Small Biz Advice: Too Many Bartenders


Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly also heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books and teaches business classes at The Yard in Williamsburg. Got a question for Holly about running your small business? Email her and she’ll address it in her next column:

Dear Holly,

I am the manager of a busy cocktail bar.  I’m experiencing a bit of a conundrum regarding how much license I have as the manager to make the executive decision to alter a cocktail recipe that we have run in the past for one of our signature cocktails.  It’s only an issue because the owner asked me to change the recipe back to its original form after it had already been on the menu for a month.

He is attached to the old recipe, which hasn’t sold well in the past.  I decided to add a few ingredients, and sales have been great. I am unhappy with the original recipe and feel extremely conflicted about how to express my concern to the owner without insulting his recipe, or disrespecting his position as owner of the bar.  What should I do?


Muddled Mixologist


Dear Muddled,
This is a really valuable situation and one that every employee, manager and owner can learn a lot from.  Often, when we are promoted to management positions, we fail to realize that we are not only responsible for managing those below us, but we are also responsible for learning how to manage those above us—our own bosses.  This can be incredibly challenging and confusing at first, but the more you work at it, the better you become as a manager.

1. Recognize that you and the owner are both working toward the same goal, which is to satisfy the customer.  Keep this in mind and think about how you can work together to achieve this goal.  In this conversation, stick to talking about the original recipe versus the new recipe, don’t make it personal and talk about yours versus his, because it’s not about you or him but what is truly the best product for the customer.

2. Ask the owner for clear and concrete feedback about what it is that he prefers about the original recipe vs. the new recipe.  It is important in these situations to show a willingness to learn even if you feel like you are in the right.  The more reactive and defensive you are, the more likely the owner will be to dismiss what you are saying.  And, it’s possible that the owner could have valuable insight into why he truly prefers the original recipe, and you are overlooking this.

3. consider this situation from a financial perspective.  If the new cocktail recipe is a better seller than the original,  ask the owner if you should be considering the financial success of the product.  The owner may not be aware that the cocktail sales have been better since you started the new recipe so the financial information might be helpful information for you to offer him in order to make a more informed decision.  Numbers tend to help make things more black and white.

4. Know that as a manager, sometimes no matter how right you feel in your gut, and how great your case is for making change, ultimately you have to respect the vision of your superiors.  I think this can be incredibly challenging to do.  I know I struggled with it, especially when I felt passionately about something.  The best thing you can do is present your case professionally: give logical explanations about why the new recipe is better and support your argument with the sales numbers.  After that you have to release control of the situation.

Good luck.  This is a great opportunity to grow professionally.  As a manager, it’s a valuable experience for you to have now especially if you want to go on and open your own place someday.  You will always remember what it feels like to be in this position and you will be more likely to value the insight and feedback of your managers.



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