Why don't bar managers interact with customers?
May 10, 2009 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Why do I never see bar managers/owners meet-and-greeting the customers?

I live in Chicago and frequent north-side sports bars and reasonably-priced lounges. I know that many of these bars serve hundreds or perhaps thousands of customers in a single night, and no one is going to glad-hand the customers in a jam-packed bar. In some places and on some days, though, there will be just a handful of customers. And when a party starts running up a tab of several hundred dollars, it seems odd that a representative of the venue wouldn't stop by just to show appreciation for the business.

This article lists dozens of responsibilities of a bar manager, and interacting with customers is barely mentioned. In many restaurants, the manager or owner makes a point of visiting every table. Restaurants look to build relationships. Why don't bars take the same approach?
posted by RobinFiveWords to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I go to a restaurant, I kind of like the reminder that it's a special experience. If it's the kind of big deal restaurant where someone thanks you for showing up.

When you're in a bar, you're kind of want to be left alone to have fun.

Also, they have a lot to do with dealing with drunks and drama in front of and behind the bar.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:42 PM on May 10, 2009

I'd figure that they're busy enough as it is and that the bartender serves as the interaction role between the business and consumer.
posted by BearPaws at 12:56 PM on May 10, 2009

You're not going to the right bars.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:36 PM on May 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Because Rico is late and there's no one on dish & Jim went out back and smoked a joint on his lunch break so every burger is taking half-a-freaking-hour & the new bartender ran out of bloody mary mix and we're totally out of tomato juice so Gwen went to the store and forgot to put the bread in the oven & where'd you put the salad mix it was right here in the walk-in like two seconds ago and someone stole the colander go put some salt on that ice please get table 174 their damn bisque is there a thermometer in this? Jesus Christ where's RICO SOMEONE FUCKING CALL RICO

...that's what's usually happening.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:51 PM on May 10, 2009 [25 favorites]

The No. 1 expense in any restaurant or bar is generally the labor cost. You can trim on expenses by using less labor and tightly managing the joint. And then you end up with BitterOldPunk's nailed-it-on-the-head explanation of where the manager is at any given time.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:03 PM on May 10, 2009

I would say you probably do see them more than you realize, because they're not wearing a label that says "Manager". There's a Mexican restaurant near me I eat at quite a lot, and after a while I finally figured out that one of the men who worked there was the owner. He waited tables and ran the cash register and just acted like another employee, so it took me quite a while to figure it out.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:25 PM on May 10, 2009

For smaller bars, it's the bartenders responsibility to act as the representative of the bar. They are generally hired in part because of their outgoing nature and ability to make the customer feel welcome and a part of the place.
Bar owners also tend to work more during the day, doing paperwork, fixing toilets, ordering, etc., and leave the fun stuff like chatting up customers to the staff.
Sometimes the bar owner can be the worst representative of the place, as well. I own some bars that are considered hipster and feel like when I walk into one of them the coolness quotient of the room jolts downwards several notches.
Not to mention that some of us are just bitter old bartenders who got burned out on people skills years ago and had to move into ownership just to not have to talk to anyone anymore.
posted by newpotato at 2:28 PM on May 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

A. Crush-onastick x 1000pts.

B. Confirmation bias

C. Many of the northside bars, particularly those around the Trixie-slums, are owned by business conglomerates, real estate interests, and other anonymous owner-groups. These people open and operate "turn-key" bars, and trust me, they have better places to spend their time.

D. These places also have high turnover owning to the fact that mediocre mangers, bartenders, and waitresses are a dime a dozen. What's the point of getting to know your customers when you don't really give a damn about your job and vice verca?

E. These places are designed to rake in the dough during certain hours of the night, and not much else.

In other words, there is zero economic incentive for some hourly-wage manager, or absentee owner to show up and glad hand you.

Find a REAL neighborhood pub if you want to actually know the owner. You'll be interacting with a better class of people too.
posted by wfrgms at 2:34 PM on May 10, 2009

I try to say hello to faces I recognize or people whom I've come to know a little, and for sure to the regulars. But yeah, what BitterOldPunk says just about nails it. More often it's people coming up to talk to me who've seen me a few times, but who I have no idea who they are. The problem with being the "face" is that everyone owns a little piece of you. It can be very tiring just dealing with the people you know and others that you don't but that want to talk to you, let alone circulating and trying to introduce yourself to everyone in the place, especially in a bar like mine where upwards of 500 people will pass through on a weekend night.
posted by conifer at 2:56 PM on May 10, 2009

Um, because you're going to the wrong bars?

Seriously. I met the owners at more than a few bars and restaurants, even if I didn't frequent them, and usually if I dropped an overlarge tip or really liked what I had ordered. Now I'm in LA, and just a few nights ago met the owner of the pub a few of us went to, without so much as a how-dee-do. What do these places all have in common? Great food/drink/service. At the same time, I've never met the owner of a bad restaurant or bar.
posted by davejay at 4:36 PM on May 10, 2009

note: prior to LA I was in Chicago, should have said so explicitly
posted by davejay at 4:37 PM on May 10, 2009

I work in a bar/restaurant, and it's what newpotato and bitteroldpunk said, along with Chocolate Pickle. They might be pitching in without you realizing it, but more often they're doing something like fixing the railing to the stairs in the storage room, or driving to the other location because we ran out of something, or doing the ordering for the week or running the financial reports.

Those are the managers. The owners come in around 11 pm and drink sometimes, and the old-school customers know them and the owners will drink with them, but in general, they just watch us bartenders and let us do what we're paid to do, which is to welcome people and get them something to drink. The other times that they're there are 9-11:30 am, to do the books, and 1:30-8 am, when there's a repair project that requires creating chaos in the interior of the restaurant for a few hours.

That said, you have a point in that the old-school regular customers stand out a bit, they're not exactly the kind of clientele that "sticks" these days, and I think it's because they formed a bond with the owners back when they were doing everything from building the bar itself to making dough to waiting tables. The other part of your point that rings true is that someone the other day told me that tips are really high at the end of the night when there's only one server on, because "you can act like it's your bar." So, I think you're right that people like interacting with someone who owns the place or acts like they do.
posted by salvia at 6:20 PM on May 10, 2009

You may be going to the right bars at the wrong time. I always stood out when I left a decent-to-generous tip during a non-busy night (e.g. Tuesday or Wednesday, earlier in the evening)... Maybe if you ask to see the manager / owner - not to register a complaint, I promise! - but to say I appreciate the place / I like the ambience / an idea for your bar...
posted by chrisinseoul at 9:41 PM on May 10, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the insights -- I have a better understanding now of how much is going on behind the scenes.

Perhaps the type of interaction I was asking about is simply a lower-priority activity than that of serving customers. Once a bar gets busy enough that there is always a customer waiting to be served, there's always something to do that is more urgent than idly chatting with the customers. And with this in mind, perhaps it is better for a manager to be behind the scenes, just to make sure he isn't dragged into customer issues just because they're of greater urgency (as perceived by the customer) than what he should be working on.
posted by RobinFiveWords at 8:53 AM on May 11, 2009

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