When you imagine a bar, it’s often the bartender who’s the main character. They’re out front and centre stage, impressively mixing the drinks and making glamourous concoctions.
However, without the support of the trusty barback, the bartender wouldn’t be able to operate as smoothly. A barback is the backbone of a well-run bar, responsible for stocking up drinks, preparing equipment and keeping the bar area clean and tidy.
This article will explain the difference between these two vital members of a hospitality front-of-house team, how to hire and train a barback as well as what a barback does.
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Barback versus Bartender
Although one sounds more glamourous than the other, the truth is the barback and bartender are equally essential to run a successful hospitality business. You can divide the main responsibilities of a barback into three key areas: stocking tasks, drinks preparation and cleaning.
What does a barback do?
- Making sure the bar fridges and wine cellars are stocked up.
- Restocking the bar area with clean glasses, coasters, napkins, etc.
- Changing beer kegs or liquor bottles.
- Cutting and preparing fruit for garnishes.
- Juicing fruit.
- Replenishing ice wells.
- Cleaning glasses, either by hand or through a glass washer.
- Polishing wine glasses.
- Cleaning and polishing cutlery.
- Wiping the bar area throughout the shift.
- Cleaning any spillages around the bar.
- Taking out the rubbish.
- Closing the bar at the end of the shift.
The main difference between the responsibilities of a barback and a bartender is the tasks of a barback are carried out in the background. A bartender is a more customer-facing role – making drinks at the front of the bar, handling money, and placing orders through a restaurant POS system.
Unfortunately, this means the work of a barback is usually less visible – despite being such an influential member of the team. Employment management software can help to assign tasks and ensure each employee completes their share of work.
How to hire a barback
Evaluate your small business to see whether there’s room for a barback. If you’re a relatively small bar, there may be potential for a bartender to double up as a barback. But, for most establishments this simply isn’t an option.
Next, it’s important to write an engaging job description to encourage talent into your business. Outline the main responsibilities of a barback and post your job ad on channels such as Indeed and Simply Hired.
Mutual connections can sometimes lead to the best employees – ask your staff whether they know anyone interested in a barback position. Chances are, if they’re recommend to you by a current employee, they could be a great cultural fit for your business.
Shortlist CVs with relevant experience to filter out unsuitable candidates. Then, interview your potential candidate to see whether their personality and skillset matches the role.
A trial shift is a great way to see how your potential candidate would perform if given the position and to test their chemistry with the team.
What to look for
Establish what skills you need from your new employee. You may have a list of desirable qualifications, such as academic or vocational qualifications, hospitality industry experience or first-aid training.
Role-specific skills include:
Basic drinks knowledge of liquors, beers, and wine. Although the bartender will have this knowledge, it can help speed things up behind the bar if the barback knows what they’re talking about.
Ability to heavy lift kegs or crates of drinks are heavy, so the ability to lift these items is valuable. But always follow health and safety guidance for lifting at work, and make sure your barback knows them inside out.
Basic food prep skills is a strong plus, as the barback will need to be able to cut and serve fruit garnishes at speed.
General skills include:
- Communication skills are important for the barback to work well with your hospitality team.
- Problem-solving and prioritisation skills are essential in a fast-paced environment.
- Ability to remain calm under pressure is important in a busy and crowded bar.
- A highly proactive nature is beneficial to quickly to restock the bar and predict when certain drinks need replenishing.
- A bar back must be highly organised to ensure the bar is always ship shape.
It may be desirable for your new barback to have had experience in a different hospitality establishment. Or even a role in a different sector where they demonstrated their ability to think quickly, remain calm under pressure and act proactively.
How to train a barback
Remember, the general skills listed above – combined with people skills and charisma – are often more important than qualifications. Most other things can be trained and come with experience in the role.
Sometimes, hiring a new person without prior experience could be an advantage for your business. You have a blank canvas to support and mould into your perfect employee – without any previous bad habits.
Here are some simple ways to train your new barback:
- Show them the basics – during their trial, show your candidate the basics so you can observe how they would fit into your business and whether they seem right for your current team.
- Introduce them to the team – make sure your new employee feels comfortable in their role by introducing them to their colleagues. Tell them everyone’s role and what they can expect of them.
- Teach them the technology – show the new member of staff how to use your technology, including your POS system, both in theory and in a real-life customer example.
- Shadow experienced colleagues – it can be valuable for a new employee to learn from an experienced member of the team. Advise them to watch what your current barback does and how they work.
- Run training sessions – make sure your new employees get to grips with their role and identify where they need further training. In any hospitality business, it’s important your barback understands your drinks menu quickly to best support the bartender.
- Provide feedback – provide as much support and guidance as possible in the first few months. Give both positive and constructive feedback to help keep their morale high but also advise on how to improve.
Barback progression and development
Your business may have the opportunity and resources to train your barback into a bartender. Hiring a bartender from within your bar team can be more beneficial than an outside candidate, as they will already be familiar with your stock and the way your bar works.
If your barback is performing well and being proactive behind the bar, consider training them as a bartender. This can keep them stimulated and engaged in your business. The timeframe for a barback to progress to a bartender can vary but in general it can take between 12 and 16 months.
To make this transition, instruct your barback to shadow your bartender and start to make drinks themselves when the bar is not too busy. This will help to determine their skills as a bartender and if they’re ready for the promotion.
Square can help transform your hospitality business with seamless technological solutions at every stage of the customer journey. Track your sales using Square Dashboard to see which of your drinks are most popular and which could do with a refresh to boost sales.
Employment management software can help you to support your employees, from barbacks to bartenders, as well as keep track of your team’s hours and make sure everyone clocks in on time.