung Floor Staff

Waiter serving drinks
Waiter serving drinks

While today’s bartenders are typically the stars at hot cocktail bars, the servers tend to be overlooked—not only by guests but also by management. Yet the floor staff is perhaps the most influential force in any bar. Not only do they serve as the first point of contact, servers interact with the guests each night, keeping the cocktails and conversation flowing.

Managers can take steps to build confidence in floor workers. This not only makes them happier at work, it makes them more effective at their jobs, which increases both revenue and tips. A panel discussion at Tales of the Cocktail conference in July offered up some advice on empowering the floor staff.

1) Show respect and empathy for your team if you expect the same from them. “You do not deserve respect just because you are the manager or head bartender,” said Eamon Rockey, general manager of Betony in New York.


2) Be understanding when life events happen and team members need flexibility, Rockey said. “Why do managers get special treatment with life events and then don’t give them to their staff?” Find ways to support your team and they will work hard to support you, he added.

3) Hold a preshift meeting with everyone on the team, said Hana McCarley-O’Neil, the maitre d’ of Nomad NYC. “It gets people mentally in the zone.” Nomad’s preshift meetings might open with a general discussion and then move into the night’s lineup, schedule, changes and so on.


It’s also a good time to praise staffers that have done something well, O’Neil said. “Make sure everyone knows that they are important.”

4) Have a safe environment for staffers to bring problems or ask questions and not feel stupid, said Laura Torres, who manages the mixed food and cocktail service on the floor of Blacktail NYC. “It helps people better themselves.”

And take a nurturing approach to helping staff solve problems, Rockey added. When someone has come to you with a problem, “don’t yell at them when they’re at their most vulnerable.”

5) Resist the impulse to overtrain and overmanage, said Jim Meehan, owner of cocktail bar PDT in New York. Train your staff on the basics, but then give them the opportunity to take the stage. “Making mistakes and failing is a great way to learn,” he noted.

Meehan, who had previously worked at Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern in New York, said that Meyer once told him that it’s not about perfection, it’s about excellence. “If you strive for perfection and make a mistake, you’ve failed.”