Sexy Fish: 15 months, 130, 000 cocktails later and zero staff turnover behind the bar.
These are remarkable statistics given the transient nature of the industry not to mention that the bar at Sexy Fish works both as a standalone bar all the while servicing a 190-seater restaurant open day and night, with just two service stations and four to five bartenders behind the stick.
We asked Xavier Landais if he would be happy to share his secrets on recruitment and retention as well as on the performance of his bar team at one of the capital’s highest-profile venues.
Xavier is the Director of Bars for Caprice Holdings, which includes sites such as Scott’s and The Ivy. He oversees recruitment, training and drinks development across the group with 105 bartenders currently within the organisation.
“For me the underlying importance is balance, there is a lot of pressure both from the management above and during service, and so it’s important to balance that pressure” explained Xavier. “I have broken down my recruitment and retention of the team techniques into 14 points across three areas:”
1. Understand your venue, the concept and what you are delivering so that you can target specific candidates during your recruitment process. You need to know whether a bartender would be happy working in your environment and whether he’d be able to deliver. For every bartender, there’s a perfect bar that exists, they just need to find it.
2. Understand the bartenders’ market and each of your bartenders’ capabilities, as well as their market value. It’s important to pay them what they’re worth, but do make sure not to overpay anyone.
3. Interviewing. If someone interviews with us, I already know that he knows how to make great drinks, that’s a given and therefore not the focus of the interview. My interview technique has developed over many years – I have the same set of questions which are quite unusual. It’s actually happened more than once that confident candidates with a great reputation scored badly. The most important thing for me is making sure that they’d be a good fit.
4. Be close to your staff and engage in one-on-one conversations in a social environment, over a drink, away from the venue.
5. Share the love. Perks and benefits of working for a high profile bar should be shared equally amongst the team. Everyone at Sexy Fish has been somewhere this year. A bottle here, a bottle there – small things go a long way
6. Reward milestones – first year anniversaries, birthdays, etc.
7. Involvement. Make sure that your team is part of the process and not just foot soldiers carrying out orders. Every bartender was involved in the making of our new menu and has their name on it.
8. Keep them entertained. Sending out the same drinks every day can get repetitive. I like to organise small, internal ad hoc competitions – with a small prize up for grabs. I send out a brief a few days before, for example “improve our espresso martini” and then compare and evaluate the drinks that have been put forward.
9. Sit down with your staff. I try to have three informal job conversations a year with each member of staff. Find out how they are feeling and what they are looking for. For instance, there was a bartender who felt that he wasn’t being developed enough and so we consequently created a new, bespoke training program just for him.
10. Training. It goes without saying but training is absolutely crucial!
11. Break the routine as much as possible. It keeps the team stimulated. Take them to events off-site, like pop-ups for instance.
12. Don’t micro-manage. If you have recruited properly they should be able to do their job. If everything has to go through you then you haven’t recruited the right person for the job.
13. Bar Tours. I like to take 6 bartenders from a venue out to 5 or 6 different bars, as it’s great for team bonding. The next day, I ask them to write a report on the bars, comparing their drinks and service to ours and writing down the things that they believe we do better. It’s important to take pride in what you do.
14. Lead by example. Do a shift with them, take out the garbage, etc. Never ask someone to do things that you wouldn’t do yourself.
On top of this detailed discussion on recruitment and retention, we also discussed how one single bar can produce so many cocktails. The bar’s design details are also fascinating…. but that’s another story!
We would like to thank Xavier for his time and look forward to sharing more insights and ideas with the industry in 2017.