Behind the Bar

The Right (and Wrong) Way to Quit Your Bar Job

Female bartender pouring and stirring
When a new opportunity presents itself, leaving a job without burning bridges can be tricky. But at the end of the day, it comes down to being respectful and considerate. Photo: Nisimo via iStock

Leaving a job can be tricky, even under the best of circumstances and even in an industry that’s fairly nomadic. Bartenders and managers (and everyone else) move around from time to time, looking for inspiration, new and interesting challenges and additional responsibilities, such as the chance to run a program and make your mark, tackle new techniques and concepts or try managing on for size.

“We’re in such a different industry, you know, if I look at someone’s résumé and they’ve been at one place a year, another place two years, I’m like, “Okay, cool! Stability!” Like, they’re making good decisions," says Jay Schroeder, bar director and managing partner at Mezcaleria Las Flores in Chicago. "That doesn’t hold water if you’re an accountant, I think there are very different realms. So we have to realize, I think in that regard, that we have it pretty well because that qualifies as stability and normalcy, much as the fact that I woke up today at noon qualifies as normal hours in our industry."

Of course, the easiest time to leave is when you’ve hit the limit on upward mobility and growth where they’re currently working. Somewhat understandably, when there are still additional opportunities that haven’t been sussed out, things can get tense.

“When you’re dependent on where you are in life or what your ambitions are, if a different avenue comes up, I don’t think there’s any friction, generally," says Schroeder. "It’s when there are opportunities within that organization, they tend to be perhaps overestimated or perhaps, you know, viewed in a different way than you are receiving them, but I don’t know about you, but I want to work the best gig that I can. I want the best path in life forward to open up opportunity. That’s when it becomes more challenging, I think."

It’s not only difficult for the employee navigating the best way to leave: it can be hard for the employer or manager and colleagues as well. One of the most important things to remember is that, ultimately, it’s about the person leaving — what they think is best for them and their career — and not the employer or organization (even if there are problems there too).

So what can you do to make your transition as smooth as possible?

The best thing to do is to always be honest — about your intentions, your plans and the reasons behind it all.

“[I]f you’re very clear about what you want and why you’re doing it, why you’re making decisions to move from one position to another or one job to another, then being honest should be really easy," says Paul Calvert, partner at Ticonderoga Club in Atlanta. "If you have a boss or a partner who’s a jerk, then that’s on them, you know? They’re the jerk and they’ll have to sleep with that at night."

Many employers, managers and colleagues understand, however, that when there’s a better opportunity, people are going to latch onto that — and most of the best ones encourage them to seek out those better opportunities and go for it when they arise.

“I’ve seen a lot of our head bartenders leave our various bars for different projects, and 99% of the time I’m supportive and positive about it," says Mike Ryan, director of bars for Kimpton Hotels, Restaurants and Bars. "I’ve always told the people I hire that the only way I want them to leave is to take a step forward, not just laterally. I try hard to help build and develop our teams so they’re prepared for whatever career path they may chose to continue down."

“At the end of the day, it’s just like any other kind of professional interaction: your comportment speaks to the kind of person you are. If you deal with your colleagues, coworkers, employees and employers in an honest, straightforward and truthful manner you will have no worries. Bridges only get burned if someone reacts poorly — either providing poor notice on the employee’s part, or reacting melodramatically on the employer’s part,” he adds.

Don’t forget to be honest with yourself, too, and work for someone who helps you get where you want to go.

“[T]he advice I would give somebody who’s young and starting off in the business is to just stay focused on what you want and really be honest with yourself about what it is. If the glory is supposedly in owning a place, but what you really just want to do is be a cheesemonger, then just be a cheesemonger, and go to work for somebody who lets you do it at the top of your game,” Calvert says.

Give notice appropriate with your position.

“If you’re a server, no matter how valuable you are, if you don’t have a management position I think a two week notice is more than generous," says Calvert. "But if you are a manager, a partner, a managing partner, a head executive chef, a sous chef or, you know, if your role is one of responsibility, I would say that you give a longer notice and that you should have a conversation about it and say, ‘hey, I would like to do this on this date. Does that work for you guys? What can I do to help?’”

“If you put your notice in and they choose to terminate you immediately, then you should be able to start with your new employer right away, and you’re well out of that relationship,” says Ryan.

Make sure the timing is right.

“[Y]ou can’t just run into this world and think that everything’s gonna be handed to you; you gotta carve a way, you gotta carve out a niche, and a little bit of good timing doesn’t hurt either, I don’t think,” Schroeder said. “Striking that balance has been a tough one, but, when in doubt, wait.”

People leave. It’s just part of the industry, and any business, really, but you don’t have to burn bridges on your way out the door. It all comes down to a lesson you probably learned at a young age — be kind, be considerate, be respectful.

“[T]reat your soon-to-be former employers or partners like you would want to be treated, keep your head down, and don’t worry about the distractions of so-called fame in the restaurant business, and just stay focused on what you want to do,” says Calvert. “If the place where you are currently existing is not what you want to do, it’s not allowing you to fully be yourself as a professional, then get out of there, but do it in a way that’s respectful and kind.”

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