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A Day in the Life of a Bar/Club Manager

Managing a bar or club is a high-profile job, but don’t let anyone tell you it is glamorous. “When you have to, you do everything from carrying kegs of beer up flights of stairs to mopping up spills,” mentioned one bar manager. At the end of the night, the responsibility for the smooth functioning, and on some levels, the profitability, of the bar or club rests with the manager. Club managers have a significant degree of input on the attitude and operation of the club, and can impress their sensibility on the patrons’ experiences. “You can give them the night you always wanted,” said one, “and that feels great.” The most enjoyable aspect about being a club or bar manager is the creativity the profession entails. Most work closely with owners on developing marketing strategies based around theme nights, entertainment, advertising, and special events. Financial analysis skills-basic cost benefit analysis, for the most part-are important for club and bar managers to propose interesting yet fiscally sound marketing schemes. Such events as “Open-mike Nights,” “Happy Hours,” and “Couples Night” all are examples of themes that many clubs and bars find successful in attracting new patrons. The bar and club manager must be creative in these ways without sacrificing the attention to detail that is the day-to-day nature of the profession. Bar or club managers must be comfortable with people-from the professionals they work with-accountants, wait staff, suppliers, and government regulators (including representatives from the liquor, fire, sanitation, and health departments)-to the patrons they entertain. Managers must understand local regulations and accounting procedures to ensure the establishment functions legally and smoothly. According to our survey, most people thought the job would be fun-which many say it is-but they didn’t understand the degree of responsibility it required. “You have so much to keep track of. Everything is important,” said one club manager. Managers must be comfortable claiming and enforcing authority as the liaison between the owners of the establishment and the employees.

Paying Your Dues

There is no specific educational requirement to become a bar or a club manager, but most have a high school education and many have some college accounting, finance, or management coursework. Work experience is more important than educational requirements. Employers seek those who have experience managing others and keeping track of large budgets and inventories, and who have generally demonstrated a strong sense of responsibility. The workday usually extends from late afternoon to late into the night, and weekends are regularly part of established shift schedules. Those who leave the profession often cite “schedule” as a significant reason for their departure.

Present and Future

Bars and clubs used to be managed by their owners, but as owners opened second and third clubs, they had to find people whom they could trust to run them. The position of manager evolved as one close to ownership and has become, frequently due to corporate ownership, that of intermediary between owners and staff. Bars and clubs will consistently need creative managers who can ensure that the public has a fresh and exciting perception of the establishment and it runs as smoothly as possible. Management software is becoming more important for those who are looking to enter this profession, and many three-week courses provide instruction in these systems.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Bar and club managers usually rise from staff positions such as bartenders, waiters, and (less often) bar backs. They usually manage their establishment under strict supervision for two to three nights unpaid, in order to learn the ropes. There are three months of a probationary period when loose supervision and limited responsibilities are offered. Two-year managers are responsible for assembling, managing, and paying staff, as well as opening and closing the club or restaurant. Duties include ordering supplies and managing inventory. Hours are long, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., for example, as the new managers learn their job; pay is reasonable and many are satisfied.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Five-year managers have significant input into promotional efforts to make the public aware of the club or bar. Many are given complete latitude to determine and advertise events, with responsibility for the bottom line. Duties remain the same, but managers usually have developed good relationships with vendors and have established systems of employee scheduling. At the five-year mark, managers have honed employee evaluation skills, and are given reasonable latitude to offer holiday bonuses to exceptional employees. The position becomes one of culture and policy; the five-year manager determines the tone and attitude of the establishment and the way it functions on a day-to-day basis.

TEN YEARS OUT

A mere 20 percent of managers remain with their initial clubs or bars for ten years, and the majority leave between years five and nine. Why this massive exodus? Some claim that it is difficult to remain fresh and innovative at the same location. Others claim that bar and club popularity levels are cyclical, and when owners see any dip in profits, the first person who carries the blame is the manager. A third group claims that there is little challenge to the job once managers have smoothed operations and reinvented locations. Many of those who choose to remain at their original locations attempt to buy some sort of stake in the bar or club; this new role of ownership seems to provide the spark many need to reinvent themselves.