How to serve delicious cocktails at speed, despite staff shortages and high staff turnover

August 18, 2021

Whether your business is experiencing staff shortages because of the ‘B’ word (Brexit), the ‘C’ word (Coronavirus) or any number of other reasons, there are a few steps you can take to make sure your bar is delivering stand-out cocktails, without the need for extensive resources or bar skills.

Over the last decade, Icely Done has had the privilege to work with some major bars and events around the UK. Throughout this time, we’ve spoken to many business owners. A common concern many have, when it comes to serving cocktails, is about the skills and resources needed: “…but we just don’t have the staff nor time to make cocktails our customers will love”.

Add into the mix the current staff shortages in the hospitality industry and bar operators are worried that investing in cocktails could be a risk. And if you are selling substandard cocktails that take too long to make, they are right. But it does not have to be that way!

There are a couple of approaches you can take – along with some handy instant hacks – that will help you create a cocktail menu that can be implemented with ease and with fewer staff.


Eight cocktail hacks for bars experiencing staff shortages


#1 Go with simplicity

Right now, while we are all adjusting to the new terrain, less is most definitely more so keep it simple. The data shows that people are increasingly looking for the truly great food and drinks experiences that they’ve not been able to create at home during lockdowns.
Some of the best drinks we have had recently have been ordered in places that have had 3-5 cocktails on the menu. Offer less but ensure that everything on offer is first class.

Giving people less choice isn’t a bad thing: It’s less time and energy that customer’s waste on thinking about what to drink, and more time drinking and catching up with people they haven’t seen in many months.

#2 Prebatch

Many of the world’s best bars prebatch many or most of their drinks. If they are doing it, so should you. The stigma of prebatching is dead. Use daytime hours to batch and you’ll increase speed of serve as well as consistency. Here are some simple rules to get you started:

  • Batch spirits with other spirits and liqueurs
  • Batch syrups with other syrups
  • Leave out fresh juices to avoid shelf-life problems, or be prepared to throw away at the end of the day.

#3 Keep going with table service

COVID restrictions have helped usher in a new continental way of drinking, with more and more customers sat at tables, ordering from apps. Many people we have spoken to have told us that they have seen increased spend per head, and a wider variety of menu items being ordered. You also need less bartenders/servers – helpful if you’re facing a staffing crisis. If this is working for you, find a way to keep doing it to some degree.

#4 Look after the folks you’ve got

Because many of us are looking for bar and waiting staff – we’re seeing too many people get up and go when a better offer comes along. Staff loyalty is an invisible, non-tangible asset that we must strive to protect and cultivate. There is plenty of data out there to show that people don’t just work for money so nurture that sense of belonging.

#5 Get your staff involved

Get bar staff to contribute to the cocktails sold in your venue. If possible, make changes on the menu to include drinks that staff have proposed. Your teams will feel involved and rewarded. Make sure you get together as a group to taste the drinks (and agree on recipes) ahead of time. When you collectively nail a recipe – make sure it ends up on the till system and or on a worksheet/database somewhere – ideally in a place that staff can access.

#6 Communication & Transparency

If guests have got cocktails on order that will take more than 5 minutes to land, ask the waiting staff to keep guests informed. Perhaps they’ll take a beer or a small glass of wine as an in-betweener, while they wait for the cocktails.

#7 Remember “Mis-en place”

A fancy French term that basically means that everything has a home. It’s a term that is used by kitchen chefs and has been adopted by cocktail bartenders too. When a colleague is finished with the bar knife – the knife has a place that it is returned to. This is true for any workplace trying to improve economy of movement & efficiency; hospitality just has a fancy name for it!

#8 Economy of movement

We always teach our team that everything needed for service should be no further than 2 steps away. If you see your bartenders racing up and down the bar every time there is a round of drinks to make then there are things that need to be addressed as part of “mis-en-place” (see above). Work smart, AND hard.


Looking for support?

Need help creating a winning cocktail menu, that can be executed without a degree in mixology? Icely Done’s team would love to help. Our 10 years of experience working with bar operators has given us unique insights and helped us develop some incredible cocktails solutions that could help you.

If you’d like to chat to us more, you can reach us via 01992 442993 or [email protected]

social_facebook social_instagram social_twitter social_youtube social_linkedin