The Service Summit: Climbing the Ranks in the Service Industry

The Service Summit: Climbing the Ranks in the Service Industry

By Eric McLean

We talked to Matthew Stewart, a manager of a top-grossing bar/restaurant in the Byward Market in Ottawa, Ontario about climbing the ranks in the bar industry. Matthew has worked as a bus-boy, bar-back, server, bartender and a manager during his 8 plus years in the restaurant industry.

What is your advice for someone trying to climb the ranks in the service industry?

First and foremost, you need to work hard – that obviously applies to everything in life, but it’s absolutely crucial for anyone looking to stake out a career for themselves in this line of work.

When I worked at my first restaurant job, what set me apart from my coworkers at the same level was my work ethic. I started as a bus boy, but after a while was promoted to server, and from there, began to get better and better shifts.

For someone just starting out, should you be applying to bartend or serve right away?

If you want to make it a career, your best bet is to start from the ground up. If being a bartender is your end goal – then putting in time as a bar-back when you’re younger and just starting out is a great path to take. It may not offer up the same financial benefits – but will certainly position you nicely once an opening becomes available at your establishment.

The way it’s going now, a lot of larger chain restaurants are recognizing the importance of having at least top-line knowledge of every area in the bar/restaurant.  Even if you are hired as the General Manager, you will be asked to spend some time working in the kitchen, at the host stand and behind the bar. So, just because you want to be a bartender, but can’t seem to find something right away, don’t shy away from opportunities in the other areas of the business as well. Putting in time as a bar-back has never hurt anyone in this business and learning about the other positions helps too.

What are some of the transferrable skills you have gained working in the bar industry?

The first would definitely be communications. You are always talking, constantly communicating with your peers and customers - both verbally and non-verbally. You need to realize how to approach certain situations.  For instance, working as a bartender and dealing with a disgruntled customer while tending to the rest of the restaurant’s patrons on a busy Friday night… It can all be pretty overwhelming.

So in the same breath, I would say the ability to multi-task is something you could carry with you going forward. At any given time at a bar/restaurant, the atmosphere can change altogether. You have to be able to do a lot of things at once. You don’t have to be the best at multi-tasking, but if you don’t come up with a system that works for you, you probably won’t advance very far in this industry.

A basic understanding of marketing would be another skill. The people who know how to use Facebook and Twitter to help promote the establishment through their own social channels will probably reap rewards when it comes to the shifts they’re rewarded with – If you can get people to come to your bar and restaurant by posting or tweeting, you’ll likely see direct benefits.  

What is your favourite part about coming to work?

Without question, it’s the people.

I have the opportunity to come to work every day and work with some really great folks. It certainly makes it pretty easy to come to work when you’re working with friends, and meeting new people every single day.

In this industry, you are constantly meeting new people - whether it’s a new-hire on your staff or customers at your bar. There’s always something new and fun going on.

…and I guess the money’s pretty good too!

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