Behind the Bar

6 Managers Share What They've Learned — And What It Takes to Lead

Headshot of Will Thompson, manager at The Local in Miami
Will Thompson, who's worked in management for six years and currently leads the bar program at Miami's The Local, says that finding balance is key to a healthy career in any leadership role. Photo: Chat Chow.

Last month, six bar managers shared the advice they wish they’d heard before embarking on their leadership journeys — and they had so much great wisdom to share, we decided to do it again. So, we asked another group of managers to weigh in on what it takes to lead a team, what surprised them when they first took up the mantle and what they love about their jobs. Ranging in experience from six months to 11 years, they shared the knowledge they wish they’d had starting out, and the wisdom they’ve gained since then:


Will Thompson of The Local Craft Food & Drink in Miami, Florida

How long have you worked in a management position?

Six fun, responsibility-filled years.

Think back to the first management job you ever had. What was the one thing you wish you'd known before moving into a leadership position?

Sleep is a luxury.

What were some of the biggest challenges (or surprises) you faced when you moved into management?

Balance. When you're on the hourly side, it's easy to clock out and check out until the next time you're on, without a second thought. As a manager, at first you eat, sleep and breathe work – answering emails and calls when you're not even in that day. But the best managers I've seen find balance. They schedule not only for productivity and efficiency, but most importantly, for peace of mind.

How can someone tell if they're cut out for a management role?

When they ask for more and after you've delegated a task to them, they return for even more. Spreadsheets, P&Ls, inventory, pars, blah blah, snore snore, can be taught. But you can't teach hustle. When you want more, you're ready.

Finally, if you could give a first-time manager any one piece of advice before they transition into a leadership role, what would it be?

Put pride aside and ask questions: ask for tools and guides, look to those doing amazing things and ask them how they do it. And don't be afraid to fail: it's inevitable, learn from it. Don't be sorry, be better.


Matt Soeder, The Cocktail Club, Charleston, SC

How long have you worked in a management position?

Two and a half years.

Think back to the first management job you ever had. What was the one thing you wish you'd known before moving into a leadership position?

I still had so much to learn. All of my focus prior to management was on cocktails and spirits. Those skills and knowledge are essential to successfully running a craft cocktail establishment; however, so many more diverse areas of responsibility arise in management.

What were some of the biggest challenges (or surprises) you faced when you moved into management?

Not a surprise, but being at the forefront of everything was challenging initially. Organization and time management are so crucial to running a smooth, efficient operation.

How can someone tell if they're cut out for a management role?

Every situation is different, but you must be ready and able to work around the clock. If something needs to be done, it is on you to address it promptly and effectively.

Finally, if you could give a first-time manager any one piece of advice before they transition into a leadership role, what would it be?

Try to remember to keep your employees’ perspective in mind: how you felt when you were in their position. Also, stick with it (management) if you are not sure at first. My experience has been very rewarding and furthered my understanding of the business greatly.


Megan Daniel, Whitechapel, San Francisco

How long have you worked in a management position?

One year.

Think back to the first management job you ever had. What was the one thing you wish you'd known before moving into a leadership position?

You are always working, it doesn't matter if you are on clock or not. Work is an around-the-clock job.

What were some of the biggest challenges (or surprises) you faced when you moved into management?

I was surprised how many little things you need to remember. What are the pars of produce? Did I order TP this week? Do we have enough to-go boxes on hand? There is always something to do.

How can someone tell if they're cut out for a management role?

On how calm you are when you are tossed a curve ball, and how you treat others.

Finally, if you could give a first-time manager any one piece of advice before they transition into a leadership role, what would it be?

Think back to your babysitting days: you need to lead people into doing the right thing and have patience. Always be calm when re-showing someone what to do. You will never be done teaching.


Brittini Rae, The Venice Whaler, Santa Monica, CA

How long have you worked in a management position?

5 years, with a 1.5 year hiatus

Think back to the first management job you ever had. What was the one thing you wish you'd known before moving into a leadership position?

Go into the position with authority. In the beginning I didn't feel as if I had the right to tell someone when they were doing something wrong or not following through with their task. I was almost mouse-like. Walk into that bar, knowing you were hired for a reason, and do not be afraid to ask like it (in a nice way, of course).

What were some of the biggest challenges (or surprises) you faced when you moved into management?

There were many, but one in particular was not understanding the relationship between supplier, distributor, and buyer. Those relationships can benefit you and your bar greatly, so make sure you take the time to get to know them and how they can help you. The bar manager/buyer holds the power.

How can someone tell if they're cut out for a management role?

When you realize you truly care. You can feel it that you have a deep passion for customer service, accuracy, and quality. When you have that "ah-ha" moment, you will know. It comes at different times for everyone if they are truly meant to be in this industry.

Finally, if you could give a first-time manager any one piece of advice before they transition into a leadership role, what would it be?

It's okay to ask questions. Don't be afraid to reach out to your GM, other managers, managers from other restaurants, or friends on Facebook! We are all here to improve the bar and dining experience around the world and are all rooting for each other's success. Don't be afraid to ask questions.


Brandon Paul Weaver, Liberty Bar, Seattle Washington

How long have you worked in a management position?

Six months.

Think back to the first management job you ever had. What was the one thing you wish you'd known before moving into a leadership position?

That it is really hard to understand the management perspective from a non-management position. A small request from an employee might be a huge headache for a manager or a small change in operations that is insignificant for an employee might completely simplify a manager’s job.

What were some of the biggest challenges (or surprises) you faced when you moved into management?

I've been surprised by how difficult effective communication is. You can say something five times in five ways on five different forums and it always seems that someone will miss it. This is why it’s important to cultivate a team mentality so that when things get missed, anyone can provide a helping hand.

How can someone tell if they're cut out for a management role?

If people like making success easier for other people, they are probably going to make a great manager.

Finally, if you could give a first-time manager any one piece of advice before they transition into a leadership role, what would it be?

Maintain an optimistic, solution-based mentality. Problems will come from every angle, including operational, social and financial. Look for ways to diffuse and resolve problems and find ways to enjoy that puzzle. It's much more effective to look for solutions than it is to dwell on problems or complain.


Trevor Landry, NL Group Restaurants, Dallas TX

How long have you worked in a management position?

Eleven years.

Think back to the first management job you ever had. What was the one thing you wish you'd known before moving into a leadership position?

That you must exude confidence as a manager in order to lead others (whether you are confident in your role and ability to lead or not). Fake it till you make it.

What were some of the biggest challenges (or surprises) you faced when you moved into management?

Challenges arise with each job, but nothing globally comes to mind except for the increased responsibility for the venue and your employees.

How can someone tell if they're cut out for a management role?

In order to manage, you have to command the respect of others (natural leader, hardest worker, most likable, most passionate). If someone can do this in a non-management role, then they might have a shot at being a good manager. Most managers have to be good with people — employees and customers — and most first-time managers learn these skills as they go.

Finally, if you could give a first-time manager any one piece of advice before they transition into a leadership role, what would it be?

Lead by example, follow up, and follow through.

Lead by example: there is a huge difference in telling someone to do something when compared to showing them how to do it. When a barback or a bartender understands that you know how to do their job as well or better than they do, there is an extra piece of respect as well as motivation involved for that person.

Follow up: The most difficult part of running multiple venues is making time to check in on each and every employee. It's easy to get in the habit of only attending to the problems and putting out fires, but it is important to check in with your excelling staff members as well.

Follow Through: Do what you say you are going to do. Following through is how to maintain the respect of a staff, and failing to follow through is the fastest way to lose that respect.

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