Knowledge is Power! (Never Stop Learning the Game)

I have been asked many times, what is the best piece of advice I can give someone in the industry? My answer for this is always changing because I simply never stop learning; you never know everything you can in this ever-changing industry. This is for everybody, including bartenders, servers and managers.

In all the training I have done I always repeat this credo “knowledge is power”. You can never stop getting better. I am always learning: I am always looking for new ways to make cocktails, new products and new management techniques.

When you’re first starting out, watch and listen. Look at the bartenders at your venue and try and absorb as much knowledge as you can. Now this isn’t always the easiest thing to do; I have worked with bartenders that guard their secrets better than the Templar Knights of the Grail. I love sharing knowledge, I love taking someone under my wing and showing them the ways I have learned. Because when someone asks that “green horn” who trained them guess who is going to get a mention.

Always be trying to extend your theoretical knowledge, read as many books as you can. I buy around fifteen to twenty books a year, cocktail, beer, wine, spirits and cookbooks. Cookbooks give you a different perspective on combining flavors in your cocktails and can keep you from going stale.

Along with reading always be trying to taste new things. There are always wine tastings and trade shows going on and you always have the opportunity to taste the latest in products. Now I talk about cocktails a lot and how to keep on top of your game, but it’s the customers who really benefit from us gaining knowledge in our field. You can’t sell scotch if you have never tasted it, or make the perfect martini if no one has ever showed you.

Don’t get me wrong, I had to learn a lot about the job before I was confident to do a dry martini with a twist. I actually remember being asked for a martini a couple of weeks after starting. I was so nervous that a little bit of pee came out and I ran away. My only regret was that I didn’t stick around and watch it being made. Now in saying that all knowledge is good, there is no way you will be able to learn everything about everything. Pick something you’re interested in and learn all you can, then move onto the next thing.

As a manager of a bar, I pick people dependent upon his or her area of expertise. I have my wine person, my cocktail person and maybe a premium spirits person. Personally, my interests are classic cocktails, cocktail history, and rum. My best mate, Ads, is a scotch and cognac man. Now, I am not saying that I don’t know anything about scotch and cognac but Ads knows more. We balance each other out. A balanced crew makes a happy environment, and furthermore happy customers.

This brings me to managers, you aren’t the best at what you. There is someone out there that is better than you, and you are not above learning. Too many managers think that because they are in their positions they need to stop learning, stop going to training seminars and stop listening to their staff. As a manager I still spend at least $2500 – $5000 a year on management training, it keeps me on the edge of my new game.

Management is not only about learning, it’s about keeping up with the younger, sometimes more energetic, members of your crew and always learning new things. In this sense, you have to LISTEN. Managing is like parenthood: all parents want to keep in touch with their kids, keep their children thinking they’re cool and hip. Best way to do this is to keep up with what the kids are doing. Share your wealth of knowledge with them by taking them to wine tastings, and going to managing seminars… wait, I meant the staff, not kids. Also, just like parenting, those being taught will learn as much from you as you can learn from them.

So, always be learning, always be reading and most of all always be listening. This is the perfect formula for success in the hospitality industry.

Shawn Soole
October 27, 2006

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