When we ask bartenders what they are doing during mandated bar closures, most will NOT respond, I’m just waiting to get back to work.

Many bartenders we know have been competing in virtual bartending competitions, finding other avenues to make tip money, extending their skills with online classes and joining virtual social clubs and zoom exercising.

Because most bartenders fear their jobs will not be waiting for them when bars and restaurants reopen around the world.

Sadly, there’s no guarantee a bar will survive COVID-19. And, if it does, business will not be as usual. If you thought bar managers were obsessed with labor costs before the shutdown, you haven’t seen nothing yet. After weeks of lost revenue and, most likely, reduced capacity in the new normal, bars will run leaner than ever when they come back online.

Rocco Pendola - GM at Melrose Umbrella Company Cocktail Bar, LA , mixing a shaker behind the bar

Rocco Pendola – GM at Melrose Umbrella Company Cocktail Bar, LA

How do you run lean?

You cut staff. Brutal, but it’s the way the world works.

That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news.

Bartenders who specialize in hospitality will thrive in the new normal. If you like to keep your head down and churn and burn tins in the service well, you’re less likely to be of value to your venue. However, if you’re a bartender who energetically jumps out from behind the bar and multitasks, you’ll be something close to indispensable.

If you already love and practice otherworldly hospitality or are willing to, someone somewhere will have shifts for you. If you can adapt your hospitable ways to whatever our new normal ends up being, you’ll run the place.

While nobody knows exactly what to expect, it’s a safe bet competing dynamics will be in play as bars and restaurants reopen.

In one respect, you’ll have a group of guests who crave the social experience COVID-19 robbed. This will be evident in bars with a neighborhood feel. At the same time, we’ll have to work within restrictions such as physical distancing. We’ll also have reluctant guests. It’s already scary and intimidating for some individuals to walk into a bar, let alone a bar where a deadly virus might lurk.

If you’re able to read guests (a fundamental job requirement already) and willing to do things some bartenders have historically (and stubbornly) resisted, such as double as a server, you’re built for what’s likely to be the new normal. You’re going to have to manage the flow at and around your bar top and throughout your space—with less help—like you never have before.

How do you bring a half-full barroom together as one when they’re congregating in couples and small groups at least six feet apart? How do you make people feel welcome when they can’t see you smile through your mask?

Use your time away to come up with questions like these. Interview yourself on them. Request a meeting with your boss. Make it clear you haven’t simply been sitting around waiting for them to call. Rather, you have thoughtfully considered how to do your job in an environment none of us saw coming.