"After work, we don’t give people shift drinks. They have to pay. And they still stay."
Jen Mulero has been working for Bakersfield since they opened in 2015. She is currently the bar manager.
Tell me what you like about working at Bakersfield.
I like the fact that anything that’s been wrong, they’ve fixed. I think it’s a sign of a really good company. When they hear from us that something is happening right now isn’t working and something needs to change, they then go through the appropriate steps to change it. They're very responsive and will listen to everyone’s complaints.
I think there are a lot of employers and companies that just take complaining at face value, who dismiss you. Here, they actually want to listen to you and hear you because they want to see if they can fix it. And if it’s the same complaint from numerous people, then obviously it’s a problem. So they fix it.
What do you like better about Bakersfield compared to other places you’ve worked? What’s made you stay?
What’s made me stay is the opportunity I’ve been given [to be bar manager]. I know that they listened to me and believed in me enough to say, we do want to give you this opportunity, we do want to see you flourish, we know that you’re talented. So, they recognize talent, and that hasn’t just happened with me.That’s happened with numerous people. They recognize talent and they want to have you hone that talent and give you all of the tools that you need to flourish in that environment.
If you had to explain to someone wha the culture is like how would you?
Fun and supportive.
All of the managers [are supportive], all of the bartenders support the servers and vice versa, everyone is just like “Tell me what you need, and I can help you.” And we all just want to have fun. The more fun that you have at your job, the more fun that you’re going to have with your guests, and ultimately we’re here for the guests.
Also we are a party atmosphere, so, if you’re not in the mood to be happy and go for it then you're not going to be happy. So we try to make it fun, we try to make it a party all the time, we try to joke around and be light hearted. And it works!
What advice would you give other places as far as creating a culture where the staff is happy and that comes through to the guest?
It’s mainly just getting people pumped up. There's shift meetings, so you want to make sure everyone has their tools, make sure everyone’s well-informed about what’s going on that day – if there’s parties, if there’s something different going on in the kitchen or the bar, or there’s a game going on, we want to make sure that everyone's well informed so that they’re all mentally prepared to really attack a shift.
And then otherwise, sometimes we do contests or giveaways. If someone is going the extra mile we make sure they’re rewarded.
Where have there been missteps in places you’ve worked in the past?
[Places I've worked at in the past] made mistakes with misunderstanding employee complaints and misunderstanding why servers and bartenders are frustrated. They take it as “groupthink”, as if they're all just gossiping with each other, when the case is that there’s actually something wrong, and that’s why everyone thinks that same thing.
It’s not just groupthink, it’s not just gossip. LISTEN to your employees. Trust them to tell you what’s going on, because they’re the ones on the front lines, they're the ones that are talking to guests directly. If you're not going to be on the front lines with them and if you're not going to listen to what they say, then you're never going to be able to improve things for them, for yourself, or for your guest.
What kind of things do you do to encourage open communication between mangers and employees?
Once a month we do Coffee With a Manager, which is where we pick a few people from each department - so 2 or 3 servers, bartenders, line cooks, prep people, a host - and we invite them to meet. Anyone can actually go – so if you weren’t chosen you’re still welcome to show up and join in on the conversation
There’s about five questions that are asked during that time. For example, do you have all the tools you need to do your job? Another one is, what can we do to make your life better? Is anything in the workplace harmful or dangerous to your safety? And then they leave it to an open forum. It’s all written down and all printed in a report. It’s emailed to every single manager and to corporate, and all of the notes from these meetings are kept in a file, and that ends up being a checklist for management. Then the next month we go over the previous one to make sure we got everything done.
It’s to make everyone better, make everyone happy, check in with each department and give them an opportunity to voice their opinions.
What do you think of the state of the service industry in Pittsburgh right now?
I think that its really nice to see how many people care and how many people care about making it better. Yes, there was a negative thing last week [with the response to Casellula owner Brian Keyser’s interview] but I didn’t see that as negative.
I saw that as a chance for industry employees to have a voice and to say “No, we don’t want leaders like this, we want leaders like X” and it’s very important for these restaurant owners and managers to understand that employees aren't not going to settle, because they don’t have to. They know that there are leaders and management teams and owners that will actually care about them and give them recognition for the work that they're doing.
So I think that we're moving toward that and its going to make a lot of people in Pittsburgh happier to work at places and I think it'll make employers happier to take these people on, because they have that same mutual understanding that we want to make this a really good place to work, we want you to be successful, we want guests to be happy because we ultimately know if theres a happy server that’s having a blast, and a happy bartender that’s having a blast, then guess what? The guests are all going to have a blast too!
And theres going to be less bad Yelp reviews and less negativity from people. It really works for everyone, the entire community of Pittsburgh, not just the industry workers in it.
What kind of perks are there?
I don’t remember how long its been since I've worked at a restaurant where you can get off of work and sit down at the bar and have a drink! We can do that here. And I feel like it’s really encouraging and really a staff bonding moment because everyone gets out of work and hangs out and stays! We don’t give people shift drinks. They have to pay. And they still stay.
People come in on their days off to their own job to just hang out with other employees. It’s a family. We also offer 50% off food, and health insurance after 90 days.
What about food and drink education?
I personally love the education aspect. That’s why I’m part of USBG – I love that stuff. I've brought numerous reps in to bring the staff in and go over things. Ive had my staff attend educational events from USBG. A lot of it was resume writing and how to go from this aspect of the food and beverage world to wanting to be a rep.
I've also done, for the servers, a bar class that was basically me going over all bar related things for them. It was a lot of product knowledge, how to talk to guests about it...things like that.
I got a phone call last week from corporate saying that they want me to put together… well this is just me bragging now...[laughs]
No, no! Go ahead!
Well they want me to put together an outline for bartenders, and for servers that want to become bartenders, regarding everything a Bakersfield bartender needs to know.
So that includes product knowledge, cocktail knowledge, how-tos behind the bar, and they're going to put this whole training program together and I'm currently updating all the tests and worksheets for it. So that’s pretty exciting for me. That they noticed that this is something that I loved to do and are getting me involved.
Why should people work at Bakersfield?
We have a phrase called “throwing the party” for guests and I think it’s an aspect that really shows how different and how fun it is to do that for people. A lot of bartenders and servers, that’s why they're in it! It’s one of their gifts and talents -- being able to talk to people, getting people amped up, getting people lit…they want to have fun.
We get a lot of parties and these people want ot have a good time! Another thing we do for that is that we don’t mind comping things. We will get people a round if it’s a birthday party; we’ve extended it to the whole table sometimes, so they all get a shot, not just the birthday girl, so that everyone is involved and everyone is throwing the party.
One time we had one table asked if we could do the wave, so the servers, bartenders, everyone worked together to make it happen and the whole restaurant, all the way down, did the wave. It's that kind of environment.
You're just there to have a good time, and everyone in that building wants to have a good time, so why not just go for it? Throw a party!