Being a bartender ‘coolest job in the world’

By Amelie Maurice-Jones contact

- Last updated on GMT

Work, fun and rock & roll: Blue Boar manager George Dean opens up on staff retention and running a pub (Getty/ The Good Brigade)
Work, fun and rock & roll: Blue Boar manager George Dean opens up on staff retention and running a pub (Getty/ The Good Brigade)

Related tags: London, Gastropub

The Blue Boar in Westminster, central London manager George Dean believed valuing staff, creative strategy and making hospitality fun again was key to overcoming challenges in the sector, after his pub was dubbed the ‘One to Watch’ at the 2022 Top 50 Gastropub Awards.

Dean said the main issue facing the pub was staffing, with some struggling to get back into the intensity of the job after Covid. “A lot of people have been sat in their jobs for two years on furlough, and they think they've done that job for two years,” he continued. “We’ve noticed the lack of CVs and the lack of experience.”

The pressure was on with customers coming back to pubs expecting “the moon and back” after learning more about cocktails and wine during lockdowns.

However, Dean said he had started to see some resolve coming, and CVs had been “flying in” across the past fortnight as students looked to secure jobs in London for the summer.

“London in the winter is lonely,” said Dean, “but in summer, it’s the best city in the world. When people finish uni, they want to stay at have summer here.”

A bright side to Brexit, the rising prices and quality of labour going up meant staff were being appreciated a lot more in the sector, according to Dean. “You can't get away with underpaying people nowadays,” he said, and believed this was a “real positive".

He continued: “To get good produce in the kitchen, you spend money on good suppliers; to get good beer at your bar you need to spend money on a good brewery, and to get good staff, you need to pay them.”

Making hospitality fun

For Dean, it was important to make working in hospitality fun. Little things that didn’t cost much such as Donut Fridays or staff breakfasts on Saturdays were what made a difference to retention.

“Those weird and wonderful techniques prove which operators want to have their team,” said Dean. “If you don’t want the team, you’re just paying them a wage and expecting them to work – you’re never going to get high revenue.”

When the team was in a good mood, the books were in a good mood, according to Dean, who believed the pub was a shell and the people inside it were the personality which created the environment.

“When my team is laughing and joking and having fun, people want to come and spend time at the pub with the team. When they’re all overworked, tired you [lose customers],” he said.

Dean believed making hospitality fun was key to staff retention, and said while venues across the country were finding a number of creative measures to attract chefs, there as nothing wrong with healthy competition.

However, he believed looking after team members was more important than a high salary or economic bonuses. “It’s about the human side [of the business],” said Dean. “If you’re genuine and down to earth and you don’t make false promises, it’ll be a more attractive place to work at.”

For Dean, working a busy shift was “great fun”. The manager believed attitudes towards hospitality needed to change. He said: “It’s an industry where you learn the best people skills you can have, you learn about management and you learn about finances so you become an all-rounder.

Rock & roll

“It’s rock & roll – you are the frontman when you’re on that bar. Being a bartender is the coolest job in the world. We create people’s memories. It’s like going to a gig – people get dressed up, they get here, then the support act is the host sitting you down.”

While rising inflation was a source of stress for many operators, for Dean, this was not a huge cause of concern. “Prices are going up,” he said, “but prices have always gone up”. As long as customers felt they’d got good value for money, the costs were justified.

Dean added: “We’re in central London, so everything’s going to be more expensive than it would at a countryside pub. People come in here expecting a posh, modern British pub, and that’s what they get.”

Adapting the business to problems such as rising costs was part and package of running a pub for Dean, who was constantly looking to make the venue better.

He said: “If you win an award, you can’t just win that award again for the same thing. You need to be up there shining and that’s what gets you excited as an operator – you’ve got to constantly be better than what you were.”

Related topics: Other operators

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